Big news out of Seattle: the Hall of Fame baseball career of Ichiro Suzuki is coming to an end. The Mariners just announced that Ichiro is “transitioning to the role of Special Assistant to the Chairman, effective today.” The club says “Ichiro’s new role will preclude him from returning to the active roster in 2018.” It is, for all intents and purposes, his retirement from baseball.
Or, at least his almost retirement. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic spoke with Ichiro’s agent this afternoon, and his agent at least hinted that Ichiro could be activated for the Mariners’ opening series in 2019, which will take place in Japan. It’d be a nice grace note for the end of his career, I suppose, but we’ll have to wait and see.
Assuming no early 2019 gimmickry, this is about the most graceful way Ichiro and the team could’ve handled matters, because it’s clear that he is no longer capable of playing up to his lofty standards. Or, for that matter, the standards of a major leaguer. This year he’s 9-for-44 with no extra base hits and only three walks. This comes on the heels of a season in which he hit .255/.318/.332 for the Marlins. His reputation entitled him to more looks than a lot of players may have received, but at 44 it’s pretty clear the tank was empty. Far better for him to ascend to a front office role than to simply be released or for his presence on the roster despite a lack of production to turn into a point of controversy. The Mariners learned that the hard way with how Ken Griffey Jr.’s career came to a close and seemed determined not to repeat the same mistake.
Assuming, safely, that Ichiro does not make a go at playing in 2019, he ends his big league career with a line of .311/.355/.402, with 3,089 hits and 509 stolen bases. He was the MVP and Rookie of the Year in 2001, took home 10 Gold Gloves and three Silver Slugger Awards and made the All-Star team ten times. He set the all-time record for hits in a season in 2004 with 262 safeties. He topped 200 hits ten times and led the league in hits seven times, including four years running between 2006 and 2010.
That was just part of it, obviously, as Ichiro was a megastar in Japan before coming to the United States, leading the Orix Blue Wave for nine seasons. His 1,278 hits there, combined with his 3,089 here, give him a career total of 4,367, which are more than any man to ever play the game. Pete Rose may still be the MLB hit king, but Ichiro is certainly the global hit king.
He’ll be called to Cooperstown in his first year of eligibility. Until then he’ll stay in Seattle and will no doubt soon have a day set aside to celebrate his incomparable career.