The MLB will never see a player like Ichiro again.
When you read about him online, there’s a mysticism that surrounds Ichiro. His rare combination of power, speed, ability and talent haven’t always shown in box scores, but has constantly been present to fans of the 44-year-old.
Whether you check his stats every night or you are a casual fan of baseball, there’s no denying that his first ten years were nothing short of dominant. During this time, he was the league’s Most Valuable player and Rookie of the Year in 2001, both a 10-time all-star and gold glove winner, three-time silver slugger and won the AL batting title twice.
As ESPN Stats and Info has pointed out, all 10 of Ichiro’s 200-hit seasons — which ties him for first all time with Pete Rose — came during this 10-year span. In comparison, Rose never had more than three consecutive 200-hit seasons during his career.
During this time, Ichiro also broke a few longstanding records. In 2004, Ichiro broke George Sisler’s 84-year-old record for hits in a season with 264 — a number which still stands to this day. He also holds the record for hits in a four-year period with 924. When he surpassed Bill Terry’s four-year record of 918, he broke a record that stood since 1932.
But if you were to break Ichiro down by just his hits — he’s 22nd all-time with 3086 — you’re only telling one part of his baseball story.
Ichiro has 3086 hits all time. Getty Images/TSR edited
If you wanted to show off his speed, you could pull the stat that Ichiro is tied for 35th all time with 509 stolen bases. Early in his career, his home to first base time was a quick 3.6 seconds. If you wanted to show that he has a strong arm, he is tied for 209th all time amongst outfielders with 123 defensive assists.
With his value of getting on base — he has a .758 OPS — and his play in the field, Ichiro’s career wins above replacement rating (59.6) has him in a tie for 122nd all time.
While his stats are jaw-dropping, the legend of Ichiro comes from the stories shared about him from around baseball circles. Based off his home-run swing during batting practice, it has well documented that he could have had a power bat in the MLB if he wanted. In response to this, he once said “[i]f I’m allowed to hit .220, I could probably hit 40 [home runs], but nobody wants that.”
He’s also always been interested in pitching at a professional level. During the 2009 World Baseball Classic, Ichiro reportedly threw 92 mph off a mound during a pitching workout.
Also, let’s not forget his dominance in the Nippon Professional Baseball league. Signed just after he turned 18, Ichiro played nine seasons for Japan’s Orix Blue Wave. From 1992-2000, he led the Pacific League in batting seven times, won three MVP awards and took home seven consecutive Gold Gloves. If you were to combine his hits from the NPB to the MLB, Ichiro would have 4358 professional hits, which make him baseball’s hit king.
I bring up these numbers and stories as a reminder of what Ichiro has meant to baseball. Dominant, mysterious and unorthodox to the North American eye, it’s been tough for the media to define how great of a player he is.
Even though his numbers have gone down in the latter half of his career, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t shown he still has all the tools present from when he joined the league in 2001. Just as an example, Ichiro hit .322 in limited action at age 38 and .284 in 143 games at age 40. Not bad for someone who has constantly been doubted.
If you had to place a knock on him, it would be that he’s never played on a great team. Ichiro has only made the playoffs twice in his career, where he has a career batting average of .346 across those four series he played in.
There’s a larger than life idealism that surrounds Ichiro, and it’s well deserved. When he does retire — whenever that is — baseball will be lost without his iconic swing. Until then, let’s soak in and remind ourselves more often of the greatness that is Ichiro Suzuki.