Yankees Celebrate Godzilla

Number 55 jerseys filled Yankee Stadium, and they weren’t Lyle Overbay’s. (No offense to the Yankees first baseman, of course.)

The jerseys were for the previous #55, Hideki Matsui, who played ten years in MLB, seven in the Bronx.

Matsui signed a one-day minor league contract and officially retired as a Yankee on Sunday, July 28. His former team, for whom he helped win the World Series in 2009, honored the Japanese All-Star with a day filled with a golf-cart ride from center field, highlight reels, and a bobblehead giveaway. Matsui’s parents, Masao and Saeko, and his brother, Toshiki, made the trip from Ishikawa to attend the festivities.

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Matsui’s family on the field with Yankees officials

When introducing Matsui at a press conference held in the morning, Yankees Senior Vice President and General Manager Brian Cashman said, “It is a pleasure to be here to talk about such a wonderful human being . . . I’m wearing a ring on my finger – the 2009 ring – thanks to Hideki’s efforts.”

After signing the contract with Cashman and Senior Vice President and Assistant General Manager Jean Afterman looking on, Matsui said through his longtime interpreter Roger Kahlon, “I’ve always aspired to play for the Yankees. To have been able to do that for seven years, every day for me was an absolute joy.”

His career was a joy for Yankees fans as well. In his seven seasons in pinstripes, Matsui batted .292 with 140 home runs and 597 RBI. After playing with the Angels, Athletics, and the Rays, the 2-time MLB All-Star and 2009 World Series MVP finished his MLB career with a .282 AVG, 175 HR, and 760 RBI.

When told that Yankees captain Derek Jeter said Matsui was one of his favorite teammates of all time, Matsui responded, “First and foremost, I have the utmost respect for him as a teammate, and coming from somebody like him, it’s quite an honor. And as a human being and as a player, to be respected in that way is a great feeling. And I have the same feeling toward him as well.”

So it was fitting that Jeter presented his former teammate with a framed #55 jersey during the pregame ceremony. It was a memorable moment that received the biggest fan reaction. Perhaps still pumped from the emotion of the pregame ceremony, Jeter would go on to homer in the bottom of the first inning off Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Matt Moore. Matsui’s fellow countryman Ichiro Suzuki had a 4-for-4 day in the Yankees’ 6-5 win.

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Derek Jeter launches his first home run of the season

“I officially announced my retirement last year,” Matsui said, “but to be able to come back in this manner and become a member of the Yankees and retire as a Yankee, I’m just so humbled and honored.”

As for the fans wearing his old jersey?

“I think there will be a combination of nostalgia and also enjoyment when I see those fans wearing the number fifty-fives, perhaps,” Matsui said. “At the same time, I’ll be kind of impressed with the fact that they never threw it away and they kept it all this time.”

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Matsui is still #55 in any language

Hideki Matsui’s Japanese Baseball Career Highlights
with the Yomiuri Giants (1993-2002)

  • .304 Avg, 332 HR, 889 RBI
  • 3-time Japan Series Champion (1994, 2000, 2002), Japan Series MVP in 2000
  • 3-time Central League MVP (1996, 2000, 2002)
  • 9-time All-Star, 3-time All-Star Game MVP
  • 8-time Best Nine Award recipient (equivalent to MLB’s Silver Slugger)
  • 2-time Japan Professional Sports Grand Prize recipient, the most prestigious all-sports award in Japan
  • Matsutaro Shoriki Award recipient in 2000. Named after the Japanese journalist and media magnate known as the “Father of Japanese Professional Baseball,” the Matsutaro Shoriki Award is presented to the player or manager who best contributes to the development of professional baseball.