Ichiro Suzuki Hopes to Make the Party
A supernova is defined as an astronomical event in which a massive star’s life is marked by one “titanic explosion” at the end of its life to give its last glimmer of light for the world to see. That definition can easily be described as Ichiro Suzuki’s entrance into this league.
Ichiro Suzuki, often referred to as just Ichiro, took baseball by storm when he joined the Seattle Mariners in 2001. Ichiro had averaged hitting .353 in his nine years in Japan playing for the Orix Blue Wave, and came with a great deal of hype to the Seattle market hoping to steer the city in the direction of its first World Series appearance.
In the previous year, Seattle had already successfully transplanted Kazuhiro Sasaki from Japan into the major leagues after years of success overseas. Sasaki won American League’s Rookie of the Year Award in 2000 after posting 37 saves, and helped the team to a wild card spot in the playoffs. They ended up losing to the eventual champions, the New York Yankees in the Division Series, but the Mariners had hope once again after trading away Ken Griffey Jr. and Randy Johnson in the subsequent years.
Once Alex Rodriguez left in free agency, the team needed an injection of life once again.
Turning to its roots, the ownership group of the Seattle Mariners: Nintendo of America, looked at Japan again to sign the promising Ichiro Suzuki. Successful switches from Japanese baseball to the MLB were rare, but after the promising results of production and the accompanied fame from overseas markets by Hideki Irabu, Hideo Nomo, and the previous years’ Sasaki, Ichiro was worth the risk.
Star in the Making
Ichiro had built immaculate fame in his nine years in Japan that the Mariners hoped he brought with him. Ichiro was a household name in Japan, and many people could tell the story of how the batting cages had to get faster machines for Ichiro when he was in high school, or how he was predominantly a pitcher because of his strong arm. Ichiro was just what Seattle needed: a new star.
In Ichiro’s first year, he had 242 hits for an average of .350 on his way to AL MVP, AL Rookie of the Year (Second year in a row for a Japanese-born Seattle Mariner), and a Golden Glove. He led the league in hits, stolen bases, and won the batting title as the Mariners also broke the 1998 New York Yankees record of 114 wins in a season with 116, and still stands today.
Ichiro continued on to impress, when he hit .372 with 262 hits to break George Sisler’s 84-year-old single season hits record in 2004. He won ten consecutive Rawlings Gold Glove Awards, All-Star Selections, and 200-hit seasons from 2001-2010, the latter a record, before being traded to the New York Yankees in 2012 for two prospects in D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar. Ichiro stayed in New York for one and half years, where he got his prestigious 4,000th hit between Japan and the MLB. Ichiro then signed a one year deal with the Miami Marlins after the 2014 season and this past offseason.
Ichiro was known for his laser-of-an-arm in the outfield, as he is second among active players in outfield assists (behind Carlos Beltran). In the final game of the regular season last year, Marlins manager Dan Jennings sent Ichiro out to pitch an inning, and topped out at 88 mph at the ripe age of 41 years.
Most people don’t realize how Ichiro changed the game in his time in the United States. Ichiro came at a time when power-hitting was king in the league, and showed his incredible skill of slap-hitting singles. The Japanese star paved the way for foreign players acceptance in the league. For a while the argument was made that players couldn’t make the change from the Japanese style to the American way. Then Ichiro came and proved the doubters wrong, and laid the way for players of the likes of Hideki “Godzilla” Matsui, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Yu Darvish from Japan, and the argument can be made for the Cuban infusions of Yasiel Puig, Aroldis Chapman, and Jose Abreu.
Contemplating retirement after a season in which he hit .229, far below his career .314 average, Ichiro decided to come back to Miami on a one year deal as a fourth outfielder for $2 million with a team option for 2017. Ichiro stands today at 2,935 career hits, 65 hits short of the infamous club.
This year will prove difficult for the aging superstar to find playing time in the young outfield of the Marlins that includes Christian Yelich, Giancarlo Stanton, and Marcell Ozuna besides giving days off, but he still hopes that the goal of 3,000 career hits in the MLB is attainable. The true hope for the star is new manager Don Mattingly plays him late in the season if the team is out of the playoff picture to get enough at bats to join the 3000 Hit Club.
Suzuki is easily the most decorated Japanese baseball player in the MLB, from his record-setting hit seasons, to hitting the first inside-the-par-home-run in the 2007 All-Star Game, to his Gold Glove Awards and batting titles. But there is still one accolade that Ichiro is seeking: 3,000 career hits in a league after spending NINE seasons in Japan before. A sure first ballot Hall of Famer, Ichiro has one last goal before leaving this league.
A star always deserves to shine one more time. It’s just science.