Hideki Matsui announced his retirement from professional baseball yesterday, and though he hadn’t played in pinstripes since 2009, the news must have made Yankee fans everywhere, from New York to Tokyo, a little wistful.
For one thing, we never really got to see Hideki at his peak, the guy who played for 10 seasons with the Yamiyuri Giants, the signature franchise of Japanese professional ball, where he hit 332 home runs, 50 of them in his last season in Japan. They didn’t throw two-seam fastballs in Japan, and when word got around that’s all he saw in his first season in the big leagues. He adjusted and had some terrific seasons with the Yankees, including 2004 when he hit .298 with 31 home runs and 2009, when he bated .274 with 28.
But the truth is that at 29 when he came to the U.S., he was already past his prime and his knees were already starting to deteriorate. He won’t make it into the Hall of fame as his countryman Ichiro will, but the difference between them as hitters isn’t all that great.
As Cliff Corcoran argues on SI.com today, “Matsui’s stateside career didn’t measure up to what he did in his home country [but] his success towers over that of all other Japanese hitters in the major leagues with the exception of [Ichiro] Suzuki and actually compares surprisingly well to Suzuki’s … Matsui leads in home runs (175 to Suzuki’s 104), RBIs (760 to Suzuki’s 660), walks (547 to Suzuki’s 518, with 512 unintentional walks to Suzuki’s 345), slugging percentage (.462 to Suzuki’s .419), OPS (.822 to .784), and OPS + (118 to 113), and is just five points behind Suzuki in on-base percentage (.360 to .365).”
Not that Hideki ever needed to apologize for anything he did as a major leaguer, least of all for his getting injured in 2006 – which he actually apologize for, calling a press conference to apologize to Yankee fans for fracturing two bones while attempting a sliding catch against the Red Sox.
Without Matsui, there’s a very good chance that the Yankees would have gone from 2000 to God knows when without a World Series championship. No Yankees fan will ever forget the MVP showing he put on in the 2009 Series against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Sayonara to the Sayonara Kid.