‘Godzilla’ Matsui retires from baseball Tributes flood in for Japanese

NEW YORK, Dec 28, (Agencies): Hideki Matsui has retired from professional baseball, saying he is no longer able to perform at the level that made him a star slugger in two countries.
The 2009 World Series MVP with the New York Yankees and a three-time Central League MVP with Tokyo’s Yomiuri Giants struggled in a brief stint with the Tampa Bay Rays last season and recently made up his mind to call time on a career which lasted 20 years — the first 10 in Japan.
Despite choosing to make the announcement in New York because the city was special to him, the nearly hour-long news conference was conducted only in Japanese and was broadcast live to his home country, where it was 7 a.m. Friday. A Japanese reporter translated portions of the event for the American baseball writers in attendance.
Before he left for New York in 2003, Matsui told his fans in Japan that he would give his life to playing in the major leagues, give whatever he had, the reporter said. “Today is the day he put a period to that.”
In front of more than 15 cameras and dozens of Japanese reporters, many of whom detailed every aspect of his career in the United States, the outfielder/designated hitter gave a 12-minute speech before answering questions for about 40 minutes more, betraying little emotion except for that sly smile he flashed during his playing days.
Nicknamed Godzilla, Matsui was already perhaps the most popular player of his generation in Japan when he signed a three-year, $21 million contract with the Yankees.
While Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki appeared to shy away from the attention, Matsui walked right into the spotlight and embraced the scrutiny.
Playing for the Yankees was, “one of the best things that happened to him in his life,” the Japanese reporter quoted Matsui as saying.
Always cool under pressure, Matsui hit a grand slam in his first game at Yankee Stadium and matched a World Series record with six RBIs in his pinstripe finale seven years later — during the clinching Game 6 of the 2009 Series.
“I’ve had a lot of teammates over the years with the Yankees, but I will always consider Hideki one of my favorites,” Yankees shortstop Derek 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.”
In his career with New York, Matsui made two All-Star teams and hit .292 with 140 doubles and 597 RBIs. He played in his first 518 major league games after playing in 1,250 straight games in Japan.
In his first remarks after breaking his wrist and ending that streak in 2006, he apologized for getting hurt. Matsui returned four months later and went 4 for 4.
Matsui was known for being stoic but he also had a sense of humor, and he got a good laugh Thursday, telling the crowd that he doesn’t like to use the word “retirement” because he will continue to play baseball for fun.
Still, Matsui ruled out competing this year in the World Baseball Classic or joining a team in Japan again.
“He was not confident he’d be able to play at the level he played at 10 years ago,” the reporter said.
In fact, Matsui still has not decided on what to do next.
Matsui hit 21 homers for the Los Angeles Angels in 2010 after New York didn’t offer him a new contract, but his numbers fell off considerably after that. He slumped to .147 (14 for 95) with the Rays in 37 games before being released.
Overall, Matsui batted .282 with 175 homers and 760 RBIs for the Yankees, Angels, Oakland Athletics and Rays. In Japan he had a .304 career average with 332 homers and 889 RBIs in 1,268 games.
“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,” Yankees general managing partner Hal Steinbrenner said. “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.”
Matsui said he first started thinking about the Yankees when he became a professional and his manager with the Giants told him to aspire to be a player like former New York center fielder Joe DiMaggio. Then in 1999 — three years from free agency — Matsui went to Yankee Stadium to watch a game and was “astonished” at the level of play. He thought to himself that he would “like to become a player that would be capable of playing at Yankee Stadium,” the reporter translated.
Matsui arrived in New York after a season in which he hit 50 homers for the most well-known team in Japan.
“Hideki came to the Yankees as a superstar and immediately became a team favorite. Not only for his talent but for the unselfishness he brought to the game every day,” said MLB executive vice president for baseball operations Joe Torre, who was Matsui’s manager for his first five seasons in New York. “Hideki Matsui is a winner and I was proud to be his manager.”
In Tokyo, Japanese baseball managers, players, fans and media showered with praise former New York Yankees slugger Matsui Friday as he announced his retirement after 20 years in Japanese and US baseball.
Some hoped the 38-year-old outfielder would remain in the game and one day manage Japan’s hugely popular Yomiuri Giants — his club for his first 10 professional years before a high-profile move to the US major leagues.
“Thank you, glorious Godzilla,” the Yomiuri Shimbun said in its evening edition hours after Matsui, named after the world-famous Japanese movie monster, bade farewell at a news conference in New York.
“Japanese and American fans who watched his dynamic play are all filled with sadness,” the mass-circulation daily said.
“Hitting a total 507 home-runs while loved in Japan, US”, read a headline in the Mainichi Shimbun.
Matsui, who played for three different clubs over the last three seasons after becoming the Most Valuable Player of the 2009 World Series with the Yankees, said he had not been able to produce good results in the past two years due to nagging knee problems.
“I felt it was the end of a great Matsui era,” said Giants manager Tatsunori Hara, who used Matsui as the key fourth batter in 2002 during his first stint in the post.
The Giants won the Japan Series title that year and Matsui left for the Yankees the next season. The Tokyo team also won the title in 2012 under Hara.
“I was stunned by his very strong will, sturdy body and unmatched power,” said Hara, who was in his last year as a player when Matsui joined the team in 1993. “He grew up quickly from his first year.” Hara, 54, said he had always considered Matsui as an “old boy” of the Giants.
“I believe he wishes to work himself to the bone for the development of Japanese baseball,” he said. “I believe he has a strong feeling particularly toward the Giants.”
Giants owner Kojiro Shiraishi said he would “back up” Matsui if he had plans to study the sport’s management and contribute to Japan’s baseball world.
The daily Nikkan Sports, devoting four pages — including the front — to Matsui in its morning edition which was published before the announcement, said in a headline that he was due to “bring Godzilla II to the Giants”.
It estimated he had earned $84 million in salary over 10 years in the United States, in addition to 2.3 billion yen ($27 million) paid to him by the Giants over 10 years.
Matsui’s father Masao, 70, said his son had “nothing to regret as a baseball player with such good results”.
“I do feel that he has been loved by fans in both the United States and Japan,” said the senior Matsui. “I believe he has a mission to contribute to the baseball world and children.”
After the Yankees, Matsui played for one year each with the Los Angeles Angels and Oakland Athletics. He appeared in 34 major league games for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2012, batting .147 with two home runs and seven RBIs.
He hit .282 with 175 homers and 760 RBIs in his major league career.

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