Ichiro with the Yankees in 2012
|New York Yankees — No. 31|
October 22, 1973 |
Kasugai, Aichi, Japan[disputed ]
|Batted: Left||Threw: Right|
|NPB: July 11, 1992 for the Orix BlueWave|
|MLB: April 2, 2001 for the Seattle Mariners|
|Last professional appearance|
|NPB: 2000 for the Orix BlueWave|
|Runs batted in||529|
(through 2013 season)
|Runs batted in||665|
|Career highlights and awards|
Ichiro Suzuki (鈴木 一朗 Suzuki Ichirō ), usually known simply as Ichiro (イチロー Ichirō ) (born October 22, 1973), is a Japanese-born professional baseball outfielder who is currently with the New York Yankees. Originally a player in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), Ichiro moved to the United States in 2001 to play in MLB for the Seattle Mariners, with whom he spent 11 seasons. Ichiro has established a number of batting records, including MLB's single-season record for hits with 262. He had 10 consecutive 200-hit seasons, the longest streak by any player, surpassing Wee Willie Keeler's streak of eight.
Before playing in the MLB, Ichiro played nine years for the Orix Blue Wave in Japan's Pacific League. Posted by Orix after the 2000 season, Ichiro became Seattle's right fielder. The first Japanese-born position player to be signed to the major leagues, Ichiro led the American League (AL) in batting average and stolen bases en route to being named AL Rookie of the Year and AL Most Valuable Player (MVP).
Ichiro is the first MLB player to enter the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame (The Golden Players Club). He is a ten-time All-Star and won the 2007 All-Star Game MVP Award for a three-hit performance that included the event's first-ever inside-the-park home run. Ichiro won a Gold Glove Award in each of his first ten years in the major leagues, and has had seven hitting streaks of 20 or more games, with a high of 27.
Ichiro grew up in the town of Toyoyama, a relatively small town just outside of Nagoya. At the age of seven, Ichiro joined his first baseball team and asked his father, Nobuyuki Suzuki (Suzuki Nobuyuki), to teach him to be a better player. The two began a daily routine which included throwing 50 pitches, fielding 50 infield balls and 50 outfield balls, and hitting 500 pitches, 250 from a pitching machine and 250 from his father.
|World Baseball Classic|
|Gold||2006 San Diego||Team|
|Gold||2009 Los Angeles||Team|
As a little leaguer in Toyoyama, Ichiro had the word "concentration" (集中 shūchū ) written on his glove. By age 12, he had dedicated himself to pursuing a career in professional baseball, and their training sessions were no longer for leisure, and less enjoyable. The elder Suzuki claimed, "Baseball was fun for both of us," but Ichiro later said, "It might have been fun for him, but for me it was a lot like Star of the Giants," a popular Japanese manga and anime series about a young baseball prospect's difficult road to success, with rigorous training demanded by the father. According to Ichiro, "It bordered on hazing and I suffered a lot."
When Ichiro joined his high school baseball team, his father told the coach, "No matter how good Ichiro is, don't ever praise him. We have to make him spiritually strong." When he was ready to enter high school, Ichiro was selected by a school with a prestigious baseball program, Nagoya's Aikodai Meiden Kōkō. Ichiro was primarily used as a pitcher instead of as an outfielder, owing to his exceptionally strong arm. His cumulative high school batting average was .505, with 19 home runs. He built strength and stamina by hurling car tires and hitting Wiffle balls with a heavy shovel, among other regimens. These exercises helped develop his wrists and hips, adding power and endurance to his thin frame. Despite his outstanding numbers in high school, Ichiro was not drafted until the fourth and final round of the professional draft in November 1991, because many teams were discouraged by his small size of 5 ft 9 1⁄2 in (177 cm) and 124 pounds (56 kg). (Years later, Ichiro told an interviewer, "I'm not a big guy and hopefully kids could look at me and see that I'm not muscular and not physically imposing, that I'm just a regular guy. So if somebody with a regular body can get into the record books, kids can look at that. That would make me happy.")
Career in Japan
Ichiro made his Pacific League debut in 1992 at the age of 18, but he spent most of his first two seasons in the farm system because his then-manager, Shōzō Doi, refused to accept Ichiro's unorthodox swing. The swing was nicknamed 'pendulum' (振り子打法 Furiko Dahō ) because of the pendulum-like motion of his leg, which shifts his weight forward as he swung the bat, and goes against conventional hitting theory. Even though he hit a home run off Hideo Nomo, who later won a National league Rookie of the Year Award as a Dodger, Ichiro was sent back to the farm system on that very day. In 1994 he benefited from the arrival of a new manager, Akira Ōgi, who played him every day in the second spot of the lineup. He was eventually moved to the leadoff spot for the Blue Wave, where his immediate productivity dissolved any misgivings about his unconventional swing. He set a Japanese single-season record with 210 hits, the first player ever to top 200 hits in a single season. (Three players have since done so. Ichiro's record was eventually surpassed in 2010 by former major leaguer Matt Murton, who had 214 hits in a 144-game season. Ichiro's 210 hits had come in a 130-game season.)
Ichiro's .385 batting average was a Pacific League record and won the young outfielder the first of a record seven consecutive batting titles. Ichiro also hit 13 home runs and had 29 stolen bases, helping him to earn his first of three straight Pacific League MVP (Most Valuable Player) awards.
It was during the 1994 season that he began to use his given name, "Ichiro", instead of his family name, "Suzuki", on the back of his uniform. Suzuki is the second most common family name in Japan, and his manager introduced the idea as a publicity stunt to help create a new image for what had been a relatively weak team, as well as a way to distinguish their rising star. Initially, Ichiro disliked the practice and was embarrassed by it; however, "Ichiro" was a household name by the end of the season and he was flooded with endorsement offers.
In 1995 Ichiro led the Blue Wave to its first Pacific League pennant in 12 years. In addition to his second batting title, he led the league with 80 RBI, 25 home runs, and 49 stolen bases. By this time the Japanese press had begun calling him the "Hit Manufacturing Machine" (安打製造機 Anda Seizōki ). The following year with Ichiro winning his third straight MVP award the team defeated the Central League champion, Yomiuri Giants, in the Japan Series. Following the 1996 season playing in an exhibition series against a visiting team of Major League All-Stars kindled Ichiro's desire to travel to the United States to play in the Major Leagues.
In November 1998 Ichiro participated in a seven-game exhibition series between Japanese and American all-stars. Ichiro batted .380 and collected seven stolen bases in the series, winning praise from several of his MLB counterparts including Sammy Sosa and Jamie Moyer (who would become his teammate with the Mariners).
In 2000 Ichiro was still a year away from being eligible for free agency, but the Blue Wave was no longer among Japan's best teams. Because the team would probably not be able to afford to keep him, and would lose him without compensation in another year, Orix allowed him to negotiate with Major League clubs. Ichiro used the posting system, and the Seattle Mariners won the right to negotiate with him with a bid of approximately $13 million. In November, Ichiro signed a three-year, $14 million contract with the Seattle Mariners. In his nine seasons in Japan, Ichiro had 1,278 hits, a .353 career batting average, and won seven Golden Glove Awards.
Career in the United States
Seattle Mariners (2001-2012)
Ichiro's move to the United States was viewed with some interest because he was the first Japanese position player to play for a Major League Baseball team. In the same way that many Japanese teams had considered the 18-year-old Ichiro too small to draft in 1992, many in the US believed he would prove too frail to succeed against Major League pitching or endure the longer 162-game season. Ichiro made an auspicious debut with Seattle, and in the Mariners' eighth game revealed his tremendous throwing arm by gunning down Oakland's Terrence Long, who had tried to advance from first to third on a teammate's single to right field. That play would be dubbed "The Throw" by Japanese media covering Ichiro's progress.
After expressing no preference as to a uniform number, Ichiro was issued #51 by the Mariners. He was initially hesitant because it had previously been worn by pitching star Randy Johnson. To avoid insulting Johnson, Ichiro sent a personal message to the pitcher promising not to "bring shame" to the uniform. His trepidation was unfounded, as he had a remarkable 2001 season, accumulating a rookie-record 242 hits, the most by any MLB player since 1930. His perennial Gold Glove fielding led Safeco's right field to be dubbed "Area 51".
With a .350 batting average and 56 stolen bases, Ichiro was the first player to lead his league in both categories since Jackie Robinson in 1949. The season included hitting streaks of 25 and 23 games, an appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and intense media attention on both sides of the Pacific. Fans from Japan were taking $2,000 baseball tours, sometimes flying in and out of the U.S. just to watch Ichiro's games. More than 150 Japanese reporters and photographers were given media access. Safeco Field's sushi stands began selling "Ichirolls".
Aided by Major League Baseball's decision to allow All-Star voting in Japan, Ichiro was the first rookie to lead all players in voting for the All-Star Game. That winter, he won the American League Most Valuable Player and the Rookie of the Year awards, becoming only the second player in MLB history (after Fred Lynn) to receive both honors in the same season.
2001 had been an exceptionally successful regular season for the Seattle Mariners as a team, as they matched the 1906 Chicago Cubs' Major League record of 116 wins. In his only postseason appearance with the Mariners, Ichiro continued his hot hitting into the playoffs, batting .600 in the ALDS against the Cleveland Indians. However, Seattle's stellar season ended against the New York Yankees in the ALCS, as Ichiro was held to a .222 average. Yankees manager Joe Torre had emphasized to his pitchers, "Do not let Ichiro beat you. He is the key to Seattle's offense." Informed of this assessment, Ichiro said, "If that is true, it would give me great joy. I don't believe he is right."
Ichiro finished his second year in American baseball with 208 total hits, making him the first Mariners player ever to hit two consecutive seasons with 200+ hits. He got off to a hot start in 2002, but a late-season slump drove his batting average down to .321, 29 points below his batting average as a rookie. He was the 6th player in MLB history to start a career with two 200-hit seasons. Ichiro finished the season second in the AL in hits, 4th in batting average, and 4th in steals. Ichiro led the major league All-Star balloting for the second straight year. Although the Mariners had a 93–69 record, that was only good for a third-place finish in the competitive AL West.
2003 was much the same. Ichiro became just the third player in history to begin his career with three 200-hit seasons, by garnering 212 hits. He again finished in the top ten for hits, batting average, steals and runs, and, again, a late season slump brought his average down almost 40 points (to .312). Ichiro was elected to his third All Star game in the three years he had been in the league, and he was again the vote leader in both leagues. However, the second-place Mariners again fell short of the playoffs.
Ichiro had his best offensive season to date in 2004, highlighted by his breaking of George Sisler's 84-year-old record for most hits (257) in a season. An increase in games played benefited Ichiro as he only accumulated 251 hits through the first 154 games of the season.
Ichiro recorded 50 hits in four different months of the year (September and October are combined by MLB for this computational purpose), becoming the first player ever to have 4 in a season. With 51 hits in August 2001, Ichiro joined Pete Rose as the only players with five 50-hit months in a career. On May 21, 2004, Ichiro recorded his 2,000th professional hit. His 200th hit of 2004 came in just his 126th game. By the end of September, with just one 3-game series remaining, Ichiro's hit total stood at 256—one shy of Sisler. Ichiro singled off the Rangers' Ryan Drese on October 1 to tie Sisler's record. In the third inning, on a 3–2 count, Ichiro singled up the middle for his 258th hit of the year. Mariners announcer Dave Niehaus called the moment, which Ichiro later called "the greatest moment of my baseball career":
- "And a ground ball back up the middle! And there it is! He's the new all time hit king in major league history, number two-five-eight! My oh my!"
He was greeted by a swarm of teammates, and a standing ovation from the fans. Sisler's daughter, Francis Sisler Drochelman had attended the game, and was greeted by Ichiro after his hit. Ichiro would finish the 2004 season with a record 262 hits, giving him the single-season records for both the United States and Japanese baseball.
In July 2009, while in St. Louis for his ninth All-Star appearance, Ichiro made a trip to Sisler's grave. He later told reporters, "There’s not many chances to come to St. Louis. In 2004, it was the first time I crossed paths with him, and his family generously came all the way to Seattle. Above all, it was a chance. I wanted to do that for a grand upperclassman of the baseball world. I think it’s only natural for someone to want to do that, to express my feelings in that way. I’m not sure if he’s happy about it."
Between 2001 and 2004, Ichiro had more hits, 924, than anyone in history over any four-year period, breaking the record of 918 that Bill Terry accumulated between 1929 and 1932, however, Terry played in 34 fewer games than Ichiro during their respective four-year spans. He would later surpass his own mark by recording 930 hits from 2004 to 2007. During one 56-game stretch in 2004, Ichiro batted over .450. By comparison, Joe DiMaggio batted .408 during his record-setting 56-game hitting streak. Ichiro batted over .400 against left-handed pitching in 2004.
During the off-season, then-manager Bob Melvin's contract was not extended and the Mariners brought in Mike Hargrove as the new manager with a contract through 2007. Ironically, it was Hargrove who predicted that Ichiro would be no better than "a fourth outfielder on [an American] major league team" back when Ichiro was still in Japan. Speculation started that Hargrove and Ichiro did not get along very well in the season.
In 2005, Ichiro had his second worst year in his MLB career to date, collecting only 206 hits (the lowest total of his career to that point). However, he reached the plateau of a .300 batting average, 100+ runs, 30+ steals and 200+ hits for the fifth straight season. That allowed Ichiro to become the first player to collect 200 hits per season in each of his first five years in the Major Leagues. Only Willie Keeler, Wade Boggs, Chuck Klein, Al Simmons, and Charlie Gehringer had had five consecutive 200-hit seasons at any point in their careers. During the season he accumulated 1,000 career hits, reaching the career milestone faster than any other player in MLB history. Ichiro hit a career-high 15 home runs. In the off-season, Ichiro played himself in Furuhata Ninzaburō, a Japanese Columbo-like TV drama that he loves. In the drama, he kills a person and is arrested.
Inaugural World Baseball Classic
Ichiro played for the Japan national baseball team in the inaugural World Baseball Classic in March 2006. During the March 15 Japan-Korea game Ichiro was booed by a few spectators during every at-bat, reportedly in response to a previous statement that he wanted "to beat South Korea so badly, that the South Koreans won't want to play Japan for another 30 years." That, however, was an incorrect translation mostly spread to the public through ESPN. Ichiro was variously quoted as saying "I want to win in a way that the opponent would think, 'we cannot catch up with Japan for the coming 30 years'. We should not merely win the games." Japan would later beat Korea in the playoffs and win the tournament after defeating Cuba in the finals, 10–6. For the tournament, Ichiro had twelve hits including a home run, seven runs, and four stolen bases.
Ichiro's 2006 season got off to an unexpected start, with the outfielder hitting as low as .177 in the season's third week. He quickly rebounded, finishing the season with a .322 average (6th in the AL and 11th in the Majors). Ichiro's 224 hits led the majors, and he recorded 110 runs and 45 stolen bases. Remarkably, Ichiro was only caught stealing twice in 2006, for a 96% success rate. His 1,354 career U.S. hits topped Wade Boggs' record for the most hits in any six-year period. In his sixth year in the majors, Ichiro collected his sixth Gold Glove Award, and a sixth All-Star Game selection. He also won a Fielding Bible Award as the best fielding MLB right fielder. Ichiro has worn high stocking baseball pants for every game since the 2006 season.
In May and June, Ichiro hit in 25 consecutive games, breaking the previous Seattle Mariners record set by Joey Cora in 1997. Ichiro broke Tim Raines' American League record by stealing 41 consecutive bases without being caught. Ichiro extended the record to 45; the major league record of 50 belongs to Vince Coleman.
On July 10, 2007, he became the first player to hit an inside-the-park home run in any MLB All-Star Game after an unpredictable hop off the right field wall of AT&T Park in San Francisco. It was the first inside-the-park home run of Ichiro's professional career. Ichiro was a perfect 3-for-3 in the game and was named the Most Valuable Player in the American League's 5–4 victory.
2007 marked the end of Ichiro's second contract with the Mariners, and he initially told MLB.com that he would likely enter the free agent market, citing the team's lack of success in recent years. However, in July Ichiro signed a five-year contract extension with Seattle. The deal was reported to be worth $90 million, consisting of a $17 million annual salary and $5 million signing bonus. The Associated Press reported that Ichiro's contract extension defers $25 million of the $90 million at 5.5% interest until after his retirement, with payments through 2032. Other provisions in Ichiro's contract include a yearly housing allowance of more than $30,000, and four first-class round trip tickets to Japan each year for his family. He is provided with either a new Jeep or Mercedes SUV, as well as a personal trainer and interpreter.
On July 29, 2007, Ichiro collected his 1,500th U.S. hit, the third fastest to reach the MLB milestone behind Al Simmons and George Sisler. Ichiro had 213 hits in 2008, his eighth straight 200-hit season. This tied the 107-year-old record set by Wee Willie Keeler. Typically, Ichiro was among baseball's leaders in reaching base on an error (14 times in 2008, more than any other batter in the AL), and in infield hits (his 56 were the most in the majors). Ichiro has amassed more than 450 infield hits in his U.S. career. Detroit third baseman Brandon Inge told the New York Times, "I wish you could put a camera at third base to see how he hits the ball and see the way it deceives you. You can call some guys’ infield hits cheap, but not his. He has amazing technique." In May 2008, Ichiro stole two bases, giving him a career total of 292, surpassing the previous Seattle Mariners team record of 290 set by second baseman Julio Cruz. Cruz, who now does Spanish-language broadcasts of Mariners games, was watching from the broadcast booth as Ichiro broke his record.
On July 29, 2008 Ichiro became the second-youngest player to amass 3,000 top-level professional hits (1,278 in Japan + 1,722 in the U.S.) after Ty Cobb. He also became just the second Japanese professional to get 3,000 hits. (Nippon Professional Baseball's record holder is Isao Harimoto, with 3,085 hits.) Ichiro has 538 stolen bases in his professional career, including 199 in Japan.
By 2008, it had emerged in the media that Ichiro was known within baseball for his tradition of exhorting the American League team with a profanity-laced pregame speech in the clubhouse prior to the MLB All-Star Game. Asked if the speech had had any effect on the AL's decade-long winning streak, Ichiro deadpanned, "I’ve got to say over 90 percent." Minnesota first baseman Justin Morneau describes the effect: "If you’ve never seen it, it’s definitely something pretty funny. It’s hard to explain, the effect it has on everyone. It’s such a tense environment. Everyone’s a little nervous for the game, and then he comes out. He doesn’t say a whole lot the whole time he’s in there, and all of a sudden, the manager gets done with his speech, and he pops off.” Boston's slugger David Ortiz says simply, "It’s why we win."
2009 World Baseball Classic
Despite struggling uncharacteristically during most of the tournament, Ichiro provided the game-winning hit in the Championship game against South Korea. With two outs in the top of the tenth inning, he broke a 3–3 tie with a two-run single. This would prove to be the margin of victory in Japan's 5–3 defeat of South Korea. Ichiro ended the night 4-for-6, and is now 6-for-10 in WBC championship games.
Ichiro began his 2009 season by going on the disabled list for the first time in his career. He had a bleeding ulcer, which team doctor Mitch Storey said may have been caused in part by the stress of playing in the World Baseball Classic. After missing 8 games, Ichiro debuted on April 15 and went 2-for-5 against the Angels, including a grand slam for his 3,085th career hit. The home run matched Isao Harimoto's Japanese record for career hits, and Harimoto had been flown out to Seattle to witness the event. Ichiro surpassed the record the following night.
Ichiro was named #30 on the Sporting News' 2009 list of the 50 greatest current players in baseball, voted upon by a 100-person panel of experts and former stars. In May and June, Ichiro surpassed his own franchise record with a 27-game hitting streak. Ichiro went on to record 44 hits in June 2009, his 20th career month with 40 or more hits. The previous players to have accomplished this were Stan Musial in the NL and Lou Gehrig in the AL.
On September 6, Ichiro collected his 2,000th MLB hit on the second pitch of the game, a double along the first base foul line. He is the second-fastest player to reach the milestone, behind Al Simmons. On September 13 against the Texas Rangers, Ichiro collected his 200th hit of the season for the ninth consecutive year, setting an all-time major league record. Suzuki recorded 210 hits with Orix in 1994, thereby giving him a total of ten 200 hit seasons in his professional career.
With two outs in the bottom of the 9th inning, September 18, Ichiro hit a walk-off, two-run home run against Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, scoring Michael Saunders in one of the more memorable victories of the season. His homer made a winner out of Felix Hernandez, who was in line for the loss despite having allowed only one run in 9 innings pitched.
On September 26, 2009, Ichiro was ejected from a game for the first time in his professional career. Arguing that a strikeout pitch from Toronto's David Purcey had been outside, Ichiro used his bat to draw a line on the outer edge of the plate, and was immediately tossed by umpire Brian Runge. He was the only Mariner to be ejected from a game all season. The ejection may have hurt Ichiro's chances regarding an esoteric record: the longest playing streak without going hitless in consecutive games. Ichiro's stretch was at 180 games, the longest in the majors since Doc Cramer went 191 consecutive games without back-to-back 0-fers in 1934–35. Ichiro went hitless in the following afternoon's game.
Ichiro again led the majors in hits in 2009, with 225. In spite of hitting ground balls at a rate of 55 percent, he only grounded into one double play all season, in the April 15 opener. He won his second Fielding Bible Award as the best fielding right fielder in MLB.
Ichiro's 32 career leadoff home runs rank ninth all time. Nevertheless, in 2009, Ichiro told the New York Times:
- "Chicks who dig home runs aren’t the ones who appeal to me. I think there’s sexiness in infield hits because they require technique. I’d rather impress the chicks with my technique than with my brute strength. Then, every now and then, just to show I can do that, too, I might flirt a little by hitting one out.”
After playing in the season opener against the Oakland Athletics, Ichiro became eligible for Hall of Fame consideration, by playing in his tenth MLB season. On June 5, 2010, Ichiro scored his 1,000th career MLB run against the Angels on Franklin Gutierrez's RBI groundout. He is the third Mariner in history to reach that milestone. On September 1, 2010, Ichiro also collected his 2,200th hit, a leadoff infield single against Cleveland Indians pitcher Josh Tomlin.
On September 23, Ichiro hit a single to center field against Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Shawn Hill to become the first MLB player in history to reach the 200 hit mark for 10 consecutive seasons. This feat also tied him with Pete Rose for the most career seasons of 200+ hits, and he surpassed Ty Cobb for most career seasons of 200+ hits in the AL. He finished the season with 214 hits, topping the MLB in that category. Suzuki also finished the season "ironman" style, playing in all 162 games. Only Ichiro and Matt Kemp did so for the 2010 season. This was Ichiro's 3rd season playing in all 162 games. Also, Ichiro was nominated for the This Year in Baseball Award. Ichiro finished first or second in hits in all of his first 10 MLB seasons.
Ichiro won his tenth consecutive Rawlings Gold Glove Award in 2010, tying Ken Griffey Jr., Andruw Jones and Al Kaline, and trailing only Roberto Clemente and Willie Mays (twelve each) for major league outfielders. Ichiro also won his second consecutive and third overall Fielding Bible Award for his statistically based defensive excellence in right field.
On April 2, 2011 Ichiro broke the Seattle Mariners' all-time career hits record with his 2,248th hit in the 9th inning versus the Oakland Athletics, overtaking the team's previous leader Edgar Martinez. 2011 marked the first time in Ichiro's 11 seasons that he failed to make the all star team. He batted under .300 (.277) before the all star break for the first time in his career. On July 10, manager Eric Wedge did not start Ichiro, ending his then-major league-best active streak of 255 consecutive starts. Ichiro followed with an 11-game hitting streak, but Wedge noted "it's not that easy to give that guy a day off" due to Ichiro's iconic stature. On August 22, Ichiro hit his 35th career leadoff homer, tying him for 6th place with Bobby Bonds. Ichiro finished the season batting a career-low .272 with 184 hits, the first time in his 11-year MLB career he did not record 200 hits. It was also his first season not playing in the All-Star game, as well as his first season not winning a Gold Glove.
On June 19, 2012, Ichiro led off a game against the Arizona Diamondbacks with a single to center field, the 2,500th hit of his MLB career. Ichiro reached the milestone in the fourth-fewest games in major league history, after Al Simmons, Ty Cobb, and George Sisler. In a 13-inning road loss to the Oakland A's on July 8, Ichiro was placed second in the batting order and responded by going 2 for 6 to bring his season batting average to .261 heading into the All-Star break. In the previous night's game, Ichiro recorded two hits to break a career-worst 0 for 23 hitless streak. Ichiro had also been tried at the three-spot in the batting order  during a season for which he earned $18 million. Former teammate Jay Buhner stated he felt Ichiro was the recipient of too much blame for the Mariners' difficulties but "at the same time, they need help desperately." Buhner stated that if Ichiro were awarded a three-year contract extension for somewhere between $35 million and $40 million, "I'd vomit. I mean, really, no offense. No offense, we've got to get this organization turned around. You can't be spending all the money on one guy."
With a contract extension with the Mariners unknown, Ichiro stated, "It's going to go both ways. It can't just come from the player. It's got to come from the team, too. If the team is saying they need you, you're necessary, then it becomes a piece. But if it's just coming from the player, it's not going to happen." Ichiro's agent, Tony Attanasio, said, "He knows that the club has to grow. He knows they have to play the younger guys and get them more playing time. The only way he knows to do that is to move on. He doesn't want to stop playing. He wants to continue."
New York Yankees
Ichiro approached the Mariners to ask for a trade at midseason in 2012, and his first choice was to play for the New York Yankees. The Mariners traded him to the Yankees for minor league pitchers D. J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar on July 23. Seattle also received cash in the trade. Ichiro left Seattle hitting .261 with a .288 on-base percentage (OBP), four home runs, 28 RBIs and 15 stolen bases in 95 games. His first game as a Yankee was played the night of the trade, at Safeco Field against the Mariners. Before the trade was consummated, Ichiro agreed to the Yankees' conditions, which stated that they would play Ichiro primarily in left field, bat him at the bottom of the lineup, and occasionally sit him against left-handed pitching. Ichiro would go on to hit safely in his first 12 games as a Yankee, tying a record set by Don Slaught.
Ichiro hit his first home run as a Yankee, and the 100th of his career, on July 30 against the Baltimore Orioles. For the week ending September 23, Ichiro was named AL Player of the Week after hitting .600 (15-for-25) with three doubles, two home runs, five RBI, seven runs scored and six stolen bases in six games. He led all MLB players in batting average, hits, steals and OBP (.630). In 67 games with New York, Ichiro batted .322 with a .340 OBP, 28 runs, five home runs and 27 RBIs. With his improved performance, the Yankees at times batted him second and also started him against left-handers.
Ichiro performed well in his first playoff appearance since the beginning of his career. Against the Baltimore Orioles in the 2012 ALDS, Ichiro ran home on a ball hit by Robinson Cano. Despite the ball beating him to the plate, Orioles catcher Matt Wieters had difficulty tagging Ichiro, who evaded multiple tag attempts by jumping over and around Wieters. In Game 1 of the 2012 ALCS, Ichiro hit his first career postseason home run; however, the Yankees lost the series to the Detroit Tigers in only 4 games.
On December 19, 2012, Suzuki finalized a $13 million deal for two years with the Yankees.
Sportswriter Bruce Jenkins, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, described Ichiro's distinctive style of play:
- "There's nobody like Ichiro in either league—now or ever. He exists strictly within his own world, playing a game 100 percent unfamiliar to everyone else. The game has known plenty of 'slap' hitters, but none who sacrifice so much natural ability for the sake of the art... Ichiro, a man of wondrous strength, puts on impressive power-hitting displays almost nightly in batting practice. And he'll go deep occasionally in games, looking very much like someone who could do it again, often... [but] the man lives for hits, little tiny ones, and the glory of standing atop the world in that category. Every spring, scouts or media types write him off, swearing that opposing pitchers have found the key, and they are embarrassingly wrong."
While he is known for his hitting ability, he does not draw many walks. In 2004, when he set the single-season record for hits, his low walk total (49) led to him being on base a total of 315 times. It was the 58th-most times a player has reached base in a season and short of the major league record of 379 set by Babe Ruth in 1923.
Ichiro has a home run batting stroke that he displays in batting practice, but not in games. The New York Times criticized his inability to improve his power when his Mariner teams were often low-scoring while noting that he also did not steal bases as frequently as Rickey Henderson or Tim Raines. Ichiro, however, once commented, "If I'm allowed to hit .220, I could probably hit 40 [home runs], but nobody wants that."
Personality and influence
Ichiro is noted for his work ethic in arriving early for his team's games, and for his calisthenic stretching exercises to stay limber even during the middle of the game. Continuing in Seattle the custom he began in Japan, he used his given name on the back of his uniform instead of his family name, becoming the first player in Major League Baseball to do so since Vida Blue; the custom ended with his trade to the Yankees in 2012, as the Yankees do not include players' names on their jerseys.
In addition to being a ten-time Gold Glove winner, Ichiro is a ten-time All-Star selection from 2001 to 2010. His success has been credited with opening the door for other Japanese players like former Yomiuri Giants slugger Hideki Matsui, former Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks catcher Kenji Johjima, former teammate So Taguchi, and former Seibu Lions infielder Kazuo Matsui to enter the Major Leagues. Ichiro's career is followed closely in Japan, with national television news programs covering each of his at-bats, and with special tour packages arranged for Japanese fans to visit the United States to attend his games.
Ichiro's agent Tony Attanasio described his client's status: "When you mail Ichiro something from the States, you only have to use that name on the address and he gets it [in Japan]. He's that big."
The Japanese name "Ichiro" is often written 一郎, meaning "first son". Ichiro's name, however, is written with a different character, 一朗, so that his name roughly means "brightest, most cheerful". He has an elder brother, Kazuyasu Suzuki, who is a fashion designer.
Ichiro married Yumiko Fukushima (福島弓子 Fukushima Yumiko ), a former TBS TV announcer, on December 3, 1999 at a small church in Santa Monica, California. The couple have no children. They have a pet dog (Shiba Inu) named "Ikkyu", a combination of "Ichi" (一) of "Ichiro" and "Yumi" (弓) of "Yumiko", which can be pronounced "kyu" as well. The couple reside in Issaquah, Washington during the season.
Since November 2000, Nobuyuki Suzuki, Ichiro's father, has run the Ichiro exhibition room named "I-fain" in Toyoyama, Ichiro's hometown. It exhibits a wide variety of Ichiro memorabilia, including personal items from his childhood and up-to-date baseball gear.
Ichiro is the honored chairman of the Ichiro Cup, a 6 month long boys' league tournament with more than 200 teams, held in Toyoyama and surrounding cities and towns since 1996. Ichiro watches the final game and attends its awards ceremony every year.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Ichiro Suzuki|
- List of Major League Baseball players with 2000 hits
- List of Major League Baseball players with 1000 runs
- List of Major League Baseball batting champions
- List of Major League Baseball stolen base champions
- List of Major League Baseball leaders in career stolen bases
- List of Major League Baseball hit records
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- THE GOLDEN PLAYERS CLUB (Japanese)