It was announced today that Seattle Mariners’ outfielder Ichiro Suzuki will transition to a role in the front office. His agent has said he is not officially retiring, most likely so he can play for the Mariners when they open next season in Japan, but his 2018 season is over. Ichiro was one of the first Japanese position-players to play in the majors, and in is highly decorated 18-year MLB career, he played for the Seattle Mariners, New York Yankees, and Miami Marlins. If you account for his hits while playing professionally in Japan, Ichiro is the all-time leader in professional baseball with 4,367 hits.
From Japan to Seattle
Ichiro made is professional debut for the Orix Blue Waves in 1992 at the age of 18. He played sparingly in his first two seasons but burst onto the scene in 1994. In that season he set a single-season record for hits for the Japanese League (which was later broken by ex-MLBer Matt Murton), the single-season batting average record (.385), and he won the MVP award. Ichiro would go on to win seven consecutive batting titles, three consecutive MVPs, seven Gold Gloves, and conclude his Japanese career with 1,278 hits. Previously, he voiced his desire to play in the Major Leagues, and in 2001 he signed a three-year contract with the Seattle Mariners. This signing was met with mixed results from pundits. Some thought he was simply a phenomenal hitter and that would translate no matter where he played. Others thought he was too small and frail (only weighed 160 lbs), had not seen pitches must faster than 90 mph, and that his slap-hitting approach would not succeed in the United States.
Taking Seattle by Storm
In his rookie season, Ichiro proved all of his doubters wrong in dominating fashion. He won the AL Rookie of the Year with a rookie-record of 242 hits, the AL MVP award with a league-leading .350 avg and 56 stolen bases, Silver Slugger award, Gold Glove award (“The Throw”), and started in the All-Star Game. He is the only player in MLB history to accomplish all of that in one season. Further, he was the centerpiece of the best team in baseball and they tied the record for wins during the regular season with 116. To say his debut season was a success would be a massive understatement, and the rest of his illustrious Major League Baseball career would be characterized by similar accolades and statistics.
First Ballot Hall-of-Famer
Even if voters do not acknowledge Ichiro’s statistics while he was playing in Japan, he is still an unquestioned first ballot Hall-of-Famer. His final cumulative key stats are: 3,089 hits, .311 batting avg, and 509 stolen bases. His laundry list of accolades are: 10 time All-Star, 10 time Gold Glover, 3 time Silver Slugger, and 2 time AL batting champion (highest average). He also has the record for most hits in a single season with 262, he has a record of ten consecutive season with 200 hits, and the most hits by a foreign born player in MLB history. He may not have had much postseason success, but with those stats and accolades, he is a first ballot HOFer.
Ichiro’s legacy in professional baseball will be larger than just his Hall of Fame career on the field. He paved the way for more Japanese players, like Hideki Matsui, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Yu Darvish, and Shohei Ohtani, to come and play in the United States.