Japanese baseball star Hideki Matsui announced he was set to retire from professional baseball after 10 years in his homeland and 10 more in MLB, including seven with the New York Yankees. Matsui, nicknamed Godzilla by his fans in Japan, arrived in New York with lofty expectations. He fulfilled each of them with multiple heroic moments, including the 2009 World Series MVP award.
Matsui hit 332 home runs in Japan before signing a contract with the Yankees before the 2003 season. In pinstripes, Matsui blasted 140 homers and then another 35 dingers over the last three seasons with three separate teams (Los Angeles Angels, Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays).
Matsui had garnered three MVP awards and nine All-Star nominations in Japan. He signed a three-year, $21 million contract with the Yankees in December 2002.
Matsui made a grand statement in his very first game in the Bronx by hitting a grand slam. He finished his time with the Yankees with much of the same flare, going 3-for-4 with a home run and six RBIs in Game 6 of the 2009 World Series, helping the Bombers to their 27th title.
Matsui thanked those he was surrounded by during the press conference announcing the news that he would retire.
“I want to thank all my fans, in the past 20 years — 10 years in Japan and 10 years in the U.S. — who have supported me,” Matsui said. “I was supported by many fans and wonderful coaches and teammates.”
Matsui was the epitome of class, respected the game and handled the throngs of media that followed him on a daily basis with grace. Over the last few seasons he had begun to wear down, especially after knee surgery in 2006. Matsui explained why he decided to hang up his cleats.
“These past two years, I wasn’t able to yield very good results, and from around five years ago, both of my knees hadn’t been doing too well. Even after going through surgery, my physical condition wasn’t at its best.”
Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner had this to say about Matsui:
“Hideki Matsui, in many ways, embodied what this organization stands for. He was dedicated to his craft, embraced his responsibilities to his team and fans, and elevated his play when he was needed the most. He did all these things with a humility that was distinctly his own, which is why he was such a big part of our success and why he will always be a cherished member of the Yankees family.”
Yankees captain Derek Jeter commented on how great a teammate Matsui was during his time in New York and how he never succumbed to the pressures of playing in a Yankee uniform.
“I’ve said it numerous times over the years, but it’s worth repeating now. I’ve had a lot of teammates over the years with the Yankees, but I will always consider Hideki one of my favorites. The way he went about his business day in and day out was impressive. Despite being shadowed by a large group of reporters, having the pressures of performing for his fans both in New York and Japan and becoming acclimated to the bright lights of New York City, he always remained focused and committed to his job and to those of us he shared the clubhouse with.”
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman summed it up best from the team’s and a fan’s perspective.
“Hideki is proof that baseball is an international attraction that brings people from all over the world together in their passion for the game. He was the type of player and person you want young fans of this game to emulate. He played with pride, discipline and, of course, talent, and flourished when the lights were at their brightest. People naturally gravitated towards him, and that’s a direct reflection of his character. He was a true professional in every sense of the word and it feels good knowing he was able to raise the championship trophy as a member of the Yankees.”
To me, when Matsui came up to the plate with the game on the line he seemed to come through and whenever he didn’t, I knew it wasn’t for lack of trying. As Cashman uttered, Matsui’s work ethic and demeanor off the field is what endeared him to many Yankees’ fans including me. Of course, the big time production and timely homers didn’t hurt his cause either.
All quotes are courtesy of MLB.com reporter Bryan Hoch.