As the calendar turns to January, and baseball fans begin anxiously counting down the days until pitchers and catchers report, an all time great is feverishly preparing for his sixteenth season of Major League Baseball. Ichiro Suzuki turned 42 years old on October 22nd of last year, shortly after he re-upped with the Miami Marlins on a one year contract. Sitting just 65 hits shy of 3,000 hits, there are more than a few whispers that 2016 might be the swan song for one of the greatest players to ever play the game.
Fiercely competitive and equally private, the player simply known as “Ichiro” burst onto the major league scene in 2001 at age 27 with the Seattle Mariners. He arrived during the ‘steroid era’, but he is the antithesis of everything that era represented. Generously listed at 5’11”, 170 lbs, the young Ichiro represented baseball in its purest form. He hit for average, maintained a high on-base percentage and played outstanding defense. After a star-studded early career in Japan, how his skills would translate across the Pacific Ocean was still an unknown. It didn’t take long for Ichiro to announce his arrival to baseball fans in America. He won the American League Rookie of the Month award in April 2001. Ichiro kept up the torrid pace for the entire 2001 season on his way to a remarkable .350 batting average, .381 OBP and 56 stolen bases. His fabulous season led to five AL Rookie of the Month Awards, an All-Star Game appearance, a Gold Glove, Silver Slugger and both the AL Rookie of Year, and Most Valuable Player Awards. It was a magical season.
Ichiro’s prestigious 2001 season was the precursor to an incredible ten-year run of baseball mastery. From 2001-2010 Ichiro rattled off ten consecutive 200 hit seasons while batting over .300 in each of those years. He is the only player in MLB history to have ten consecutive 200 hit seasons, a record that likely will never be broken. He never even sniffed 100 strikeouts in any of those ten years, with his career high in Ks for a season being 86. You must also take into account Ichiro was batting at the top of the order for the Marlins as he finished in the top three in plate appearances in each of those ten years. His incredible durability went hand in hand with his production during that time span. Ichiro played in 157 or more games in nine out of the ten years, with the lone exception being 2009 when he played in a mere 146 games. To further emphasize his ability to stay on the field; during those ten years, Ichiro played in a mind boggling 1,588 out of a possible 1,620 regular season games!
The accolades from his decade of immortality go on like a record on repeat. Ichiro was voted to ten straight All-Star appearances to go along with ten consecutive Gold Glove Awards and two AL batting titles. He garnered MVP votes in each of those ten seasons as well. Ichiro finished top five in the American League in stolen bases during that span as well. Naturally, he produced during his limited post season action as well, batting .346 over 19 games with a .400 OBP.
As he enters twilight of his career, Ichiro is no longer a full-time player and his numbers have dropped significantly over the last five years. He might even be hard pressed to record 300 at bats this season if the Marlins outfield stays healthy. Do yourself a favor, if you have the opportunity to see him play this season, or catch a fleeting Ichiro at-bat on TV; pause for a second and enjoy the final moments of a sure fire Hall of Fame career.