This afternoon the Yankees will take a break from not scoring runs to honor Hideki Matsui as he officially retires from baseball. In a season where virtually nothing has gone right for the boys in pinstripes, it warms the heart to take a moment to reflect on the tremendous accomplishments of the man known as Godzilla.
In terms of his overall American baseball legacy, Matsui will go down as the greatest Japanese slugger in Major League history. How much power did Matsui possess compared to his compatriots? He holds the five highest single-season home run totals of any Japanese player, ever:
And if that doesn't float your boat, he also holds:
- The five highest seasons of ISO (isolated power)
- The six highest seasons of RBI
- The four highest seasons of slugging percentage
- Five of the eight highest seasons of OPS+, including the top two seasons ever.
The man set a standard of consistent excellence during his time in New York that should impress even the most jaded Yankee fan. Never in his seven years as a Yankee did he finish with an OPS+ below 100. He began his Yankee career by playing in 519 consecutive games. After he was forced to sit out after breaking his wrist while sliding to make a catch in a 2006 game against Boston, he went in front of the cameras to apologize to his fans and teammates for letting them down.
Matsui fought through injury-shortened seasons in 2006 and 2008, only to come back strong in 2009. In his final year with the Yankees, he posted a .274/.367/.509 line in 142 games - numbers that dwarf any current Yankee not named Robinson Cano.
Perhaps the most enduring legacy Hideki Matsui will leave Yankee fans is the astonishing bookend performances he gave the home crowd. He did this his first game in old Yankee Stadium:
...and he did this in his last game in new Yankee Stadium:
It's hard to think of any other player in Yankee history with such a grand entrance and exit.
I remember that Game 6, of course - I was teaching in a Chinese university at the time, and my Thursday morning classes forced me to miss Matsui's early-game heroics. I took a cab straight home after class to watch the last few innings. I caught Matsui's final at bat - his final at bat as a Yankee, as it would turn out. He struck out against Scott Eyre and walked back to the dugout to a thunderous ovation.
Of all the Yankees who played in that 2009 World Series, Matsui and Mariano Rivera gave me the deepest sense of pride and satisfaction. Mo had another ring to permanently cast aside the ghosts of 2001, and Matsui - the longest-tenured Yankee without a Series title - finally got the ring he so richly deserved. Hideki Matsui will forever be known as a great champion, and a great Yankee.
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