Hideki Matsui must have wondered what he did to deserve such a cruel fate. He left the Japanese major leagues seven years ago to prove himself against the best in the world. In Japan, he had won three MVP awards and three championships. In 2003, he crossed the Pacific and joined the best team in MLB, coming off a stretch in which they'd won four titles and five pennants in seven years.
His first season saw the Yankees reach the World Series, with Matsui hitting a big three-run homer in Game 2. But as we all know, the Yanks lost the Series in six. The next five years went downhill from there, ending in an LCS loss, three straight LDS losses, and then failing to make the playoffs completely in 2008.
Matsui missed most of the 2006 season when he broke his wrist sliding to catch a pop-fly. He then missed about seven weeks in mid-2008 with knee problems. 2009 looked to be the 'swan song' for Matsui with the Yankees (and possibly in MLB).
He turned in a season and postseason beyond most people's expectations. His OPS+ (131) was higher than any year since 2004 (.274/.367/.509). You have to think that being the full-time DH allowed his body/knees to rest, making him a better hitter.
Anyway, I'm trying to get to the book I just read, Hideki Matsui: Sportsmanship, Modesty, and the Art of the Home Run. It was written by a Japanese novelist, Shizuka Ijuin, who's been friends with Matsui for almost 15 years. It details Matsui's life from a young boy who's big dream was playing in the Koshien Tournament (the 'March Madness' of high school baseball) to spring training with the Yankees in 2007. (Unfortunately it was written before the 2009 season, when he became the first Japanese player to win the World Series MVP).
The main point of the book is that Matsui is not just a great ballplayer, but a great person. He personally sponsored 10 Vietnamese students who couldn't afford to attend school. He paid for a young Japanese girl with a rare disease to get treatment in America. He donated half a million dollars to the 2004 tsunami relief fund. And he did all this while trying to remain anonymous, and was perturbed when his 'exploits' became public. In his first visit to New York after joining the Yankees in early 2003, he visited the WTC site. He stood in the snow and prayed for an hour.
If I learned anything from the book, it's that Matsui will take the off-season in stride. He's not going to stress over whether the Yanks re-sign him.
If there's one player to root for, just from an emotional standpoint, it's Hideki Matsui. We should feel proud to have had a person like him representing the Yankees the past seven years.