"I'd like to thank the Yankees organization, from the bottom of my heart, for giving me this opportunity," Matsui said through a translator. "I officially announced my retirement last year, but to be able to come back in this manner -- at the time, I never really imagined having this type of opportunity.
"To become a member of the Yankees and retire as a Yankee, I'm just so humbled and honored."
The Yankees played a video tribute chronicling Matsui's career in the Bronx on the scoreboard before their game against the Rays, and Matsui got a standing ovation as he rode from center field to home plate in a golf cart and waved to the fans.
Then, joined by Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, senior vice president and assistant GM Jean Afterman, and his parents, Masao and Saeko, and his brother, Matsui signed his retirement papers and was presented with a matted and framed No. 55 jersey.
Shortstop Derek Jeter presented Matsui with the jersey, then the entire Yankees team joined him behind home plate.
"I think this moment will be a moment I never forget," Matsui said. "To be able to retire as a member of the team I aspired to and looked up to, I think there's nothing more fulfilling than that."
Fans were lined up outside the stadium well before the gates opened. The first 18,000 guests in attendance received a bobblehead which featured Matsui holding his 2009 World Series MVP trophy.
"I think it will be a combination of nostalgia and joy when I see those fans wearing No. 55s," Matsui said. "I will also be kind of impressed by them, the fact that they never threw [my jersey] away after all this time."
The former Yomiuri Giants star played seven seasons for the Yankees from 2003-09, batting .292 with 140 home runs and 597 RBIs. Matsui made the All-Star team in 2003 and '04, and his streak of 518 straight games played remains the longest run to start a career in Major League history.
"He came here, he was supposed to be this 'Godzilla' that hits home runs, but he was a situational hitter. Matsui moved runners when he had to move them, he got big hits, he drove guys in, he wanted to play every day," Jeter said. "I enjoyed getting to know him throughout the years. He's always been one of my favorite teammates, and he always will be."
"Not only was he a middle-of-the-order hitter that had great production, he was a staple in the clubhouse. He was adored by his teammates," manager Joe Girardi said. "You're going to have a hard time finding a player that was more liked in our clubhouse than Hideki Matsui over the years."
Matsui played his last game for the Yankees on Nov. 4, 2009, hitting a home run and driving in a World Series-record-tying six runs in a Game 6 victory over the Phillies, sealing New York's championship. He was a unanimous pick for Series MVP.
"Hideki represents everything the Yankees aspire to be," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "I'm wearing a ring on this finger, this particular ring -- the 2009 ring -- thanks to Hideki Matsui's efforts. That's one of the reasons we gravitated to him. We thought he could take us to that next level, and, not surprisingly, he did that in Japan and did that for us as well."
Matsui played three more years after leaving the Yankees following the 2009 season, playing one season each with the Angels and the A's before playing 34 games for the Rays last year. He finished his career with a .282 batting average, 175 home runs and 760 RBIs.
While he doesn't have any particular plans for what his future holds just yet, Matsui said his baseball experience will likely be put to good use.
Josh Vitale is an associate reporter for MLB.com. David Wilson is an associate reporter for MLB.com.