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Saying sayonara to Ichiro

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Saying sayonara to Ichiro (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

An MLB legend may have played his last game.

The Seattle Mariners announced that they were releasing outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, bringing to an end (at least for now) a playing career that spanned nine seasons with Japan’s Orix Blue Wave and double that number in MLB.

(Note: This means that I, an old, am now younger than exactly one MLB player. I’m dealing with it, but hey - let’s all cross our fingers for the continued good health (for a given value of good health) of the ageless Bartolo Colon.)

The 44-year-old Ichiro winds up his American professional career with 3,089 hits (22nd on the all-time list) for a .311 batting average in 2,651 games played. He stole over 500 bases (509, to be exact) and scored over 1,400 runs (1,420). He was a 10-time All-Star and won 10 Gold Gloves. Ichiro was also just the second player to with both Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same season (the first was Fred Lynn for Boston in 1975).

He arrived in Seattle in 2001 at age 27 and proceeded to have a decade the likes of which the league had never seen. He led the league in hits seven times – including five in a row – and had at least 200 hits every single season. He set the major league record for hits in a season when he rapped 262 in 2004. All this while also defending his position beautifully – his cannon arm was responsible for as many highlights as his bat.

He. Just. Hit.

The latter part of his MLB career was less dazzling. He spent a few years with the Yankees and a few with the Marlins, but as he passed into his 40s, he wasn’t quite the same offensive force (although he could still put the bat on the ball – he hit .291 with Miami in 2016 at age 42). Still, he was around long enough to hit some of the big round milestones that we love to see from our baseball greats.

Of course, all this basically ignores that Ichiro spent nearly a decade as an elite player in Japan. He had nearly 1,300 hits while playing for the Blue Wave, all while displaying the same dazzling speed and elite defense that we saw here in the States.

Now, if you’ll forgive me, a brief aside:

At the risk of coming off as a Hit King Truther, I must say that I see some merit in the argument that Ichiro - and not Pete Rose - is the True Hit King. Ichiro’s total from both MLB and NPB is 4,367 – 111 more than Rose. Rose’s argument is that if you include Ichiro’s Japan numbers, you must add Rose’s minor league stats – 427 hits over three seasons - which seems a touch disingenuous. Equating Nippon Professional Baseball to the Class D Sally League of the early 1960s is an egotistical and mildly xenophobic insult to the quality of the Japanese game … which is to say it is perfectly on-brand for Rose. Long story short, Ichiro is my Hit King.

Back to your regularly scheduled programming:

Ichiro’s love for all aspects of the game borders on the mythical. His devotion to his craft was unparalleled; he was a student of hitting unlike anyone else in the sport. His game was a throwback, so he felt like a throwback, even as he was something – an Asian superstar – that MLB had never really seen before. That blend of old and new made Ichiro into something truly unique, the likes of which we’ll never see again.

And then there are the stories from within the game, the anecdotes from his fellow players that shone a light on a side of Ichiro that the public rarely-if-ever saw. The biggest one is the legendary speech he would give in the American League locker room at the All-Star Game. Apparently, Ichiro would take the floor and deliver a devastatingly thorough, F-bomb-laden takedown of their National League foes. By all accounts, it was breathtaking in its profane glory. And the tradition began in 2001, his very first year; the manager would make his remarks and then Ichiro would swoop in on a wind of curse words and manufactured beef.

Seriously – how can you not love this guy?

It’s tough to say goodbye to such an important figure in the game’s history. He’ll obviously stroll into Cooperstown on the first ballot – his resumé screams Hall of Fame. Ichiro certainly deserves the accolades that are coming his way.

Truly, a player unlike any other. He will be missed.

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