NEW YORK (AP) _ Hideki Matsui on Thursday became the biggest Japanese baseball star yet to join the major leagues, reaching a preliminary agreement on a $21 million, three-year contract with the New York Yankees.
``I was nervous for a while because it hadn't been decided what team I would play for,'' Matsui said Friday at a news conference in Tokyo. ``Now, I'm relieved and ready to give my best.
A three-time Most Valuable Player of Japan's Central League, the 28-year-old power-hitting outfielder seemed set on joining the Yankees since August, when New York sent its assistant general manager to Tokyo to scout him.
``He really wants to show he's one of the world's great players,'' said Matsui's agent, Arn Tellem. ``When I first met him, he said he wanted to be on the greatest team here, he wanted to be on the team with the richest history.''
The Yomiuri Giants, who drafted Matsui in 1993, were said to have offered a $33 million, four-year deal to keep him.
Matsui had a .304 career average in Japan with 332 homers and 889 RBIs in 1,268 games, and led the Central League last season with 50 homers and 107 RBIs. He had the league's second-highest average at .334.
But at an emotional news conference on Nov. 1, Matsui said he wanted to play in the major leagues. Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who in the past had refused to allow his players to take part in all-star tours, made Jason Giambi and Bernie Williams available _ putting them in position to lobby Matsui on behalf of the team.
Matsui is expected to be a corner outfielder for the Yankees, and the entrance to Yankee Stadium was crowded by Japanese reporters Thursday, anxious for any tidbit about the agreement.
Tellem said he expects Matsui will arrive in the United States in mid-January, and that he will live in Manhattan rather than opt for the suburbs that are popular with many New York players.
``The Yankees are very fortunate to come to an understanding with one of the world's premier players,'' general manager Brian Cashman said in a statement. ``This demonstrates our organization's commitment to identify and secure talent on a global scale.''
Matsui becomes the second Japanese player to join the Yankees, and they hope he's more productive than the first Hideki.
Pitcher Hideki Irabu joined them with greats hopes in 1997 but was dealt to Montreal following the 1999 season.