Despite the language barrier, Hideki Matsui cracked jokes with Oakland general manager Billy Beane and showed he should fit in quite nicely with the easygoing Athletics.
The A's are thrilled to have him as their new power hitter in the middle of the lineup, not to mention as a veteran clubhouse presence for a young team.
Matsui finalized a $4.25 million, one-year contract with Oakland on Tuesday after he passed a physical. The sides had agreed to terms during the weekend. The slugger can earn an additional $100,000 in performance bonuses.
Matsui felt truly wanted and needed by the A's, and that meant a lot to him in the free agency process. He also acknowledged there isn't a big market for designated hitters.
"The only thing that I think was the most important factor was they really wanted me to be here, they really pursued me," Matsui said through his interpreter, Roger Kahlon.
Oakland formally introduced Matsui on Tuesday afternoon in a news conference attended by more than 100 media members — mostly Japanese reporters — and featuring 17 television cameras.
"Holy cow!" Beane said upon entering the room to face a capacity crowd. "Wow, if I'd known it was going to be like this I would have signed you a long time ago, Hideki."
Also in attendance was Hiroshi Inomata, Japan's consul general in San Francisco. Beane presented him with a white No. 55 Matsui jersey. One fan hung a Japanese flag outside the Coliseum near where the players exit.
The A's have to hope Matsui will attract more fans after years of poor attendance, despite a run to the AL championship series in 2006.
He provides a reliable bat in the heart of the order that Beane had been seeking this offseason.
"We have a regular, professional middle-of-the-lineup hitter we desperately needed," manager Bob Geren said. "He has a combination of power and hits for average and on-base percentage. He can also be a situational hitter. We haven't had anybody with his pedigree and experience. He's going to fit in real well. He's a cult figure and rock star in Japan."
The 36-year-old Matsui batted .274 with 21 home runs and 84 RBIs last season with the Los Angeles Angels, the Athletics' AL West rival. He spent his first seven major league seasons with the New York Yankees and was MVP of the 2009 World Series.
Beane has had interest in Matsui for several years, dating to the slugger's days in pinstripes.
"He's one of the better known hitters in our league and certainly even known more in Japan for his exploits there as one of the greatest hitters in the history of Japanese baseball. This is a player we've played against for a number of years here in the states, obviously admired his skills and when the opportunity arose and the need that we had for a bat like Hideki, we made sure we were on it as soon as possible. ... Our interest goes way back but our ability to sign him came this year. He jumped off the board pretty quick last year."
Matsui was still learning some of the ins and outs about the A's.
Upon being told he will now be wearing white shoes, he turned to Beane and said, "Really?"
Regarding having Beane — subject of the best-seller "Moneyball" for his innovative style — as his boss, Matsui said: "He's not like a general manager. I feel like he's someone you meet in the financial district in San Francisco."
When someone asked if he liked his new colors of green and gold, he quipped, "I'll leave that to everybody else."
He has his mind on baseball. His balky knees feel strong and Matsui hopes to improve on two straight seasons in which his batting average was a career-low .274.
There won't be another Japanese player alongside him after all. Last week, Oakland failed to reach agreement on a contract with pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma during the allotted 30-day negotiating period.
With a talented young pitching staff, the A's stayed in the division chase until late in the season, losing out to Texas, and finished 81-81 for second place in the AL West. That was despite using the disabled list 23 times, two shy of the franchise record set in 2008.
Oakland hasn't reached the playoffs since that '06 run.
Geren was forced to mix and match in the designated hitter spot after six-time Gold Glove third baseman Eric Chavez wound up injured yet again and played in only 33 games. Jack Cust, who played 88 games at DH in 2010, signed last week with the Seattle Mariners.
"There is a strong possibility for us to go beyond the regular season," Matsui said. "Hopefully I can be an example and help this team and propel them to the next level."