It’s hard to believe that it’s been 16 years since a Japanese hero left his home country and took American baseball by storm in 2001. But now, with his third team in his sixteenth season, Ichiro Suzuki is once again showing why he’s one of greatest hitters we’ve ever seen…at age 42.
When he broke into MLB at age 27, Ichiro became an instant sensation. He hit .350, was an All-Star, won a Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger Award, Rookie of the Year honors, and the league MVP for the Seattle Mariners. He also gunned out Oakland’s Terrence Long at third base from right field with a throw that has been on highlight reels since the day it was made. That Mariners team won a 116 regular season games, but fizzled out in the playoffs, and weren’t able to cap off the historic season with a championship…similar to the Golden State Warriors earlier this week…too soon?
After 11 and a half great seasons in Seattle, the rebuilding Mariners sent Ichiro to the Yankees, where he was a part-time role player who put up decent numbers, but seemed to be winding down his brilliant career.
In a head-scratcher of a move, Ichiro signed with the Miami Marlins prior to the 2015 season, which ultimately became the worst of his career. He hit .229 in 398 ABs over 153 games last year as the fourth outfielder behind Christian Yelich, Giancarlo Stanton, and Marcell Ozuna. Many thought he might hang ’em up after the ’15 season ended, but being only 65 hits shy of the coveted 3,000 milestone, Ichiro decided to rejoin the Marlins for possibly his final hoorah.
And we’re really glad he did…
Ichiro has been playing out of his mind this season filling in for Yelich, Ozuna, and Stanton at times. At age 42, he’s once again hitting .350, with a .422 OBP, and his highest OPS (.816) since his 2009 season (.851). Before Wednesday’s finale against the Braves, Ichiro had twice as many walks (17), as strikeouts (8). He’s also accumulated more than half of his hit total from last season in only a little more than one third of the at-bats.
Now sitting at 2,983, Ichiro only needs 17 more hits to join the exclusive 3,000 club. Ichiro recently past Pete Rose‘s mark for career professional hits if you combine his work in Japan with his MLB credentials, but Rose and countless others are of the the opinion that those stats shouldn’t translate to the all-time hits mark.
Just to put it in perspective how much of a hitting machine Ichiro has been during his MLB tenure, it appears as though he’ll reach the 3,000 mark this year during his sixteenth season. It took Alex Rodriguez five years longer to reach the milestone having done it last year during his 21st season.
If you look over Ichiro’s career stats, he’s averaged exactly 200 hits and a .314 batting average per 162 games played. Not to mention the incredible 2004 campaign where he had 262 hits and an insane .372 average.
He’s never hit more than 15 homers in a season, but he hasn’t had to as a leadoff hitter most of his career. Hell, he’s only hit 14 HRs combined since leaving Seattle.
All he’s doing now is hitting leadoff again, and acting as a catalyst for the Marlins who currently sit in third place in the NL East. The fish are two games behind the second place Mets, and only four back in the loss column of the division leading Nationals. If the Marlins can add another starting pitcher and sure up its shaky bullpen, the club could be in contention for the remainder of the season.
Whether or not the Marlins have enough to make the postseason remains to be seen, but one thing’s for sure…they wouldn’t be as good as they are right now if not for the resurgence of Ichiro, who has shown signs this season of the exciting player who took over the baseball world back in 2001.
We’re not sure if Ichiro is making random trips to Ponce de Leon from Miami, but he certainly seems to have found the fountain of youth in his sixteenth MLB season.