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Was there ever a player that caught your eye, just by doing something simple, like their job? What about a player that made an immediate impact, and continues to do so to this very day? In this writer’s eyes, that player is Ichiro Suzuki.
The longtime member of the Mariners’ days in baseball are numbered, at least for the 2018 season. The Mariners announced that Ichiro would be moving from the bench to an office setting. He will be put into an advisory position to help the Mariners build towards the future. While his return to the team that adopted him in 2001 was short, it was worth seeing him don the old uniform again. While he has a chance to play after this season, it is really unsure what will happen to him as a player in the long run. In that case, it is time to reflect on his great career.
Questions surrounded Ichiro when he first came to America for the 2001 season, as he was a 27-year old just coming out of the Japanese league. At a time when Japanese players were mostly pitchers, Ichiro was clearly different from the rest of the pack. How would his skills transition to American ball? It turns out he would make a seamless transition on day one. His 1,279 hits as a member of the Orix BlueWave (now Buffaloes) from 1992-2000 was just an appetizer. It all started with one of the best seasons in Seattle Mariners history in 2001.
Ichiro turned out to be one of the most dynamic players in the game. In a time when home runs were the bee’s knees (still true today), Ichiro broke the mold. Hit after hit, Ichiro displayed power that was different compared to most players. In his “rookie” season, he hit an incredible slash line of .350/.381/.457 with 242 hits and 56 stolen bases in 157 games. That right there earned him Rookie of the Year and the American League MVP award. Including his first season in the MLB, his first ten years were absurd when you think about it.
Ichiro won ten consecutive Gold Glove awards and went to the All-Star Game as a starter ten straight times! As consistent as anyone can get. Nobody could even come close to Ichiro during that 10-year span. When he broke the record for most hits in a single season with 258, nobody was surprised. Those at Safeco were honored to be in the presence of a guy that you could have relied on for any opportunity.
He was also a pretty solid outfielder, in case you forgot.
Ichiro had the occasional pop. He has stated in the past that he is able to hit a home run whenever he wanted to. Now that would have been something to see. Overall, he has a .311/.355/.402 slash line in American ball, with 3,089 hits and 509 stolen bases. Combined with his hits in Japan, Ichiro has 4,367, the most in the game of baseball. Pete Rose is still the MLB hit king however. Look at how evenly distributed he hit all those balls and try not to be amazed.
At his core, Ichiro is a cultural icon that helped his home country gain recognition around the world, especially during the World Baseball Classic. He was a big piece in Team Japan winning the WBC in 2006 and 2009. Breaking down barriers for players outside of the United States, there is no one quite like Ichiro. The closest thing baseball has now may be Jose Altuve, but that is for another time.
If Ichiro played his entire career in America, the possibilities could have been endless. Although one door in his career has slowly closed, another one will always be there to welcome him back to the game he loves.
Whatever the future holds for Ichiro, we know he is ready for any challenge. He may want to play for another couple of years, and he’ll do whatever it takes to do so. Cooperstown is just waiting for him to say the word, as they only need to shine his plaque they have been saving for him. The end result is inevitable, as Ichiro is a true Hall of Fame candidate, and may end up being one of the best the Hall has had in quite some time.
The legacy of Ichiro will live on forever. A season without him just doesn’t seem possible. Until the next time he grabs a bat, a huge thank you goes out to the King of Swing, Ichiro Suzuki. A true tip of the cap to you and all that you represent.