Godzilla says goodbye: Matsui calls it a career
Slugger tallied 175 homers, 760 RBIs in 10 MLB seasons after arriving from Japan
Matsui, 38, held a news conference in New York to mark the conclusion of his 20 years playing professional baseball, having established himself as one of Japan's most dominant hitters with the Yomiuri Giants from 1993-02 before his seven seasons with the Yankees.
"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."
Nicknamed "Godzilla" for his powerful swing, Matsui slugged 332 home runs in Japan and 175 more in the Major Leagues, 140 of which came in a Yankees uniform. Matsui also played with the Angels (2010), Athletics (2011) and Rays (2012).
"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."
Following his time with the Yankees, Matsui batted .252 with 35 homers and 163 RBIs in 320 games with the Angels, A's and Rays. He batted just .147 in 95 at-bats with Tampa Bay in 2012 before being released in August.
"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," Matsui said. "Even after going through surgery, my physical condition wasn't at its best."
A career .282 hitter with 760 RBIs, Matsui owns the highest home run, RBI and walk totals for any Japanese player in Major League history. He played 1,250 consecutive games to finish his Japanese career and didn't miss a game in his first three seasons with the Yankees, playing 518 straight contests before finally missing a game.
That story, in its own way, has become a key prime example of Matsui's work ethic. After fracturing his left wrist attempting a sliding catch against the Red Sox in May 2006, Matsui released a statement apologizing to his teammates and then-manager Joe Torre for the injury.
"I've said it numerous times over the years, but it's worth repeating now," Yankees captain Derek Jeter said. "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."
A three-time MVP and nine-time All-Star in Japan's Central League before signing a three-year, $21 million deal with the Yankees in December 2002, Matsui became the first Yankees player to hit a grand slam in his Yankee Stadium debut on April 8, 2003, and made two All-Star teams with the Bombers.
Injury concerns following knee surgery limited Matsui's outfield play in his later seasons, but Matsui dedicated himself to improving his skills as a designated hitter and marked the end of his time in New York with a flourish.
Matsui hoisted the World Series championship trophy on the infield at the new Yankee Stadium as the MVP of the Fall Classic, an honor earned after he went 8-for-13 with three homers and eight RBIs in the Yankees' six-game victory over the Phillies.
"I have a lot of respect for Hideki," Jeter said. "He was someone we counted on a great deal and he's a big reason why we became world champions in 2009."
In his final game as a Yankee, Matsui went 3-for-4 with a home run and six RBIs in the Yankees' World Series-clinching Game 6 win. The six RBIs tied the World Series record for a single game (also the Yankees' Bobby Richardson in 1960 and Albert Pujols in 2011).
"I guess you could say this is the best moment of my life right now," Matsui said that November evening, pumping his fists into the air as his accomplishments were applauded on both sides of the Pacific.
"Hideki is proof that baseball is an international attraction that brings people from all over the world together in their passion for the game," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "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."