Matsui was already a three-time champion and hero in his native Japan when he came to play under the Bronx spotlight. He quickly proved worthy of the Bronx Bomber nickname given to our Yankees, with a Grand Slam in the 2003 Yankee Stadium home opener. He also quickly became a favorite of both the fans and his teammates, including Derek Jeter, who issued a genuinely complimentary statement about Matsui’s retirement.
I think Jeter had a lot of affection for Matsui because he felt the outfielder was the embodiment of a true Yankee, with an unrivaled work ethic and complete devotion to the team concept that drove the Yankees late 1990s dynasty. Matsui would have fit in very well with those championship teams. Unfortunately, he got to New York a few years too late to participate in the dynasty. But in his last year with the Yankees, the team won a World Series championship, with a big assist from Matsui in a dominant performance that earned him the series’ Most Valuable Player award.
Although Matsui spent the last three years of his US career in lesser roles with other baseball teams, he will always be remembered fondly for his time in New York.
Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the Matsui photo.