For his first 11½ seasons in Major League Baseball, Ichiro Suzuki played for the Seattle Mariners…not exactly a hot media market. That, and the fact that Seattle had made it to the playoffs only once during that time (and lost to the Yankees in the ALCS), means that most of the country didn’t get to see Ichiro play. (When he played three seasons for the Yankees, it was later in his career.)
Yet, we’ve all heard of his greatness—the number of hits he got, his average, the stolen bases. And we’ve seen highlights of his defensive play, especially his dart-like throws from right field to get runners trying to get that extra base.
Ichiro played 19 seasons in the Majors (although the last one was just two games), after his nine years in Japan.
Here’s a look at some of the facts, stats and achievements about Ichiro that most fans (who aren’t statisticians or record hounds) might not know by heart.
His first manager in Japan didn’t like Ichiro much.
Ichiro played nine seasons in Japan for the Pacific League Orix BlueWave in Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), the major leagues of Japan, starting in 1992.
But his manager the first two seasons didn’t play Ichiro much, primarily because he didn’t like Ichiro’s swing, which was referred to as “the pendulum.” He got fewer than 100 at-bats in each of his first two seasons.
Fortunately, the team and Ichiro got a new manager at the start of the 1994 season, and everything changed. He played full time that year and promptly set the league’s single-season record for most hits in a season (210). It was the first time anyone in the league had gone over 200 hits.
It wasn’t Ichiro’s idea to go by his first name only. In fact, he was embarrassed by it. It was his manager’s idea in 1994 as a publicity stunt to get more attention for the team and for his new star. Thanks to Ichiro’s performance, the idea took off and “Ichiro” became a household name in Japan.
He batted .385 in ’94, a record for the Pacific League—and won the first of seven-straight NPB batting titles. In 1996, Ichiro had a great year and led his team to NPB’s championship title and won his third-straight MVP award.
At the end of the 2000 season, Ichiro (who wanted to play in the U.S.) was allowed to negotiate with teams in Major League Baseball for a contract. The Mariners got the rights, and Ichiro Suzuki was headed to the Major Leagues as a rookie at the age of 27.
He ended his nine NPB seasons with 1,278 hits and a career batting average of .353. “Ichiro” was soon to become a household name in the U.S. as well.
2001: The 27-year-old “rookie” is MVP and ROY.
Ichiro made his Major League Baseball debut for the Mariners in the 2001 season. There were those early on who doubted that his success in Japan would translate to the Majors over a long 162-game season.
However, once again, the slim left-handed hitter would prove them wrong—in a big way.
After all, although he was labeled a rookie because it was his first MLB season, he’d honed his skills in Japan at a professional level and was ready to prove himself.
In his first season, Ichiro became a star:
- He got 242 hits to lead the Majors
- He batted .350 to lead the AL and tie for the MLB mark
- He stole 56 bases
On top of that, Ichiro was named an All-Star and won both the American League Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards. He also took home a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger award.
And he was just getting started.
His first 10 seasons: 2001–2010.
Ichiro played for Seattle from 2001 through the middle of the 2012 season (when he was traded to the Yankees). Ichiro set numerous Major League, American League and team records for average, hits and stolen bases. Over his first 10 seasons, he took the league by storm on his way to a certain Hall of Fame career.
Here are some of the impressive stats and achievements Ichiro attained with Seattle:
- His 242 hits in his 2001 season were the most by a rookie and the seventh-most all time
- He got more than 200 hits each of his first 10 seasons—he broke the 107-year-old MLB record after his eighth season
- His total hits over that span are the most by any player his first 10 years
- In 2004, his 262 hits broke the MLB record held by George Sisler, a mark that had stood for 84 years—no player had ever broken the 260 plateau before
- That same ’04 season, he had a League-leading .372 average
- Over his first 10 seasons, he won 10 Gold Glove awards and was a 10-time All-Star
- He led the American League in hits in seven of those first 10 seasons
- He won the batting title twice: his rookie year (.350) and the 2004 season (.372)
In July of 2007, Ichiro became the third-fastest to reach 1,500 hits. In 2009, he reached 2,000 hits, second faster than any other player.
Yankees, Marlins and Mariners.
Ichiro played for the Yankees in the 2012–2014 seasons, then for the Marlins for the 2015–2o17 seasons.
In August of 2017, Ichiro reached the 3,000-hit milestone in his MLB career by getting a triple in Coors Field against the Colorado Rockies.
MLB career totals.
Ichiro ended his MLB career with 3,089 hits, a career average of .311 and 509 stolen bases. He is the seventh MLB player in history to have 3,000 hits and 500 steals.
His combined 4, 367 hits in professional baseball (NPB and MLB) are the most hits over a career in professional baseball by anyone. However, MLB doesn’t combine hits from other leagues in their stats.
Pete Rose stands as the all-time MLB leader in hits, with 4,256. Ichiro ranks 23rd all time.