BY STEVEN NELSON
On March 21, 2019, during the second game of the 2019 Major League Baseball season, Ichiro Suzuki stepped off the field for the last time to thunderous applause of 46,451 people at the Tokyo Dome. It was only fitting that the 45-year-old icon played his last game in his home country wearing the Seattle Mariners uniform that he had worn for most of his 19-year major league career.
It would take more than just a page — a book would be more appropriate — to list all of Ichiro’s accomplishments and numerous records. Over the course of his 28-year professional baseball career in Japan and the United States, Ichiro has 9 batting titles, 4 MVPs, 10-straight seasons of over 200 hits, 17 Gold Glove awards, and 17 MLB All-Star appearances. He also has 4,367 total career hits between both leagues which is a record that will no doubt stand for many decades, if not forever. Among his single season accomplishments, perhaps his most widely recognized is his hits record of 262 achieved in 2004. Ichiro also played a crucial role for Team Japan in both the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classic, leading his team to two gold medals.
To truly understand Ichiro’s greatness, you would have to look at more than just the numbers. He was a unique star whose game relied on speed and precision in an era of power hitters. His success, professional attitude and hard work won him over many fans and the appreciation of his teammates. This was demonstrated in a show of appreciation by his Mariners teammate Dee Gordon used to thank Ichiro after he announced his retirement in a full page newspaper advert in The Seattle Times.
From his Seattle Mariners debut, the city of Seattle embraced Ichiro and he became an immediate icon in both Japan and the US, leading to him star in many commercials for both countries. While playing for the Seattle Mariners, Japanese TV channels would always broadcast Mariners games and it was fairly common to see Japanese people wearing Mariners baseball caps. However, that wasn’t enough for many people. Ichiro was so popular that many Japanese tourists came to Seattle just to see him play, even if they were not big baseball fans! This phenomenon was big enough that they gave it a name, calling it the Ichiro effect and there’s no doubt he played a huge role for Japanese tourism in Seattle.
For 14 years, Ichiro brought a unique excitement to Seattle baseball and was a respected role model to many young athletes who dreamed of one day achieving even a fraction of what Ichiro had accomplished. Ichiro’s playing days may be over but he has recently agreed to work as a special instructor for the Seattle Mariners and their AAA minor league affiliate. He will no doubt continue to have a positive effect on the Seattle Mariners organization and it is only a matter of time before he will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.