Remembering Ichiro

Ichiro Marlin

I was poking through MLB Trade Rumors this morning and wandered across this quote by Miami Marlins President of Baseball Operations Michael Hill about outfielder Ichiro Suzuki:

The organization is “pleased with the job he’s done for us,” Hill said. He also suggested Ichiro was in the team’s future plans.

I’ve seen all the great Mariner players: Alvin Davis, Mark Langston, Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey, Jr., Jay Buhner, Dan Wilson, Edgar Martinez, Jamie Moyer, Freddie Garcia, Felix Hernandez and a whole bunch more, and Ichiro Suzuki was as great, in his own way, as any of them.

Watching him play right field was a real treat.  The ways he managed to get on base were always amazing.  And then once in a while he’d really surprise you.

I was at Safeco with friends sitting in right field.  The Red Sox were in town.  I don’t like the Sox, but I hate their faux fans that infest Safeco Field when Boston is in town even more. But predictably the M’s had fallen behind.  Not much was going on (this was in say 2006 and the M’s were baaaad) We entertained ourselves by raining abuse on Red Sox right fielder Trot Nixon.  Nixon deserved this treatment anyway because, let’s face it, his name is Trot, and he’d hit a two run homer to put Boston ahead. Late in the game, the Mariners rallied, loading the bases, Ichiro stepped into the batters box and tatered the ball into the seats a few sections from where we sitting. Suzuki Salami wins the game.

Ichiro has been gone from Safeco for three full seasons and part of another. When he was traded to the Yankees, I didn’t shed a tear, but I felt like something was over. And maybe it had ended years before. Ichiro was a very highly paid player with a limited and declining skill set. He didn’t hit for power, didn’t walk much, his defensive numbers were diminishing, and as a player whose skills were really complementary to what everyone else on the team could do–he’s a run scorer, not really a clutch hitter who drives in other runners–there wasn’t much room for a player who had come to be a lighting rod for his style of play, his high salary, as well as what he could do for a lousy 2012 Mariners team.

Ichiro endured questioning from the press about his style of play and why he wasn’t willing to change it.  Fans questioned his heart and his leadership ability.  Even his teammates seemed to be at odds with him as Ichiro, seemingly isolated by language, culture, and a fanatical devotion to regimen and routine often seemed unwilling to do what was best for the team–whether that was trying to hit for more power or moving his show to centerfield. This view has been questioned by his Yankee and Marlins teammates, but when a team is losing, and one player with a really big contract doesn’t seem to be providing bang for the buck, it’s easy to point fingers.

I’d also suggest that Ichiro was playing in the wrong era. Coming to the Mariners near the end of the steroids era, when diminutive teammate Brett Boone was hitting 37 home runs and speedy outfielder Brady Anderson was smashing 50, Ichiro’s perennial 200+ hits a year between 2001-2010 somehow seem less significant. If Ichiro came to the 2016 Mariners as a high average, high on-base percentage, great defender in the outfield, we might feel differently than we did when we waved good-bye to him on July 24, 2012.  Could you imagine Ichiro on a team that had Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Kyle Seager hitting behind him instead of Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley and Casper Wells?  Could you imagine that Ichiro today on a team like the Kansas City Royals?

But it looks like Ichiro may be back with the Marlins next year.  That’s a team that started hot, but suffered a fair number of injuries and tanked early. Ichiro had a surprising 405 plate appearances for the Fish.  His slash line was only .242/.297/.298, a shadow of his career .314/.357.407. Suzuki had only 12 extra base hits, and drove in only 20 runs. Ichiro had 11 stolen bases.  He didn’t strike out much–but he didn’t walk much either. But he did play respectable defense for Miami with UZR150 rating of 12.2. By comparison, Mariners right fielder Nelson Cruz was a -11.7.

One inescapable fact is this: Ichiro Suzuki is 67 hits away from a career total of 3,000.  That’s a guaranteed ticket to Cooperstown.  Significantly, Ichiro has 4211 career hits including his nine years playing in the Japan Pacific League. That’s 45 hits short of Pete Rose’s career 4256.  There is little question comparison of the two career compilations will spark a plethora of disagreement about the validity of Ichiro’s Blue Wave stats. But there is little question Ichiro has had a fabulous career.and ranks with some of the best pure hitters of all time.

With the end of his career in sight, it’s great to see Ichiro may have a little bit more time to make history. He will doubtless enter the Hall as a Mariner. He’s the next logical addition to the Mariners Hall of Fame.  Ichiro may be quirky and press-shy (at least in America) but from 2001-2010 he was a baseball god in Seattle, and I hope he makes it to the 3,000 hit finish line.

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