The hit king’s career comes full circle as he plays his last MLB game in front of a sold out Tokyo Dome crowd.
The days of watching hitting savants like Wade Boggs, Tony Gwynn and Derek Jeter spray balls all over the diamond and register batting averages in the high .300’s without breaking a sweat seems long gone.
The last surviving member of that esoteric group is Japanese transplant Ichiro Suzuki. The batsmith who holds the MLB record for consecutive 200-hit seasons, announced his retirement from baseball after a 19-year Hall of Fame journey. Ichiro received a thunderous ovation from the Japanese crowd following a 5-4, 12-inning Seattle Mariners win over Oakland in a sold out Tokyo Dome.
ICHIRO: Ichiro Suzuki waves goodbye to a roaring Tokyo Dome crowd after playing his final game. The 10-time MLB All-Star just announced his retirement pic.twitter.com/mt3jUtsPnN
— Bloomberg Quicktake (@Quicktake) March 21, 2019
Ichiro’s never won a World Series, but the final two games of his career were wins, so he leaves Seattle in good hands. Ichiro informed the organization of his intentions before the game. As word spread through the crowd of 46,451, the applause for Suzuki grew each time he stepped to the plate or took his position in the field.
He exited the game in the bottom of the 8th inning, standing alone on the field, soaking in the adulation. There’s no better place for Ichiro to play his last game than the country that laid the foundation. Birthed his incredible passion for the sport.
Tokyo salutes a legend as Ichiro leaves his last MLB game
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) March 21, 2019
He won the Western League batting title in Japan as an 18-year-old in 1992 and was hated on by his manager for his unorthodox batting style and leg kick. Ichiro was a natural, with a style that only he could master and execute.
The difference in philosophy didn’t stop Ichiro. By 1994 Suzuki had a new manager, but he was the same old killer, winning the first of three straight PL MVP awards and seven straight batting titles in Japan.
As Ichiro’s celebrity exploded in Japan, he brought his act to MLB in 2001 and carved out one of the most unique, illustrious and culturally-influential careers in baseball history.
Suzuki won the AL Rookie of the Year and the MVP with his unique batting prowess, his wicked speed, and defensive ability. Ichiro’s outfield throwing arm is considered one of the best in baseball history
His cultural influence is also unprecedented. Ichiro inspired a generation of Japanese superstars that continue to flood into MLB. No Japanese player before Ichiro had ever had more than 150 at-bats in the majors. Playing in the post A-Rod Era in Seattle, Ichiro’s seismic MLB touchdown helped lead the Mariners to a record-tying 116-win season.
Ichiro — and then later Yankees import Hideki Matsui — exemplified everything that was magnificently unique about Japanese baseball. Ichiro didn’t only prove to be one of the best baseball players in the world, but he was the source of tremendous pride and respect for Japanese baseball players throughout his entire 28-season pro career. A national treasure.
A true international superstar, Ichiro signs autographs for Blue Jays fans before the game. pic.twitter.com/hyozs27P
— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) April 28, 2012
Playing the last two games of his MLB career in Japan is Ichiro’s career coming full circle.
The 45-year-old Suzuki finishes iconic his career as a 3-time Silver Slugger winner with 3,089 major league hits after leaving Nippon Professional Baseball in 2000 with 1,278. His combined hit totals leave him with more hits than anyone to ever play the sport. A 10-time All-Star and Gold Glove Award-winner, Suzuki set MLB’s record for hits in a single season with 262 in 2004. He hit an insane .372 that season.
Ichiro’s world-class speed also contributed to his high average. He could lay down a bunt and then wreck the game with stolen bases. As a rookie, he led the AL in steals and finished his career with 509 swipes.
The baseball universe says goodbye to one of the true technicians and masters of the art of hitting. Ichiro is from the lost MLB tribe of master craftsman AKA slap hitters. Guys who didn’t produce lofty power numbers, but were deadly contact hitters with an ability to avoid strikeouts, put the ball in play and annihilate all aspects of the field – making them almost indefensible.