|Hideki Matsui announced his retirement Thursday. (Associated Press)
I'm not sure people in the United States have ever quite understood or appreciated just how much Hideki Matsui means in Japan. I lived in Japan when he debuted for the Yomiuri Giants and remember just how beloved he was even as a rookie.
Thursday's announcement about Matsui's retirement was big news in Japan, and Gen at YakyuBaka.com scoured the Japanese press for reaction and translated it all for us. Among those quoted aren't just the people you'd expect, like all-time great and former Giants manager Shigeo Nagashima, Yomiuri Giants owner Kojiro Shiraishi and Sadaharu Oh, but also a bat-maker for Mizuno and the likes of Japan's minister of foreign affairs and chief cabinet secretary.
It's not just who was quoted, but the tone of what was said. Make sure you read Gen's full post here, but here are some of the highlights:
• Fumio Kishida, minister of foreign affairs: "As a pro yakyu fan myself, this greatly saddens me. [Matsui] gave baseball fans in Japan and the US courage, his achievements are really great.
• Oh: "Since high school, he carried Japanese baseball on his shoulders and received a lot of attention as a big left-handed hitter. I think he fought through a tremendous amount of pressure each day. … I wanted to see him continue his carer in Japan, but in taking on the challenge of playing for the well-known Yankees, his efforts had a great impact on the development of Japanese baseball. His 2009 World Series MVP was something we baseball players were especially proud of."
• Ryozo Kato, Nippon Professional Baseball commissioner: "More than feeling sad, I feel what a waste. [Matsui] was a great home run hitter to come out of Japanese baseball. He was also very clutch. I think he was able to make it in New York and was accepted by teammates because of his virtue and personality."
• Ichiro Suzuki: "In playing for the Yankees, I realize how important his accomplishments were, how difficult things must have been. He is the one player I knew about from junior high. That he is taking his uniform off now is very sad."
The fact that Suzuki knew about Matsui when he was in junior high tells you a bit about how popular Matsui was in Japan -- and had been for a long time.