Nowadays it is hard to believe that some ridiculed the Seattle Mariners when they signed Ichiro Suzuki in November 2000. Though he had been a superstar in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball with the Orix Blue Wave, critics of the then-27-year-old claimed that he was too small and frail to be a consistent force in Major League Baseball. Since NPB is considered to be in between MLB and AAA in terms of competitiveness, many believed Suzuki would be in over his head in North America and would not be able to adjust to the MLB’s style of play. Oh, how wrong they were. Suzuki had a rookie year for the ages. It saw him start an All-Star Game, win a Silver Slugger and Gold Glove and be named both Rookie of the Year and MVP, he is the only player ever to do so all in the same season.
15 years later, Ichiro, now 42 (an old man by today’s standards in the game) accomplished another feat that is even more impressive. He pulled a triple to right in Colorado’s Coors Field. It wasn’t just a triple, it was the 3,000th hit of his MLB career. The Miami Marlins poured out of the dugout to congratulate Ichiro amidst a standing ovation from the fans in Colorado. The knock puts him at a tie with Roberto Clemente for 29th all-time in MLB history. Ichiro also joins Paul Molitor (September 16, 1996) as the only players to triple for hit no. 3,000.
Ichiro has over 4,000 hits combined between NPB and MLB. But, since he did not record them all entirely in the MLB, he will not be acknowledged as a 4,000 hit club member despite having 4,278 hits in professional baseball. Pete Rose is widely considered the greatest hitter of all time. Unpopular opinion, perhaps, but I would take Suzuki over Charlie Hustle. Ichiro has dominated two different culture’s version of the same game and, unlike Rose and many other all-time greats, has been a model of class on and off the diamond.
Now that he has reached the top of the mountain, Ichiro’s retirement after this year is not a far-fetched idea. If he were to, he would join David Ortiz, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez in doing so. The Japanese phenom’s list of accomplishments is so long that I’ll simply put the link to it:
Apart from a World Series title (which the Marlins may have a shot at this year), Ichiro has accomplished practically everything a single player can. Along with being one of the greatest at the plate, he’s also one of the greatest in the field, winning 10 consecutive Gold Gloves in right field. He is deserving of his place of in the 3,000 hit club and will undoubtedly have a spot in Cooperstown one day. Congratulations, Ichiro.