There was a perception that Hideki Matsui’s job was in jeopardy throughout the season. He has not played the outfield since June of 2008 because of bad knees, so his role was that of a DH or there was no role.
He knew almost from the beginning of the season that unless miracle knees showed up, and they have not, he was not going to be returning to the Yankees since they had other and younger choices to DH in the years to come.
In Japan he has been a national celebrity for two decades, rotating with Ichiro Suzuki for the No. 1 spot. In his own country, fans wondered all year if they had seen the best and were seeing the last of baseball star Matsui.
In New York, the leanings from fans and the Yankees themselves were toward Jorge Posada to DH when he was not catching, or maybe it should be a young Brett Gardner or Alex Rodriguez or Derek Jeter if he needed time off.
They all had their chance. Matsui, the proud warrior in the classic mode of the Japanese male role model, sat quietly, worked tirelessly and kept playing.
He ended the regular season hitting .274 with 28 home runs and 90 RBIs. He appeared in 142 games with 456 at-bats.
Among DHs, he was second in average and RBIs and first in home runs
Still, when the postseason came and the Yankees were in it, the DH job questions continued. Matsui was not a major factor in the American League Division Series or AL Championship Series.
Then came the World Series. There would be no DH role in Philadelphia, and Yankee manager Joe Girardi raised the question of Matsui playing in the outfield to get his bat in the lineup.
Matsui did not play in the outfield.
So, Matsui’s chances would have to come at Yankee Stadium in the DH role. The proud player was not only going to be tested again, but he would have limited opportunities as he watched the games in Philly from the bench.
The news on his future with the Yankees had not changed. This was going to be his last year. Matsui said he did not think about that, he only prepared for games, right down to that Game 6.
He tied the World Series record for RBIs in a game with six in Game 6. The Series totals for him: 8-for-13, 3 home runs, 8 RBIs, and, oh yes, the MVP trophy.
At 35 he is the oldest MVP since Paul Molitor won it at 37 in 1993.
He is the first player from Japan to win that award, and his home country will celebrate that for the rest of his life.
Yet, his status with the Yankees remains in question. Will Jeter need more time to rest his body next year and thus do more as a DH?
Will Rodriguez need more medical attention to his hip this winter, cutting down the time at third and putting him in a DH role more often?
Friday, the Yankees celebrated with the parade in New York and Matsui held the MVP trophy high. Monday, the Yankees made him a free agent. But there is the possibility of re-signing him.
He has made the Yankee decision tougher. When asked if he thought the Yankees might bring him back, he simply said, “I hope so.”