On a day where baseball headlines were dominated with the retirement of Alex Rodriguez, I want to focus on a player greater than A-Rod. You read that right folks – I want to focus on a player greater than A-Rod.
Ichiro Suzuki reached a special milestone yesterday, when he joined the 3,000 hit club. Think about how crazy this is; both guys are a part of the 3,000 hit club (though A-Rod made it first), but Rodriguez broke into the majors at age 18. Ichiro was 27 years old when he got his first American career hit.
This ageless wonder’s story is well-documented – he’s the unquestioned greatest player in the history of the Japanese league before coming over to America. At an age where most players are in their peak physical prime, Ichiro was a rookie for the Seattle Mariners, when he famously won the MVP and Rookie of the Year awards in the same season. Though Seattle was formidable for his first couple of seasons, they never got over the hump, and then slid into baseball irrelevancy. Since then, he’s been a staple in whatever lineup he’s appeared in, as he’s never missed any significant time due to injury while in the States.
Aside from his now-3,000 hits, Ichiro is a career .314 hitter with two batting titles under his belt. While Ichiro has never gone yard more than 15 times over the course of a season, many of his former teammates have said he has an unreal amount of power that he simply chooses not to use because he’d rather hit for average. After seeing him take batting practice last year at Fenway Park for myself, I can testify that this is completely, 100% accurate. His decision to be a contact hitter has paid off, as he’s never struck out more than 86 times in a season, which is ridiculous.
It’s not just hitting. Though he’s not running amok anymore, he was a menace on the basepaths, totaling 507 stolen bases while only being caught 116 times. He’s won 10 Gold Gloves, with 37 assists in comparison to only 27 errors in 16 major league seasons.
The only thing missing is playoff performance, which isn’t even his fault. While he’s a career .346 hitter with a .896 OPS in the postseason, he’s unfortunately only played in 19 career games in October, and never appeared in a World Series. Simply put, Ichiro is one of the best players in our generation.
But where does he stack up historically speaking? How good of a player/hitter compared to everyone who has played this game before him at the highest level? I mean, he’s easily a first-ballot Hall of Famer. And in terms of rankings, it’s kind of subjective and based on bias. I’ll never back down from crowning Ted Williams as the greatest hitter ever. Pete Rose is up there. Wade Boggs is up there. Tony Gwynn, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Babe Ruth, and others make up many’s elite tier. I can confidently say that, in my humble, low-level blogging opinion, I think Ichiro Suzuki is a top-10 hitter of all-time.
In terms of this generation, I’d easily put him in right field and leadoff on my all-2000s team. He’s without a doubt one of the greatest players I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing play, and he doesn’t appear to be slowing down. He’s still a useful piece for the Marlins, and whether or not they’ll pick up his $2 million option for 2017, Ichiro won’t struggle to find a home. He’s on record for saying he wants to play until he’s 50, which would be the most unsurprising thing ever. Ichiro will never die, ever. One day he’ll turn to dust, but he definitely won’t die.
I hope the man gets the World Series he’s after, because that’s the only thing he has yet to accomplish in his storied career. As great as he is, I feel like he’s so easy to forget because of how quietly he goes about his business. Though Ichiro-mania was a thing in the early 2000s, it’s not like he made headlines throughout his career, like A-Rod, Pedro Martinez, and others did. All I can say is keep watching Ichiro as much as you can, because he’s as special a talent as there ever was.
Photo Credit to the Miami Sun Sentinal.