Dec
16

Remembering the Matsui years

By

MatsuiMVP

When Hideki Matsui came to America — to New York, to the Yankees — it was a Very Big Deal. When he announced his decision to become an international free agent and test the U.S. market in November of 2002, Ken Belson of The Times piled on the praise. Matsui was Japan’s “most popular and perhaps most talented player,” and it pained him to leave almost as much as it pained the fans who gave the nickname Godzilla to see him go.

”I tried to tell myself I needed to stay here for the prosperity of Japanese baseball,” he said at the time ”but in the end I decided to go with what my gut said. I will do my best there so the [Japanese] fans will be glad I went.” Clearly, Hideki has not disappointed.

From the get-go, the Yankees wanted Matsui. Before he even had a chance to declare free agency, before the Angels and Giants wrapped up their seven-game World Series, the Yankees were rumored to be interested in Matsui. Godzilla, just 28 at the time, had just finished a season for the ages. He hit 50 home runs, drove in 107 and flashed a batting line of .334/.461/.692. No wonder the Yanks, looking for some stability in the outfield and a bat to fill the hole left a year earlier by Paul O’Neill’s retirement, coveted the slugger.

By December, as has happened so many times since, the Yankees got their guy. The Yankees outbid the Orioles and Mets to land Matsui to a three-year, $21-million deal. Today, it sounds like a fleecing. For the Yankees, the investment represented their first in Japan since the glory days of Hideki Irabu, and the team was looking forward to the arrival of their Japanese slugger.

a_matsui_i

In his first game at Yankee Stadium, Hideki Matsui did not disappoint. On a 35-degree day in mid-April and with the Twins in town, the Yanks had built up a 3-1 lead when Matsui stepped to the plate with the bases loaded. Godzilla crushed a pitch into the right field bleachers for his first career Major League home a run — a grand slam to boot. “That was the greatest moment I ever had,” Matsui said after the game.

The rest of the year would be an up-and-down one for the slugger. Matsui played in every game and hit .287/.353/.435 on the season but launched just 16 home runs. Where, Yankee fans wondered, was the famed Godzilla power? It would return in a big way the next season when Matsui had his best year in pinstripes. He hit .298/.390/.522 with a career high 31 home runs and tried his best to beat the Red Sox in that famed ALCS.

After the 2005 season, the Yankees and Matsui rushed to reach an agreement on a contract extension. As part of the original three-year deal that brought Matsui to the States, the Yanks promised to non-tender him if they could not agree on a new contract in 2005. Just hours before the deadline, Matsui reupped with the Yanks for four years at $13 million a year.

Unfortunately for the Yanks, the new contract started out with an injury. On May 11, in a game against the Red Sox, Matsui tried to make a sliding catch and ended up shattering his wrist. He would miss four months of the year. It was his first stint on the DL during his professional career. The next three years were uneven ones for Hideki. He missed significant time in 2008 with knee problems, but when he was healthy, he could hit with the best of them.

For his Yankee career, Matsui was every bit as good as advertised. Despite missing time over the last three season, he heads west with a career batting line of .292/.370/.482 and a career OPS+ of 124. In 56 playoff games with the Yanks, he hit .312/.391/.541, and Yankee fans will forever remember his effort in the 2009 World Series. The three home runs in 13 at-bats, the eight RBIs, the decisive blows against Pedro Martinez will all live in Yankee lore.

As Matsui heads to Anaheim, reports Ken Belson, the Japanese presence will start to recede from the Bronx. For me, though, it’s more personal. He was a quiet and steady presence on the Yanks who always seemed to come through, and I’ll really miss the guy. He was a stalwart on the Yankees during a World Series drought, and it was fitting that he was the one to take home the MVP award and bring that title to the Bronx in his last season here. I had always figured he would leave after this season, and I’m glad he did it while going out on top. Even as he joins the hated Angels, I’ll be pulling for him, good old Number 55, the former left fielder-turned-designated hitter, Hideki Matsui, Number 55.

AAEG031

Categories : Musings

84 Comments»

  1. Malcard89 says:

    I saw Matsui’s first grandslam live on TV. It was my first baseball game that I ever watched as a dedicated baseball/yankees fan at 13 years old. I’ve never seen a Yankees team without him, so it will be very weird, but I will root for him forever.

  2. Salty Buggah says:

    I appreciate Hideki Matsui.

    Oh wait, this isn’t the Hit-deki Appreciation thread? My bad

    Seriously though, I will miss him. He was a good player and really professional all the time. It’s just sank in today for me that Matsui is a Yankee no more. It’s unfortunate that his knees were so bad or else he might be back. In memory of Matsui’s Yankees career, I will post this video:

    http://mlb.mlb.com/media/video.....id=5646923

    Good luck Hideki. I’ll miss the thrillas from Godzilla.

  3. Manimal says:

    3 years/21mil?!?! Thats all we payed for him!?

  4. Crazy Eyes Killa says:

    Very sad to see him playing for a different team.

  5. Joey says:

    Wish you well Godzilla, always appreciated the quite and consistent approach he took, had zero doubt every time he came to bat. His bat (but not his legs) will be missed greatly

  6. Mark L. says:

    The Yankees will regret letting their 3rd best hitter go to their former ALCS opponent for so little money, especially when they plan on giving more money for an older Damon to drag down outfield defense and provide less offensive production.

    • Salty Buggah says:

      Eh, maybe. He doesn’t put the Angels on top since they have several other bigger holes. Also, whether we want to believe or not, Hideki is a ticking time bomb because of his knees. He might get injured and miss a prolonged period of time. We simply got lucky this year that his knees only had to be drained twice. As good as his bat is and as much as we will miss Hideki, it might have been good to let him go.

      Then again, maybe it would have been good to have him back at only $6.5 mil. It all depends on how Cash is constructing the roster though (like whether or not he wants more roster flexibility or potentially a better bat)

      • jim p says:

        I wonder what lies behind the certainty that his knees are forever shot. I had to walk with a cane for well over a year, but my knees work fine now (knock on wood). I can see doubt, but does anyone know there’s a certainty his knees will always suck from hereon out?

        • larryf says:

          can you slide and go from first to third on a single?

        • Pasqua says:

          I’m glad you’re healthy now, but to echo larryf, running the bases, sliding, colliding, etc. are a great deal more abusive than walking comfortably. It would stand to reason that Matsui can only hope to maintain playable legs and that 100% health is unlikely.

        • Mattingly's Love Child says:

          It has happened to many professional athletes, and is why they invented Field Turf. The old astro-turf was like playing baseball on the roof of a parking garage. It chewed up many knees, including more recently Vlad Guerrero. The new stuff plays almost like grass and is almost as soft on the body, which will hopefully mean we won’t have guys like Matsui, Vlad, Andre Dawson,etc losing their wheels prematurely.

          Of course with new medical technology, eventually they could probably repair the damage, but it doesn’t seem like we’re there yet.

    • Angelo says:

      Damon wouldnt be an everyday outfielder, Melky would patrol LF since the Yankees have Granderson in CF now. I was hoping the Yankees would sign Matsui after we got Granderson. Granderson could bat second in this line up and just put Matsui right where he belongs in the 5 hole.

      You will be missed Matsui.

    • Hey ZZ says:

      The Yankees may regret letting Matsui walk, but they probably do not care that he went to the Angels. As it stands now the Angels may be the 3rd best team in their own division.

      • Hey ZZ says:

        Which kind of pisses me off now that I think about it. The Angels have glaring holes on their roster and the first thing they do is sign Hideki? If Hideki was still there in a few weeks I think Cash may have been more inclined to sign him once the LF and pitching finances got figured out

    • pat says:

      Dude there has to be a reason the Yankees let their 3rd best hitter go to their former ALCS opponent for so little money. Cash knows more about these guys than we could ever hope. There’s a reason we let him walk, I’m sure next year we’ll find out why.

      • Angelo says:

        Or it could have been because Damon was seen as a better and more flexible option. The opportunities to get younger as a team played a part as well, Im sure. It does not necessarily mean that Cash though Matsui would break down after leaving the Yankees. Remember the Yankees apparently have a strict payroll of 200 million, so not everyone was going to come back regardless.

        On the other hand you could be completely right. Maybe Cash knows something we dont, but I just dont believe that was absolutely the case.

      • ROBTEN says:

        I think that Matsui’s knees are probably the main reason why the Yankees were hesitant to resign him. Having to have your knees continually drained does not make for much confidence in your ability to stay on the field (or in the batter’s box)…

        However, I’ve also been wondering–could it be that he really does want to play LF and, however batshit insane that might be, is why he signed so quickly with the Angels?

        I can’t believe that the Angels would actually let Matsui play LF, but could even a small possibility that he might play the field again have been the enticement necessary to get him to sign there?

        • Hey ZZ says:

          I thought this yesterday. If he can prove he can play the OF some he stands to make more money in 2011. Then again if he plays the OF he has a higher risk of his knees just completely going to hell and there will be no 2011 for him

  7. Salty Buggah says:

    How big of an ovation do you guys think he gets when he first plays as an Angel at YSIII, which coincidentally is when the ring ceremony will be?

    I think he gets a big one.

  8. Salty Buggah says:

    Where’s JMK? He needs to make a poem for Matsui

    • Angelo says:

      At least Lanny isn’t here.

    • JMK THE OVERSHARE's Milton Bradley Fat Park Factor says:

      Heh, thanks for the encouragement, but it’s late and I need to get up in a few hours for work. I’ll try to come up with something tomorrow if there’s a daily open thread or wait ’til the evening open.

  9. Crazy Eyes Killa says:

    The biggest question is who is going to protect A-Rod? If its going to be Posada, which I’d think is most likely, Damon better not be clogging the DH spot, Jorge will be there a lot

  10. Bob Stone says:

    I already miss Matsui and will continue to root for him. I wanted him back badly, but I will trust Cashman.

  11. JMK THE OVERSHARE's Milton Bradley Fat Park Factor says:

    Great, now I have to support the NY porn industry all by myself…

  12. Renny Baseball says:

    Thank you, Hideki. You gave us your best years in the Bronx, leaving perennial championship baseball in Japan and rock-star fame and success for a foreign country where you were unknown and had a lot to lose. A class act, far under-appreciated. Good luck in Anaheim, #55, they are lucky to have you. You will be missed.

  13. Bryan says:

    his first home game as a yankee was a very special day for me. It was my 17th birthday and for a birthday present my parents got me great seats for the game. Ill never forget how cold and rainy it was, but as soon at Matsui hit the granny, it couldnt have made a difference if it was hailing- it was amazing. One of the great experiences I had at the old place. Aside from a world series tittle or aaron boone it didnt get any better than that. Consummate professional and I wish him nothing but the best.

  14. joemomma says:

    ex – Yankee turned Yankee Killer…THE MOVIE!

  15. KK says:

    He had a lot of success in New York, and I always kind of hoped that he’d be a lifer as a Yankee. He was one of my favorite guys to watch, the way he’d stand in the box, flip his bat upwards and stare at it, then waggle the shoulder as he waited for a pitch.

    *sigh* I was hoping he’d re-sign for 2 more years, then retire, then stay with the Yankees as an international scout/ambassador to Japan. Wishful thinking, I guess. The Angels got themselves a hell of a player and person.

  16. crapula says:

    Love the guy…class act…good baseball player…but I agree that he may be a ticking time bomb and maybe Cashman isn’t wanting to roll those dice. I wish him well.

  17. hakeem "single celled organism" says:

    This dude was clutch. This dude was clutch with a big stick. Really this dude was clutch.

  18. China Joe says:

    Was this look back at the Matsui years brought to you by Benihana’s restaurant? If not, I think John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman would be disappointed.

  19. Souter Fell says:

    Best Matsui moment: The opening Grandslam.

    Most Respected Matsui moment: Him actually apologizing to the fans for the wrist injury.

    Funniest Matsui moment: The “introduction” of his new wife. http://3432.voxcdn.com/_images.....tok803.jpg

  20. JeffG says:

    One of my favorite players. Great hitter. I really wish we could have kept him around for another year.

    Saiko deshita.

  21. Rose says:

    Now if you will all join me in a moment of silence…

    Play this song:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_NqBWLeP9f4 (SAFE)

    Then flip throught he slide show of these…

    http://www.nytimes.com/slidesh…..index.html (SAFE)

    Advice: Grab your nearest box of tissues

  22. larryf says:

    Do you think the Yanks offered him a contract but it was too late and he was offended that it took them so long after the World Series? Kind of a Japanese pride/honor/culture issue that we can’t relate to as greedy American$$$$???

    • Rose says:

      I posted this on another thread…but it could help explain what you’re asking. This makes me feel like Arn Tellem DIDN’T go back to the Yankees one last time. Or it could just be Cashman playing nice with the fans…

      Very interesting stuff regarding Matsui and the future of the Hot Stove regarding the Yankees…never thought of this possibility…well I have…just not lately.

      While the $6.5 million figure would seem affordable for the Yankees, owners of baseball’s richest payroll and a seemingly flexible budget, there is no guarantee that Matsui would have returned to the Yankees for that amount after earning $13 million in 2009.

      Cashman used the example of outfielder Bobby Abreu, who made $16 million in 2008 with the Yankees, but agreed to a $5 million deal with the Angels for the ‘09 season. Cashman said that there was no way Abreu would have accepted that salary to remain in New York.

      “It’s hard for players to rationalize coming back to the same clubhouse in that circumstance,” Cashman said.

      Cashman has said that the Yankees have a defined amount of dollars available to spend from Hal Steinbrenner’s wallet, and Damon appears to have been more of a priority. The Yankees would like to sign Damon to a two-year deal in the vicinity of $18 million to $19 million, but those discussions have not warmed up.

      “Maybe the budget is something that people laugh at, [because] it’s the highest in the game,” Cashman said. “But it’s clearly defined, and I won’t exceed it.” – MLB.com

  23. Rose says:

    As a diehard Matsui fan…I must say I enjoyed the write-up thoroughly…and living as close to Massachusetts as I do…and having the majority of my friends as Red Sox fans…let’s just say…they’re glad to see him go. So am I…

    :(

  24. dalelama says:

    The Yanks will miss his ability to hit in the clutch. Especially after acquiring Granderson which lessened our need for Damon it seems ridiculous that we lost Matsui over only $6.5M. Now we are left with only one proven clutch hitter—Jeter. This screw up means we are going to spend $10M per to get Damon or Nick Johnson. I think Cashman was caught asleep at the wheel on this one.

    • Pasqua says:

      I would assume that the Yankees made a conscious decision NOT to sign Matsui, as opposed to “screwing up.” As you say yourself, money was not a problem. I’m sure that they would have happily matched $6.5 million had he been part of the Big Picture for 2010. No way in hell was Cashman taken by surprise on this. The Yankees, I’m sure, by virtue of the money they spend, are kept in the loop of these dealings, especially when the FA is one of their own.

    • Bo says:

      One proven clutch hitter?

      I guess someone didnt watch A-Rod this past Oct. I guess someone hasnt watched Posada play the past decade +.

      • Mattingly's Love Child says:

        Wow. When Bo is basically calling someone out, you know it wasn’t a bright comment! Sounds like someone needs their morning cup of coffee!

      • dalelama says:

        Have watched Arod over 5 years and Posada every post season…Posada’s stupidity peaks every post season…yes Arod did well finally in the playoffs then disappeared again in the World Series. Who would you rather have at the plate with the game on the line ? Posada, Arod, or Godzilla ? In my mind it is Godzilla without hesistation.

  25. Mike HC says:

    Great Hideki article. He was always the guy I wanted up (non Jeter division) in a big spot throughout the drought years (as did you). And then when the lineup was especially loaded last year, he was still the guy to come through in the deciding game. I’m happy he was able to get a WS and wish him good luck with the rest of his career. I hope he makes the Yanks regret not re signing him, but the Yanks will surely be fine either way.

  26. Jake H says:

    I always like Matsui. I thought he was a clutch player. Good luck to him.

  27. Mike HC says:

    Oh yea, there really should not be a Matsui article without reference to his extensive, infamous porn collection.

    So not only does the Yanks lose a great hitter and nice guy, but they lose his epic porn collection. Bad loss all the way around.

  28. Wilcymoore27 says:

    Matsui was a clutch player and a good human being. He deserves the praise and thanks of Yankee fans everywhere. Dare I say it? – he was a Great Yankee.

    Good luck to you, Hideki!

  29. I’ll miss you, Hidek.

  30. JobaWockeeZ says:

    I:m going to miss some Thrillas by Godzilla.

  31. larryf says:

    Yes but there will be lots of “Dandys (ies?) by Grandy this year….and more A-bombs by A-rod this year than last

  32. Nady Nation says:

    Sayonara, Sayonara Kid. You will be missed greatly. I’m already excited to welcome you back on Opening Day.

  33. Jordan - Anybody But Melky 2010 says:

    Even though he had his moments of looking lost, I’ll never forget how many LOOGYs he crushed or how silly he looked in LF sometimes. To me, I was always most confident of a big hit when he was at the plate. He symbolized stability for me, and I’m definitely going to miss him.

    • He symbolized stability for me

      For five of his seven seasons, he OPS+’d between 123-137. The other two seasons? 108 (’08) and 109 (’02). Hideki was remarkably consistent in New York.

  34. Anthony says:

    We wish the one righteous and Most Honorable Hideki Matsui good luck and happy trails for all but 6 games a year.

  35. Bo says:

    It’s really too bad his knees gave out. All those games on the Japanese turf probably cost him 3 more yrs in the field.

  36. Evil Empire says:

    Godzilla was the man, and game 6 of the 2009 World Series was perhaps the greatest swan song any player has ever had for his team.

    That said, its better to cut ties a year early than a year late. The team clearly wants Damon for two years more than Hideki for one, and I can’t blame them. More or less, Curtis Granderson has replaced Matsui on the roster and its hard to say that isn’t a tremendous upgrade. Granderson, btw, will have a smaller salary ($5.5M) in 2009 than HazMat ($6.5).

    • Evil Empire says:

      2010*

    • I will be playing his homer off of Pedro in Game 6 in my head for years.

    • Mattingly's Love Child says:

      You don’t want to be the team paying him millions, even $6.5M, when the music stops (when his bat speed is no longer good enough). It may be that his knees make him look like that will be sooner rather than later, and that he could have another 3 good years as a DH.

      I’m sad to see him go, but I’m glad that the Yankees aren’t going to get stuck with a contract for someone who can’t physically perform.

      And I’ll miss all of the porn jokes….

    • dalelama says:

      We were only looking at a one year contract…let’s Granderson or Matsui bottom of seventh Cliff Lee on the mound with 2 out and the bases loaded…I think we would all pick Matsui in that situation.

  37. toad says:

    I hate to see him go, and I think it was a mistake.

    Sure, the knees are a risk, but one worth taking. If he delivered something close to 2009 he’d be a bargain at $7-8 million.

  38. swisher's fauxhawk says:

    Always the most humble of guys. Did his job quietly, day in and day out.

    You will be missed.

  39. Kered Retej says:

    It may have been the right move for the Yankees to let him walk, but it kills me that he just doesn’t fit on this Yankee team. In a way, Matsui is a little bit like Mariano in that he’s one of the guys you can’t really say anything bad about. I think he is a guy you still respect, even if plays for another team, and I’ll continue to root for him, even as I root against the Angels.

  40. [...] So long and good luck over there Godzilla, you couldn’t have gone out on a better note. We’ll all miss you…but we’ll still get to see you 10-or-so times a [...]

Leave a Reply

You may use <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong> in your comment.

If this is your first time commenting on River Ave. Blues, please review the RAB Commenter Guidelines. Login for commenting features. Register for RAB.