UPDATE 1-Baseball-'Godzilla' Matsui reti

March 18 [Mon], 2013, 10:49
* Former Yankee ends 20-year career

* Tributes flood in for Japanese sporting celebrity (Adds quotes, details, dateline)

TOKYO, Dec 28 (Reuters) - Hard-hitting Hideki Matsui, who set several milestones for Japanese players in Major League Baseball, has announced his retirement from the game.

The 38-year-old slugger played for 10 seasons in MLB, seven of them with the New York Yankees, producing the most home runs, runs batted in and walks by a Japanese player in the league.

Matsui, the 2009 World Series MVP, told a news conference that he was no longer able to perform at the top level in either the United States or Japan.

"Today I'm bringing my 20-year baseball career to an end," Matsui, who had been a free agent since being released by the Tampa Bay Rays in August, told reporters in New York on Thursday.

"I'm both sad and relieved. I had the opportunity to play this season but my statistics were not good enough. That's the biggest reason."

Tributes flooded in for Matsui, a two-time All-Star with the Yankees fondly dubbed "Godzilla" since his early career in Japan for his powerful swing.

"He is a great player who always brought Japanese people hope and joy," Japan's chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters in Tokyo on Friday.

Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said: "I've had a lot of team mates over the years with the Yankees, but I will always consider Hideki one of my favorites.

"Despite being shadowed by a large group of reporters, having the pressures of performing for his fans both in New York and Japan and becoming acclimated to the bright lights of New York City, he always remained focused and committed to his job and to those of us he shared the clubhouse with. I have a lot of respect for Hideki."

Matsui was the first Japanese-born player to win World Series MVP honours, going 8-for-13 with three homers and eight runs batted in as the Yankees beat the Phillies in 2009.


"Hideki Matsui, in many ways, embodied what this organisation stands for," Yankees general managing partner Hal Steinbrenner said.

"He was dedicated to his craft, embraced his responsibilities to his team and fans, and elevated his play when he was needed the most.

"He did all these things with a humility that was distinctly his own, which is why he was such a big part of our success and why he will always be a cherished member of the Yankees family."

One of Japan's most dominant hitters with the Yomiuri Giants from 1993-2002, he joined the Yankees in 2003 on a three-year deal worth $21 million.

In 10 Major League seasons, he batted .282 with 760 runs batted in for the Yankees, Los Angeles Angels, Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay, belting 175 home runs.

In Japan, he boasted a .304 career average with 332 homers and 889 RBIs in 1,268 games. In his last season with the Rays, he played in 34 games, batting just .147.

Asked about his 507 homers in MLB and Japan, Matsui said: "Hitting home runs has certainly been one thing I've been able to bring but I've always believed the team comes first."

Matsui, a huge celebrity in his home country, played 1,250 consecutive games to finish his Japanese career and did not miss a game in his first three seasons with the Yankees, playing 518 consecutive games.

He was a three-time MVP and nine-time All-Star in the Central League in Japan before signing with the Yankees. Matsui kept the door open for a future in coaching.

"At the moment I haven't thought about it but you never know, there might be a chance of it in the future," he said. "I'm retiring with absolutely no regrets." (Reporting by Alastair Himmer; additional reporting by Gene Cherry in Salvo, North Carolina; Editing by John O'Brien)

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