Kazuo Matsui, born on October 23, 1975, is a professional baseball player from Higashiosaka, Osaka. He is currently playing for the Saitama Seibu Lions. With great athleticism, he became the first Japanese infielder to make it to MLB when he transferred to the New York Mets in 2004 and he played for them for 7 years.
Even though he played as a pitcher during his time in the famous baseball high school, PL Gakuen, and appeared in the Koshien, he was eventually picked up by the Seibu Lions as a position player in the 3rd round of the 1993 draft.
When he first joined the team, his fielding and base running didn’t meet the pro level standards, which is why he only played in the Eastern League during his first year. This is when he took his batting coach’s advice and decided to become a switch hitter.
When he was given a spot in the top team for the 1996 opening game, he ended up playing for 130 full matches that season. With a batting average of .283 and 50 stolen bases, which was the 2nd highest in the league, he had become a dominating shortstop.
Furthermore, he showed more improvement as a batter in the next year. When his batting average went up to .300 for the first time, he also claimed his first title – the Stolen Base King. His contributions went a long way in helping the Seibu Lions win the Pacific League pennant that year.
The Lions won the league championship again the next year, in 1998, and Matsui took home his second consecutive Stolen Base King award and he marked down a batting average of .311 and 179 hits. He even surpassed Ichiro Suzuki and earned his first season MVP award. He had developed into a world class player.
Even after that he continued to be one of the team’s main players as he claimed his 3rd consecutive Stolen Base King award and achieved the most hits, as well as other individual titles. In the year 2002, he once again carried the Seibu Lions up the league, all the way to the championship title.
With 193 hits, he not only earned the title for most hits after 3 years, but with a .332 batting average and 33 stolen bases, he became the 8th player in history and the first switch hitter in history to achieve a triple three. His best season also earned him the Golden Glove and Best Nine award.
In the 2003 off-season, he used his right as a free agent and announced his decision to move to MLB, where he signed a contract with the New York Mets. In the major league opening game against the Atlanta Braves, he made history with his sensational rookie year home run off the first pitch during his first at bat.
However, after that, poor performance and injuries took his season total numbers down to 125 hits, .272 BA, 7 home runs, 14 stolen bases, which were very meager results compared to Matsui’s usual performance.
Kazuo Matsui was still unable to produce results in his second year, and in 2006, he transferred to the Colorado Rockies. While he was with the Rockies, he was again put aside due to his injuries, but when he was brought back, he was given regular spot as the second baseman.
With a .288 batting average, 4 home runs, 32 stolen bases, he helped the team make it to their first World Series match since the team was founded.
When he became a free agent in 2008, he transferred to the Houston Astros, and in 2009, he became the 3rd position player after Ichiro and Hideki Matsui to achieve a combined 2,000 hits in NPB and MLB.
During the off-season in 2010, he signed a contract with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, and returned to Japanese baseball. Injuries and age had taken their toll on Matsui, and even though he wasn’t able to produce overwhelming results for the Eagles like he had done during his time with the Lions, he lead the Eagles as the team captain to their first Pacific League pennant in 2013.
On top of that, his contributions helped the team win their, and Matsui’s, first Japan Series championship.
He also achieved a personal record with a combined total of 2,500 hits, 200 home runs and 450 stolen bases in NPB and MLB.
However, with talented young players entering the team, his opportunities to appear in matches were greatly reduced. He was offered the chance to coach the team, but Matsui insisted on continuing on as a player. On November 16, 2017, his return to the Saitama Seibu Lions was announced.