Today’s announcement from 38 year old OF/DH Hideki Matsui that he was retiring from baseball didn’t come as a surprise to anyone. He had been released mid season during this past season by the Tampa Bay Rays, and after no other teams came calling it was pretty apparent he was done.
His career will largely be remembered in the United States for his accomplishments with the New York Yankees. He was the 2009 World Series MVP for the Yankees as they won their 27th World Series. He earned the nickname “Godzilla” during his time with the Yomiuri Giants in Japan, and he displayed much of that power that got him the moniker when he came to the US. While his most notable achievements came with the New York Yankees, he also played with the Los Angeles Angels, the Oakland Athletics, and the Tampa Bay Rays.
His one season with the Athletics was quite a sight to see for fans in Oakland. While his time with the A’s may be nothing more than a footnote in the grand scheme of his career, his presence in the green-and-gold certainly made an impact. Granted at this point in his career he was really just a shell of the player he had once been, it was a real treat to see him on the field with the Athletics.
He was greeted in the clubhouse at the beginning of Spring Training by Dallas Braden and a large inflatable Godzilla monster, from that point on it was clear he would become an integral part of the team chemistry. The Japanese media assigned to follow his every move probably doubled the amount of media credentials handed out every time they had a game. Never were they more noticable than when Matsui would do a postgame interview.
One of the biggest highlights of his season came in early May against the Texas Rangers. The two clubs were locked up in a tie ball game heading to the bottom of the 10th when Matsui smashed the first pitch of the inning from Darren Oliver well into the right field bleachers to send the fans home happy. It was a tremendous home run, reminiscent of the Matsui of old rather than the old Matsui. The media frenzy was something to behold as the Japanese reporters hounded him and snapped pictures like crazy. And Matsui was soaking it all in.
He also hit his 500th professional home run in an Athletics uniform. He crushed a ball off the right field foul pole at Comerica Park in Detroit. It had been a very highly anticipated event and was met with huge fanfare stateside and in Japan. It may have not been on the same scale as when someone hits their 500th home run in the Major Leagues, but it was still one heck of an accomplishment.
It may not have made any baseball sense, but there was a big part of me that hoped Matsui would have been resigned for the 2012 season. Having him square off against Ichiro Suzuki and the Seattle Mariners in Tokyo to kick off the season would have been pretty cool. It wasn’t meant to be though, and Matsui’s career was all but over after a brief stint with the Rays. Matsui always carried himself with class, and was a credit to the game of baseball. He may always be a Yankee, but I’ll always think of the season that Godzilla wore the white cleats.