By Japanese baseball star Hideki Matsui, just hours after winning his third Japanese Central League MVP award, that he will leave the Yomiuri Giants for the American major leagues. While the Mariners' Ichiro Suzuki has thrived by slapping singles past infielders and speeding around the bases, the 6'1", 210-pound Matsui, who is nicknamed Godzilla, will try to become the first Japanese power hitter to succeed in the U.S. " Ichiro had to hit for average, but he had the whole field to work with," said Japanese home run king Sadaharu Oh. " Matsui will be expected to hit balls out of the park."
Scouts say that Matsui—a lefthanded slugger who hit 332 home runs in 10 seasons for the Giants, including 50 this year (the Japanese record is 55 in the current 140-game season)—has a fast bat but is undisciplined at the plate. Under Japanese rules teams may begin negotiating with Matsui, 28, on Nov. 13. Matsui, who earned a Japanese record $5.1 million last season and became eligible for free agency upon completing nine years of service, is expected to land a salary of between $8 million and $10 million per year. Several teams are expected to bid for him, and the Yankees, who in August sent assistant general manager Jean Afterman to watch Matsui in Japan, are the favorites to sign him. "For a long time I've been watching American baseball on television," said Matsui, who hit .334 with a league-high 107 RBIs. "But it was only in recent years that, realistically, I've been thinking about playing there."
The departure of Matsui, the most popular player on Japan's most popular team, has disappointed fans, though most are rooting for Godzilla to conquer America. "It is sad that he is leaving Japanese baseball stadiums," said Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi. "But I am looking forward to seeing how many homers a Japanese slugger, the home run king, can hit. I have high hopes."