Wladimir Balentien is retiring from Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan, the outfielder announced via Twitter. The 37-year-old is best known for setting the NPB’s single-season home run record in 2013 when he slugged 60 home runs for Tokyo’s Yakult Swallows. Balentien played for 11 seasons in the NPB, suiting up for the Swallows for nine seasons from 2011-2019 and the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks for the past two seasons.
Balentien, who is of Curacaoan and Dutch descent, originally signed with the Mariners as a 16-year-old amateur free agent out of Venezuela in July of 2000. He debuted as an 18-year-old in 2003 with the Mariners’ rookie ball team. As he climbed the ranks of the Mariners’ system, Balentien’s star was on the rise.
He was invited to play in the Futures Game in both 2006 and 2007, then made Baseball Prospectus’ top-100 prospects list prior to the 2008 season at number 93. He debuted in the bigs in 2007, going 2-for-4 in a cup-of-coffee four plate appearances over three games.
Balentien would see real playing time in Seattle the next season, appearing in 71 games for 260 plate appearances. And while he continued to slug in the upper levels on the minors – slashing .266/.354/.584 that same season in Triple-A – he hit just .202/.250/.342 with the M’s.
After struggling again through 170 plate appearances the next season, the Mariners traded Balentien to the Reds for 25-year-old right-hander Robert Manuel. Balentien seemed to hit his stride the rest of that campaign, hitting .264/.352/.427 in Cincinnati. He was just 24-years-old at the time.
And yet, that would be the last time Balentien appeared in MLB. He hit well for the Reds’ Triple-A affiliate in 2010, but an outfield of Jonny Gomes, Drew Stubbs, and Jay Bruce played well enough to lead the Reds to a division title. Without an opportunity at the Major League level, “Coco” took his talents overseas, signing with the Yakult Swallows, where he would become a mainstay over the next nine seasons.
In his first season with the Swallows, Balentien led the Central League with 31 home runs. The Swallows would make the Finals, but fall to the Chunichi Dragons in six games.
Two seasons later, Balentien broke Sadaharu Oh’s record of 55 home runs in a single season, setting a new record with 60. Though a later revelation proved that a livelier baseball had been used for the 2013 season, Balentien’s record nevertheless stands today. He finished his career in Japan with a triple-slash line of .266/.370/.546 with 1,001 hits and 301 home runs.