The Amazing Incredible Ichiro Moving Upstairs, at Least for Now

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Hi all.  Here’s how I see baseball on this Friday, May 4.

May has to be my favorite month of the year, closely followed by March when March Madness rules.  In May, the majors and minors are in full swing and the Division 3 college tournaments are starting.  Later in the month Division 1 baseball playoffs will happen.  And crowning it all is the 500 on the Sunday before Memorial Day.  This May began with some fun games Tuesday and a few yesterday.  But one bulletin upstaged the doubleheader in Cleveland and the Yankees taking 3 of 4 from the Astros.  While afternoon baseball was happening yesterday the news came down that Ichiro won’t play again in 2018.

This isn’t an outright retirement for now.  He will consider that after this season ends.  For now, Ichiro will take an executive position in the front office with the Mariners.

When he first came to America he had two names-Ichiro Suzuki.  But somehow along the way he became great enough to only need one name like Pele or Adele.    The Babe, or the Bambino got by on nicknames but when it was all said and done he was Babe Ruth.  Ichiro is a different story. Just for starters, he turned 44 during the last postseason. In an era when boxers fight on past their 50th birthday, the longevity of Ichiro and Bartolo Colon is nothing short of astonishing. He had 8 seasons in the Japanese major leagues under his belt when he came to America.  A lot of our players don’t last 8 years.  So at age 28 and still using both names, Ichiro made his debut with the Mariners. Before Ichiro, most Japanese players to come here had been pitchers, with Hideo Nomo making the long lonely journey in 1995.   Ichiro’s first spring training filled local fans with doubt while most of the country ignored what went on in Seattle, tucked way up on the northwest corner of the map. The Mariners had been irrelevant until 1995 when a 19-year-old from Miami, Alex Rodriguez began to make his presence felt along with Ken Griffey JR., Edgar Martinez and Jay Buhner.  In a smallish ball park (The Kingdome) they were frightening even before Ichiro surged onto the scene. Across the Pacific he had hit .353 with almost 1300 hits, so it was easy to wonder how much he could contribute.  The world soon found out.  He had been an All-Star in Japan 7 times.  He became one here 10 times. He was both Rookie of the Year and MVP in 2001, a nearly impossible feat. He won a batting title as a rookie and won another a few years later.   During 5 years in a row, 2006 to 2010 he led his league in hits.  His 262 hits in 2004 smashed George Sisler’s record of 257, achieved in 1920.  Incredibly, though his age was approaching 40 he collected over 200 hits 10 years in a row. A singles hitter has to get by with speed, and traditionally the legs are the first thing to go wrong on a ball player or a boxer.  Ty Cobb had to spend most of his off hours in bed during his final years in Detroit and Philadelphia. By all accounts Ichiro hasn’t had to do that though he’s 2 years older now than Cobb was when he hung up his spikes.    Up to now Ichiro has hit .311 with 3,089 hits.  Ty Cobb would have loved Ichiro.  He made his living hitting singles. In an amazing statistical quirk, he hit 118 home runs in Japan and 117 over here. After singling or getting a rare extra-base knock he ended up scoring 1417 runs for the Mariners, Yankees and Marlins.  In 2007 he hit the first, and so far only, inside-the-park home run in the All-Star game.   He stole nearly 200 bases in Japan and 509 here. That also would have endeared him to the Georgia Peach who was the original standard-bearer for stolen bases.  Ichiro thought it was sexy to hit singles and have to run them out. His style won the heart of a young TV personality who has been his wife since 1999.

Unlike either Cobb or Ruth, Ichiro did his great deeds with 0 controversy. Think a minute about that fact.  With Facebook and Twitter, both of which started shortly after Ichiro’s career did, and with “Smart Phones” in every hand it is in fact easier to create controversy than it is to go under the radar. If a player makes the slightest anti-social remark in jest, if a mascot in frustration gives the finger to anybody, then you have instant controversy. Somehow, through 17 years of life trudging through airports, extra-inning games on “getaway day”, 17 years of strange hotels, restaurants and bars where nobody spoke his language (or necessarily recognized him)  Ichiro was the Japanese version of an Eagle Scout.

When he broke in, his team won 116 games, though losing early in the postseason. Before Ichiro, Fred Lynn in 1975 was the only man in MLB to win both Rookie of the Year and MVP.  Ichiro led his league in batting and steals, a combination not matched since Jackie Robinson played the game and Harry Truman was president. Ichiro wore number 51, previously worn by Randy Johnson.  His defensive skills were such marvels that right field was called Area 51.  2001 would be his only postseason with the Mariners. He requested a trade to the Yankees, and the two teams made it happen. He hit .322 in 62 games after the trade. 2012 was his second and last postseason appearance. I have been unable to find out when, or under what conditions his last name Suzuki was dropped, but I doubt we will see another MLB player so dominant that one name will do to identify him. Send a fan letter to Japan, just write Ichiro on it and the word is it will get to the right man.  Anybody else able to do that in any American sport?  I don’t think so.


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