OAKLAND -- Hideki Matsui's official introduction to the A's on Tuesday turned out to be partly a cultural event, partly a comedy routine and partly a source of good, old-fashioned Hot Stove baseball talk. Matsui, who agreed to a one-year, $4.25 million deal that includes $100,000 in incentive bonuses, is expected to strengthen the A's offense as their designated hitter, a spot where the club was lacking last season. "He has a combination of power and [hitting] for average and on-base percentage," A's manager Bob Geren said of Matsui, who hit .274 with 21 home runs and 84 RBIs with the Angels last season. "And he can be a situational hitter. He's going to fit in really well. We haven't had anybody with his pedigree and experience."
The A's also have had few athletes who created the kind of fuss Matsui generated with his news conference at the Oakland Coliseum. Approximately 100 reporters from Matsui's native Japan covered the 45-minute session, which also was aired on the Tokyo Broadcasting System. "Holy cow!" A's general manager Billy Beane exclaimed under his breath when he entered the conference room and observed the throng. To Matsui, Beane said, "If I had known it was going to be like this, I would have signed you a long time ago." Japan's consul general in San Francisco, Hiroshi Inomata, even showed up. Like Matsui, he received an A's home jersey emblazoned with No. 55, the number the slugger has worn since he achieved stardom with the Yomiuri Giants (1993-2002) and the New York Yankees (2003-09). "He's a cult figure and rock star in Japan," an admiring Geren said of Matsui, who has compiled a .290 average, 161 home runs, 681 RBIs and an .848 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) in eight Major League seasons. Matsui charmed the audience with his dry wit, which interpreter Roger Kahlon gladly relayed. Asked for his impression of Beane, who was seated next to him on the dais, Matsui checked out Beane's coat-and-tie outfit and replied, "He's not like a general manager. I feel like he's somebody you meet in the financial district in San Francisco." Matsui gained a measure of appreciation for the A's in the late 1980s when Major League telecasts spread to Japan, enabling him and other fans to see the exploits of the "Bash Brothers," Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. Told that Beane was a reserve outfielder for the 1989 A's, Matsui aroused more laughter by remarking, "I'm sorry. I did not know." Matsui's remarks about Oakland's uniforms also prompted mild amusement. Asked how he felt about wearing green, he said, "Whether I look good in green or not, I'll leave that to everybody else." Asked what he thought about wearing the A's traditional white shoes, Matsui said, "Actually, I just found that out right now." A reporter asked Matsui about his house-hunting plans. He replied, "Honestly, I haven't made a decision yet, but is there anything you recommend?" Make no mistake: Matsui wasn't auditioning to become a late-night talk show host. He was all business when the subject turned to baseball. Praising Oakland's pitching staff, Matsui said that the club had a "strong possibility" of reaching the postseason. "Hopefully I can lead as an example," he said. Matsui likes being appreciated as much as any ballplayer. That's why he signed with the A's, who Beane said had coveted him since his Yankees heyday. "The only thing I think was the most important factor was they really wanted me to be here," Matsui said in explaining his decision to join the A's. "They really pursued me." Matsui insisted that he's unfazed by the A's attendance, which pales in comparison to the home crowds he performed for in New York and Anaheim. "The important thing is, if we play well as a team, I think the fans will follow," he said. Matsui brushed aside the potential distractions of switching teams and changing homes. "It all comes down to focusing on baseball," he said. "So it's not something that's really difficult, in my opinion."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.