On December 10, 2003, the New York Mets signed Japanese infielder Kaz Matsui to a three-year, $20.1 million deal. The Mets meant the move to be their answer to the Yanks’ signing the previous year of Hideki Matsui.
In Japan, Matsui had displayed speed, power and durability, and was a seven-time Japanese League All-Star and the 1998 Pacific League Most Valuable player.
Known as Little Matsui, he is a switch-hitter and is known as a stronger, more powerful version of Ichiro Suzuki, the Japanese leadoff hitter now starring for the Seattle Mariners.
Matsui hit .305 with 33 home runs and 84 runs batted in last season.
In 2004, Matsui homered on the first pitch from Russ Ortiz of the Atlanta Braves leading off the first inning on Opening Day.
Matsui played 114 games in 2004 (the most games he has played so far in his MLB career), hitting .272 with 125 hits, 32 doubles, 2 triples, 7 home runs, 44 RBI, 65 runs, 14 stolen bases, 5 sacrifice hits, 40 walks and 182 total bases. His hits, doubles, home runs, RBI, walks, and total bases remain career highs.
On Opening Day in 2005, on the sixth pitch from former Met pitcher Paul Wilson of the Cincinnati Reds with one out in the first inning, Matsui homered. That was to be the highlight of his season.
Matsui was brutal on defense at shortstop to the point where he had to be moved to second base and his offense – never very good – declined each season. Plus, belying his Iron Man rep, Matsui could not stay healthy as a Met.
When on the field, Matsui was platooned with Marlon Anderson and Miguel Cairo at 2B. Matsui finished the 2005 season batting .255 with three home runs and 24 RBI.
On Opening Day in 2006, on the fourth pitch from pitcher Jake Peavy of the San Diego Padres with no outs in the top of the third, Matsui homered in his first at-bat for the third consecutive year. Ken Griffey, Jr. is the only other player to hit a home run in his first at-bat of three consecutive seasons.
The third round-tripper was notable for being an inside-the-parker. Matsui slid into home as his former Met teammate, Mike Piazza, blocked the plate. The trio of first at-bat homers was the highlight of Matsui’s time as a Met.
The 30-year-old was hitting .200 with one home run and seven RBI in 38 games in 2006.
His stint in New York was punctuated by pronounced booing from Mets fans in response to his failure to validate the high expectations gleaned from his prodigious Japanese numbers.
It should also be noted that some of the booing might have been a result of Matsui supplanting future Mets star José Reyes at shortstop.
By June 2006, accepting that Matsui was a failed and costly experiment, the Mets traded the second baseman to the Rockies for utility man Eli Marrero.
The 32-year-old Marrero batted .217 with four homers and 10 RBIs in 30 games for Colorado. He has started in right field, left field, first base and at catcher that season.
Marrero had hit .244 with 64 homers, 256 RBIs and 54 stolen bases while playing for St. Louis, Atlanta, Kansas City, Baltimore and Colorado. On August 8 2006, the Mets designated him for assignment.
Matsui’s performance improved during the 2007 season with the rockies, as he hit .288, which was higher than his career average. He had career highs in runs (84), triples (6), stolen bases (32) and sacrifice hits (8) in 2007.
Matsui hit his first career grand slam during the second game of the NLDS against the Philadelphia Phillies. It came with the Rockies down 3-2 with two outs in the top of the 4th inning.
The grand slam gave the Rockies a lead they would never relinquish. Colorado won the game, 10-5. Matsui became only the third player in MLB history to have his first career grand slam occur in the postseason rather than the regular season.
He also became the first Japanese player to hit a grand slam in the postseason. Along with the grand slam, Matsui hit a triple and double during game two of the NLDS, falling a single short of becoming the only player in history to hit for the cycle during the postseason.
However, Matsui did become only the second player ever to hit a double, triple and home run in a postseason game.
On December 1, 2007, Matsui signed a three-year, $16.5-million deal with the Houston Astros. Matsui was released by the Astros in May of 2010 after batting just .141 with one RBI and stolen base in 71 at-bats.
Matsui was picked up by the Rockies and signed to a minor-league deal. He never returned to the big leagues.
Matsui is currently back in Japan, playing with the Rakuten Eagles.
Kazuo Matsui’s Kamikaze Career as a New York Met