The magical careers of Albert and Ichiro
As Japan’s future Hall of Famer transitions from playing, we share our favorite memories of him.
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 ESPN.com 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.