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Matsui formally retires as Yankee during ceremony at Yankee Stadium

Kyodo

Hideki Matsui ended his playing career as a member of the New York Yankees on Sunday, when the team honored him with a pregame ceremony at Yankee Stadium.

Hours before the Yankees’ afternoon game against the Tampa Bay Rays, the team inked Matsui to a one-day minor league deal. Just prior to the game, he formally signed his retirement papers at home plate with his parents and younger brother behind him. He also threw out the ceremonial first pitch in a game the Yankees went on to win 6-5.

“I was on the verge of tears as I entered the stadium,” Matsui said. “It was an emotion beyond words. It brought home once more what a joyful life I had in the game. This will be a day I’ll never forget.”

“I retired last year, but I never dreamed I would have this honor, to sign a one-day deal and become once more a member of the Yankees and to retire as a Yankee.”

Matsui, who left Japan’s famed Yomiuri Giants on the heels of winning his third Central League Most Valuable Player Award in 2002, signed with New York as a free agent and hit a grand slam in his first game at old Yankee Stadium.

He played seven seasons in the Bronx, a string that climaxed with his being named MVP of the 2009 World Series. He played for the Anaheim Angels in 2010 and for the Oakland Athletics in 2011 before finishing his career with 34 games for the Rays last season. Matsui hit 332 home runs in his 10 seasons with the Giants, and 175 in the majors.

“I’ve always aspired to be a member of the New York Yankees and to have been able to do that for seven years, every day was just an absolute joy,” Matsui told a pregame press conference.

“I played every day with the sole goal of becoming a World Series champion, so to be able to do that in 2009 was amazing.”

“I think there are a lot of things I learned (playing for the Yankees), but of course the one thing that stands out is that you are here to win championships, and that’s what you play for every day.”

On a day when the first 18,000 fans received Matsui bobblehead dolls, many of those in attendance held signs honoring him and wore Yankees jerseys with Matsui’s No. 55.

“On my way to the park, I saw so many fans (wearing my jersey). I felt both nostalgic and happy,” he said. “I guess I’m grateful that many people hung on to those No. 55 shirts.”

“This day is one I’ll never forget, to be in the place I most wanted to be, and to end my playing days here brings me the greatest joy.”

“If the fans can see me as I am, I’m fine with that. But if they recall seeing me in my playing days, that would make me really happy.”

Matsui was driven to home plate from the center field gate in a golf cart, and after signing the end of his career he was presented with a framed No. 55 Yankees jersey by captain and former teammate Derek Jeter, who was activated Sunday after a long rehabilitation. A group of current Yankees joined him at home plate for a photo including compatriot Hiroki Kuroda, but not Ichiro Suzuki — Matsui’s contemporary from his playing days in Japan.

  • Mark Garrett

    First of all, from a lifelong Yankees fan, congrats to Matsui and a big thanks for the many years of hard work and great play, in particular the 2009 World Series!

    A tremendous ballplayer, a great teammate, and a model citizen regardless of the country.

    I was really intrigued, however, by the last sentence regarding the conspicuous absence of Ichiro from the ceremony and group photo. I searched all of the reports and articles of the event but could find no other commentary on it. I wanted to believe it was just coincidence, that perhaps Ichiro had to get treatment before the game or maybe wasn’t even in the lineup for some reason, but the box score showed a perfect 4 for 4 from the plate so he obviously played.

    I did some more digging and found a very interesting article written by Jim Caple of ESPN back in 2011 on the relationship between the two Japanese stars, and I now believe that for some reason, either pride or perhaps jealousy, Ichiro chose not to participate.

    http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/columns/story?columnist=caple_jim&id=6408880

    I know he is very shy and he was probably more than a little uncomfortable about the many questions he would be asked by the large number of reporters and journalists in attendance (it was also Jeter’s return to the lineup after a season long injury and rehab), but I think he made a big mistake. I’m sure that Matsui would fly from Japan to celebrate Ichiro’s last day. Whatever rivalry or discourse that the media may have drummed up over the years I can guarantee you Hideki didn’t go along with it. Every time he was ever asked about his relationship with him he had nothing but great things to say.

    So I’m disappointed but I’m not going to dwell on it because the real story is number 55 and his legacy as a Giant, a Yankee, and a man. And also because I know he won’t be dwelling on it or saying anything negative about it when asked. That’s just the kind of guy he is. Thanks again Godzilla!

    • Kenjiro Yamakawa

      I am a Japanese ball fan living in NY.

      I believe that Ichiro did decided not to participate…It was a sad moment to me as Matsui, Ichiro and Yankees fan.
      I did some digging too, and found out that Ichi was in the back working out on his own machine he brought to the stadium to do some daily routine. He explained that the ceremony happened to happen in that particular time before the game. Japanese media wrote things like, “Ichi responded in his fashion by hitting 4 hits to honor Matsui” or “He played a secondary role for Matsui by not showing up in the ceremony”.

      Are you kidding me??

      He should’ve come out to the field to honor Matsui, just like other teammates including Kuroda did. In any measure, nobody understands that fashion in this country/culture, acting humble like that. Ichi has been in the states for long enough and he must know it by now. He could be (and should be) productive on top of that. It was quite obvious that he was unhappy and felt uncomfortable to participate. What other teammates did is what normal human being does and should. It was very awkward to me and probably to other (including Japanese) fans.

      Reaction among other Japanese fans is mixed. There are fans with same reaction as mine. Some are very negative about what the organization did and sympathize with Ichi, assuming that organization was just using Matsui, not to honor, just to comfort Japanese fans, which is against Ichi’s style. These people also said that the ceremony was a farce and the organization was just targeting Japanese money. Some even left very negative comments, by saying “that’s what crafty Americans do”, “why do you bother, they’ve spoken each other in the back, it’s not your business”, etc.

      Very sad to read those comments, by those who don’t know the fact Matsui still being loved by New Yorkers…

      Don’t get me wrong, I do sympathize with some of these people, knowing the fact Hideki was treated terribly by the organization, that he was cut right after earning World Series MVP. But that’s the way it is in the states. None of distorted Japanese fans understand this but Hideki himself does. If you are not in need, you’ll be canned. Japanese don’t understand this because many of them are put into lifelong employment system even if they are useless. Anyhow, Yankees decided to honor him, so I think everybody should forget the past and honor Hideki and his achievements.

      Ichiro is, without a doubt, a superhero, a brilliant ball player and a future hall of famer. As a Yankees fan, I respect him and I support him. But as a human being, I am not with him. He’s too distorted and I can’t respect him as a person.

      • Mark Garrett

        Thank you Kenjiro for that very informative and insightful reply.
        I was totally unaware of some of the feelings you mentioned.
        It is really hard for me to believe that the Yankees brought Matsui back and arranged such a big retirement event for him just as a marketing scheme for sponsors and Japaneses fans.If that was all they were interested in they never would have traded him after the 2009 season! And almost all of those people cheering him in the stands were not sponsors or even Japanese, they were Matsui fans thanking him for his great play and great work ethic.

        Of course most of us were upset when he was traded after the World Series but as they say, “it’s not personal, it’s just business”.
        Heck, they were ready to let Jeter go a couple of years ago because of bad trade negotiations!

        As far as Ichiro, there is a big difference between being humble and being a jerk. Being humble is swallowing your pride and supporting someone regardless of your personal feelings. There is simply no good excuse for his absence. I think it’s hilarious that the Japanese media claimed that he honored Matsui by getting 4 hits! I think it is more likely he did it to try to show he’s better than Matsui. As you said, he’s a brilliant player and a future hall of famer, but he’ll never get the same kind of love from fans that Hideki did.