December 28, 2012

Major League Notebook: His skills on the wane, Matsui calls it a career

The Associated Press

NEW YORK - Free agent slugger Hideki Matsui retired Thursday from professional baseball, saying he is no longer able to perform at the level that made him a star in two countries.

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Hideki Matsui, a solid 10-year pro for several teams, including the Yankees, announced his retirement from Major League Baseball Thursday in New York.

The Associated Press

The 2009 World Series MVP with the New York Yankees and a three-time Central League MVP with the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants struggled in a brief stint with the Tampa Bay Rays last season and recently made up his mind to call it a career after 20 years -- the first 10 in Japan.

Despite choosing to make the announcement in New York because the city was special to him, the nearly hour-long news conference was conducted only in Japanese and was broadcast live to his home country, where it was 7 a.m. Friday. A Japanese reporter translated portions of the event for the four American baseball writers in attendance.

Before he left for New York in 2003, Matsui told his fans in Japan that he would give his life to playing in the major leagues, give whatever he had, the reporter said. "Today is the day he put a period to that."

In front of more than 15 cameras and dozens of Japanese reporters, many of whom detailed every aspect of his career in the United States, the outfielder/designated hitter gave a 12-minute speech before answering questions for about 40 minutes more, betraying little emotion except for that sly smile he flashed during his playing days.

Nicknamed Godzilla, Matsui was already perhaps the most popular player of his generation in Japan when he signed a three-year, $21 million contract with the Yankees.

While Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki appeared to shy away from the attention, Matsui embraced the scrutiny.

Playing for the Yankees was, "one of the best things that happened to him in his life," the Japanese reporter quoted Matsui as saying.

No. 55 was a monster for New York, too. Always cool under pressure, Matsui hit a grand slam in his first game at Yankee Stadium and matched a World Series record with six RBIs in his pinstripe finale seven years later -- during the clinching Game 6 of the 2009 Series.

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

In New York, Matsui made two All-Star teams and hit .292 with 140 doubles and 597 RBIs. He played in his first 518 major league games after playing in 1,250 straight games in Japan.

Matsui hit 21 homers for the Los Angeles Angels in 2010 after New York didn't offer him a new contract, but his numbers fell off considerably after that. He slumped to .147 with the Rays in 37 games before being released.

Overall, Matsui batted .282 with 175 homers and 760 RBIs for the Yankees, Angels, Oakland Athletics and Rays. In Japan he had a .304 career average with 332 homers and 889 RBIs in 1,268 games.

MARLINS: Hoping for a return to the majors, John Maine signed a minor league contract with Miami and will compete for the fifth spot in its rotation.

The 31-year-old right-hander was 41-36 with an ERA of 4.35 from 2004 to 2010 with the Orioles and Mets.

This year he went 8-5 with a 4.97 ERA in 16 games for the Yankees' Triple-A affiliate in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

PLEADS GUILTY: Former catcher Carlton Fisk pleaded guilty Thursday to a misdemeanor DUI charge after mixing alcohol and prescription drugs and driving into a suburban Chicago farm field on Oct. 22.

Fisk received one year of court supervision and must pay court costs of $1,250 -- the standard disposition for first-time DUI offenders in Will County, said special prosecutor Dave Neal. He will have to undergo a drug and alcohol evaluation as well as counseling, and attend a victim impact panel.

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