Thursday, December 27, 2012

Sayonara Godzilla: Matsui to Retire

Hideki Matsui showed nothing but class since he joined the New York Yankees in 2003 after a long career in Japan. He became as beloved in the Big Apple, especially by fans of Japanese descent, as he was in his native country and was the World Series MVP when the Yankees captured their 27th title in 2009. Now 38-years old, Matsui has decided it's time to hang up his cleats for good.

No official announcement will be made until tomorrow, Friday, at a press conference in New York City, but Matsui indicated he is retiring from baseball.

Matsui debuted as a 19-year old third baseman for the Yomiuri Giants in 1993 and though his numbers were nothing spectacular, his 11 home runs in 57 games was a portend of things to come. He would average 35 home runs over the next nine years in Japan's Central League and hit a career high 50 home runs the season before his move to New York. His OPS topped 1.000 five of his 10 seasons for Yomiuri.

The Yankees and Yomiuri agreed to a scouting and minor league non-player personnel deal in 2002 that was the first of its kind between Major League Baseball and a Japanese team.1
Exchange of general baseball information, including scouting reports on professional baseball players in the U.S. and Japan.
Exchange baseball rules and regulations active in the U.S. and Japan.
Hold at least one meeting annually about the above mentioned topics.
Exchange of minor league personnel, such as coaches and staff, but not including players.
The Yankees will support the Giants in scouting and player development in Latin America.
The Giants will support the Yankees in scouting and player development of Asia and the Asian Pacific rim.
The two teams will exchange technology and information on player rehabilitation and conditioning.
Though the Yankees denied the agreement had anything to do with Matsui, the Japanese star signed a three-year, $21MM deal in December, 2002. His first season in New York didn't produce the power that some were expecting (Baseball Tonight's Bobby Valentine said he would hit 50 home runs his first year), but Matsui did drive in 106 runs, hit .287, and got adjusted to the spacious confines of left field in the old Yankee Stadium.

He made a huge splash in his first game at the Stadium with an opening day grand slam against the Minnesota Twins. A year later the Yankees and Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays toured Japan for the opening of the regular season. Matsui was greeted by throngs of fans who were ecstatic to see their countryman home, even if it was in a Yankees uniform.

His success in the States continued. His second and third seasons again produced more than 100 RBI and he averaged 27 home runs (with a US career high of 31 in 2004) over the final two years of his original contract. Prior to the 2006 season, Matsui and the Yankees agreed to a new four-year, $52MM deal.

In the final year of his contract, with free agency looming and the likelihood of him not returning to the Bronx for another year, Matsui went out with a bang. He produced an .876 OPS, 28 HR and 90 RBI in the regular season, but it was in the post-season that Matsui saved his best for last in New York.

After going a combined 7-30 (.233) in the division and league championship series, Matsui unloaded against the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series. He homered in Game 2 against Pedro Martinez as the Yankees evened the series at a game apiece. He added some insurance with a pinch-hit home run in the Yankees Game 3 victory, and in the Game 6 finale he drove in six runs in the Yankees clinching 7-3 triumph.

Matsui homered again off Martinez and added a single and double. He became the first Japanese born player to win the World Series MVP Award.

Matsui signed with the Los Angeles Angels for 2010 and got a hero's welcome when he returned to Yankee Stadium for Opening Day. This time it wasn't only the fans that greeted him joyously; in presenting him with his World Series ring, Matsui's former teammates mobbed him with hugs and handshakes.

Matsui spent one year in LA, before playing for a season in Oakland, and a brief spell in Tampa in 2012 before he was released on August 1.

Between Japan and the US, the man who became known as Godzilla hit 507 career home runs. He was already missed in New York, but now he will be missed by all of Major League Baseball.

Good luck Godzilla!

"He's the Hideki you know." - John Sterling

Update 7:30 PM - Yankees General Partner Hal Steinbrenner released the following statement:

"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." 

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