Daisuke Matsuzaka was so revered an entire generation of players were named after him.
Matsuzaka shot to stardom as a high school pitcher in 1998 and spent much of the next two decades living up to the hype as a professional, reaching superstardom in NPB, starring on the international level and winning a World Series title in MLB.
Now 40 years old and struggling with injuries Matsuzaka, namesake of the "Matsuzaka Generation" and one of the faces of an era in Japanese baseball, is hanging up his cleats. The veteran Seibu Lions hurler will retire at the end of the 2021 season, the team announced Wednesday.
"I think it's been hard for him since he has not been able to be in front of Lions fans," Seibu general manager Hisanobu Watanabe said in a statement on Wednesday.
Matsuzaka returned to the Lions, the team that drafted him in 1998, last season but has yet to appear in a game. He had cervical spine surgery on July 5, 2020, and is reportedly still experiencing numbness in his pitching hand.
"Daisuke is not in perfect condition physically or mentally at the current time," Watanabe said. "However, when he has recovered I think he will be able to convey his own feelings in front of everyone."
Matsuzaka is 114-65 with a save and a 3.04 ERA in 1,464 innings over 11 NPB seasons with the Lions, Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and Chunichi Dragons.
After starring for the Lions from 1999-2006, he moved to MLB via the posting system.
Hideo Nomo's move to MLB was a surprise and Ichiro Suzuki's was met with skepticism. Matsuzaka's arrival, however, was highly anticipated, fueled by his results in Japan and swirling rumors — and that's all they were — of a mythical pitch called the "gyroball."
He signed with the Boston Red Sox, where he contributed to a World Series title in 2007. Matsuzaka spent eight seasons in MLB going 56-43 with a 4.45 ERA with the Red Sox and New York Mets before returning to Japan with SoftBank in 2015.
Matsuzaka first burst into the national spotlight in 1998 with one of the most legendary performances in the history of Summer Koshien. The Yokohama High School ace was on the mound for 17 innings during a quarterfinal game against PL Gakuen, throwing 250 pitches in a 9-7 win.
He then threw a no-hitter in the championship game.
Matsuzaka's popularity after that was immense, rivaling even that of former pitcher Daisuke Araki, who shot to superstardom as a high school pitcher in the early 80s and is who Matsuzaka is named after.
He was dubbed the "Monster of the Heisei Era" and success followed him into NPB with Seibu. Soon, players from the same school year were referred to as the Matsuzaka Generation, which is now looked upon as one the deepest and most successful collection of players in NPB history.
Matsuzaka and Hawks pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada, who turned 40 this year and has made 13 starts in 2021, are the last active members.
Matsuzaka hit the ground running as a professional. He was the Pacific League Rookie of the Year in 1999 and led the PL in wins from 1999 to 2001. He was the Sawamura Award winner in 2001, a seven time All-Star and helped lead the Lions to a Japan Series title in 2004. He had five seasons with at least 200 strikeouts in Japan.
Matsuzaka played for his country during the 2006 World Baseball Classic and was named MVP after helping Japan claim the inaugural title. He added a second WBC MVP and title in 2009.
Injuries and ineffectiveness spelled the end of his MLB career, which came to a close when he failed to make the opening day roster for the Cleveland Indians.
Injuries spoiled his time with the Hawks but one last flourish with the Dragons in 2018, when he was 6-4 with a 3.74 ERA, led to him being named Comeback Player of the Year.
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