The mag­i­cal ca­reers of Al­bert and Ichiro

As Japan’s fu­ture Hall of Famer tran­si­tions from play­ing, we share our favorite mem­o­ries of him.

USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - FRONT PAGE - Ted Berg

The Mariners an­nounced last week that Ichiro Suzuki will tran­si­tion into a front of­fice role with the Seat­tle club, ef­fec­tive im­me­di­ately. Suzuki did not of­fi­cially re­tire from play­ing and his agent left open the pos­si­bil­ity he could ap­pear in the Mariners’ open­ing se­ries in Japan in 2019, but the news almost un­doubt­edly sig­nals the end of his long ten­ure as an MLB fix­ture.

Suzuki will cer­tainly make the Hall of Fame as soon as he’s el­i­gi­ble, as he spent much of his time in the ma­jors es­tab­lish­ing him­self as the best in mul­ti­ple facets of the game. Here are nine of them.

1. Hit­ting for con­tact: Of all Ichiro’s prodi­gious base­ball skills, none stands out as em­phat­i­cally as his abil­ity to hit for con­tact at the big-league level. Across his Ja­panese and MLB ca­reers, he col­lected more hits than ma­jor league hit king Pete Rose, and his 3,089 state­side hits rank first among all play­ers since 2000. He led the ma­jor leagues in hits seven times, and his 262 hits in 2004 broke an 84-year-old record held by Ge­orge Sisler.

2. Train­ing: An in­cred­i­ble fea­ture pub­lished in March de­scribed Ichiro’s rig­or­ous off­sea­son train­ing, but even with­out those de­tails, his record speaks for it­self: Suzuki played in at least 160 games in eight ma­jor league sea­sons — all af­ter turn­ing 30. In that cat­e­gory, he rep­re­sents a mas­sive out­lier in an era when play­ers and teams rec­og­nize the value of oc­ca­sional rest.

3. Play­ing de­fense in right field: At his best, Ichiro is an ex­cep­tion­ally rangy out­fielder with a great arm. Since 2002, the first year Ul­ti­mate Zone Rat­ing (UZR) was cal­cu­lated, his 125.9 mark in that stat is nearly 40 runs bet­ter than the next-best right fielder, Ja­son Hey­ward.

4. Trolling Cleve­land: Ichiro al­ways has had a knack for in­ter­est­ing and un­usual quotes by the but­toned-up stan­dards of Ma­jor League Base­ball. In 2007, be­fore a trip to Cleve­land, he said, through an in­ter­preter: “To tell the truth, I’m not ex­cited to go to Cleve­land, but we have to. If I ever saw my­self say­ing I’m ex­cited go­ing to Cleve­land, I’d punch my­self in the face, be­cause I’m ly­ing.”

5. Run­ning the bases: He has stolen 509 bases in the ma­jors and has rarely made men­tal mis­takes on the basepa­ths. By Fan­graphs’ baserun­ning runs, he added 95.6 runs with his legs — the most of any player since 2000 and third best in his­tory behind only Rickey Hen­der­son and Tim Raines.

6. Talk­ing mul­ti­lin­gual trash: A 2014 Wall Street Jour­nal ar­ti­cle di­vulged that Ichiro learned Span­ish so he could bet­ter talk trash to op­pos­ing play­ers from dif­fer­ent cul­tures. That’s just Jor­danesque ded­i­ca­tion to men­tally de­feat­ing your ad­ver­saries.

7. Look­ing dope: Few in the game can rock a pair of base­ball sun­glasses like Ichiro can, and his uni­forms al­ways looks ex­cep­tion­ally tai­lored to his lean physique. His rou­tine at the plate, from his setup to the swing, is as un­mis­take­able as it was aes­thet­i­cally thrilling.

8. Adapt­ing to new league: The ma­jors have seen an in­flux of pro­fes­sional play­ers from Japan, South Korea and Cuba in re­cent sea­sons, but no one to date has made the tran­si­tion as suc­cess­fully as Ichiro. Dif­fer­ences in the ball, the sched­ule and the amount of travel have thrown lesser play­ers, but Ichiro won both the Amer­i­can League’s Rookie of the Year and Most Valu­able Player awards in his first sea­son state­side in 2001.

9. In­spir­ing awe: Be­sides all the amaz­ing stuff we could see Ichiro do­ing on the field ev­ery night, his guarded per­sona has helped de­velop a mys­tique around his abil­i­ties un­matched in his era. He is known for im­pres­sive bat­ting prac­tice power dis­plays, and there was al­ways talk he could hit way more home runs if he wanted. Al­though a lefty swinger in games, he also has warmed up by tak­ing right-handed swings and looked good do­ing it. At times, it has been easy to get the sense that Ichiro could do prac­ti­cally any­thing he wanted on a base­ball field and that what he wanted to do was col­lect tons of hits and play spec­tac­u­lar de­fense and run the bases well.


Ichiro Suzuki’s stel­lar 2001 rookie year has led to an 18-year ca­reer that’s Hall of Fame-wor­thy.

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