Ichiro's Powerful Impact On Major League Baseball™
Hours after the second game of the Japan series between the Seattle Mariners™ and the Oakland Athletics™ ended, Ichiro Suzuki announced his retirement. During the eighth inning of the game, Ichiro was replaced in right field. As he walked off the field, he received a standing ovation from a packed Tokyo Dome crowd and drew many tearful hugs from teammates who met him at the entrance to the dugout. It was clear that this was the final chapter in his his storied career, and it ended where it all began, his home country of Japan.
At age 45, the typical professional baseball player has been retired for years. Ichiro on the other hand, wanted to play until he was 50, and many thought he could. But time doesn’t wait for anybody. Between the United States and Japan, Ichiro played 28 seasons of professional baseball. His first nine seasons were with the Orix Blue Wave of the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) in Japan, his last 19 in Major League Baseball™ with the Seattle Mariners™, New York Yankees™, and Miami Marlins™.
In 2001, Ichiro became the first Japanese born position player to be posted and signed to an MLB™ club. That year, he led the AL in batting average (.350) and stolen bases (56) en route to being named AL Rookie of the Year, AL MVP, and leading the Mariners™ to a record tying 116 team wins. Aided by the MLB’s decision to allow voting in Japan, Ichiro also led the MLB® in All-Star voting. His ascension into major league stardom came with many doubters; scouts worried about his thin frame, fans worried he was too frail to hold up in a 162-game season, and coaches struggled to accept his unorthodox swing. Again and again, Ichiro proved his doubters wrong.
Ichiro holds the MLB® single season record for hits (262), is a ten-time MLB® All-Star and Gold Glove winner and was the 30th player in history to join the 3,000 hits club. Some even consider him to be the rightful hit king because between his time in the NPB and the MLB®, he has the most hits by any player in top-tier professional leagues (4,367). Ichiro’s perennial Gold Glove fielding and strong throwing arm dubbed right field at the Mariners home park “Area 51,” after his number 51.
Early in his career it was thought that Ichiro was going to change the way the game of baseball was played. He was the ultimate antagonist of the “steroid era,” and continued to knock out base hits in the big home run era. To the disappointment of some, this shift never happened. Home runs are as popular as ever and the strikeout rate continues to rise. However, Ichiro did have a huge impact in change who played Major League Baseball™. He was the catalyst who changed the culture of baseball in America. His success opened the door for fellow Japanese stars seek fame and fortune in America if they chose to do so. Players like Hideki Matsui, Yu Darvish, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani are some of the most notable Japanese players to have followed in Ichiro’s footsteps.
Ichiro’s impact and legacy will live on forever. He will inevitably be the first Japanese player ever elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Ichiro has been immortalized in Baseball Treasure™ II.