Hideki Matsui retired from baseball after a 20-year career in Japan and the U.S., where he played seven of his 10 seasons with the New York Yankees and was the Most Valuable Player in their most recent World Series win.
Matsui, 38, hit 175 Major League Baseball home runs since coming to the U.S. in 2003, the most for any Japanese player.
“He was the type of player and person you want young fans of this game to emulate,” Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman said in a statement. “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.”
Matsui, who played with the Yankees from 2003-09, said at a news conference yesterday in New York that his production the past two seasons was limited by knee injuries. He played 34 games with the Tampa Bay Rays last season before being released in August. In Matsui’s last full season, with the Oakland Athletics in 2011, he hit .251 with 12 homers and 72 RBI.
“From around five years ago, both of my knees hadn’t been doing too well,” said Matsui, who ends his major-league career with a .282 batting average. “Even after going through surgery my physical condition wasn’t at its best.”
Matsui was a nine-time All-Star and three-time MVP in Japan’s Central League before coming to New York, where he drove in more than 100 runs in four of his first five seasons and was an All-Star selection in 2003 and 2004.
Matsui helped the Yankees win the most recent of their record 27 World Series titles in 2009 by collecting eight hits in 13 at-bats during the championship series against the Philadelphia Phillies, with three home runs and eight RBI. In the series-clinching game, Matsui had three hits in four at- bats, including a home run and six RBI.
Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said he’ll always consider Matsui one of his favorite teammates.
“The way he went about his business day in and day out was impressive,” Jeter said. “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. I have a lot of respect for Hideki.”
Nicknamed “Godzilla” while playing in Japan, Matsui joined the Yankees after hitting 332 home runs over 10 seasons with the Yomiuri Giants.
In his major-league debut, Matsui hit a grand slam with the Yankees and went on to play 518 consecutive games in left field or as a designated hitter before injuring his wrist in a May 2006 game against the Boston Red Sox. The streak is the longest for any player to start his major league career.
Matsui hit more than 20 homers in a season five times in the U.S., including 31 for the Yankees in 2004. In 56 postseason major-league games -- all with New York -- Matsui batted .312 with 10 home runs and 39 RBI.
“Hideki Matsui, in many ways, embodied what this organization stands for,” Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said in a statement. “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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