One Matsui heads to U.S., while other stays in Japan

By Wayne Grazcyk
November 12, 2002

TOKYO-Hideki Matsui, considered by many the best player in Japanese baseball, will pursue his dream of playing in the American major leagues.

The Yomiuri Giants center fielder is drawing interest from several clubs, but most experts in Japan feel the Yankees have the inside track because they are reportedly about to enter a sister-team agreement with the Yomiuri club. A lefthanded pull hitter, Matsui would appear to be a natural fit for the short right-field porch at Yankee Stadium.

In a press conference televised throughout Japan, Matsui said he had been thinking about playing in the majors for a long time, but he only made his mind up for good after the Giants swept the Seibu Lions for the 2002 Japan Series title.

He told the crowd of press and fans that he had enjoyed his 10 years with the Giants and asked for their support as he makes the transition to the United States.

Current Giants manager Tatsunori Hara and former Yomiuri great Shigeo Nagashima tried to dissuade Matsui from leaving Japan, but he decided he was determined to see if he could follow in Ichiro Suzuki's footsteps.

Matsui, 28, is coming off his best season, as he led the Central League in homers (50) and RBIs (107), while his .334 batting average fell nine points short of the batting title. Matsui, nicknamed “Godzilla” for his prodigious power, was named the CL MVP for the third time in his career.

Japanese fans, especially those of the Giants, understandably have mixed reactions about the departure of their hero. “I am so sad and sorry to see him go,” said one man. “But I wish him the best and hope he hits 60 home runs in the majors next year.”

While Hideki Matsui announced that he will be leaving, Seibu shortstop Kazuo Matsui announced that he will remain in Japan for the upcoming season.

The shortstop is not eligible for free agency until after the 2003 season, which meant he would have had to have his rights traded to a major league club if he wanted to play in the majors next season.