October 22, 1973 • Kasugai, Japan
Ichiro Suzuki has millions of dedicated fans in his native Japan, with his image appearing in daily newspapers and smiling from billboards, coffee mugs, and T-shirts. There is even a museum dedicated to him. Known to his adoring public simply as "Ichiro," Ichiro Suzuki is more than just a baseball player; he is a national institution. Considered by many to be the greatest hitter in Japanese baseball history, Ichiro dominated the game in his homeland for nearly nine years until he was snapped up in 2001 to play professional baseball for the American League's Seattle Mariners. As a result, he became the first Japanese position player (meaning a nonpitcher) to be signed by a U.S. team. Since then the fleet-footed, left-handed outfielder has broken dozens of records and has garnered an enormous American following. In 2004, Ichiro had his hottest streak ever, finishing the year by breaking a record that had stood untouched for eighty-four years: scoring the most hits in a single season. He is called a "hitting machine" by sportswriters. This is no exaggeration, since according to Leigh Montville of Sports Illustrated, "Any pitch, any time, any place, any situation—you throw it, Ichiro will hit it."
First boy makes good
Ichiro Suzuki was born on October 22, 1973, in Kasugai, Japan. Ichiro's father, Nobuyuki, was determined that Ichiro, who he thought had a natural talent for baseball, would play the sport, and play it well. The elder Suzuki made it clear from the beginning that his son was special. In fact, the name Ichiro means "first boy," even though he was actually the second boy born to the family. From the time he was three years old, Ichiro was practicing in his backyard with a tiny bat and ball, and by elementary school, Nobuyuki, who was a former high school ballplayer himself, was putting his son through batting drills for up to four hours per day.
In high school Ichiro already displayed a dedication to the game that he would become known for as an adult. It was a tradition at Nagoya Electric High School that freshman players were responsible for washing the uniforms of the seniors, so to make sure he had plenty of time for practice Ichiro would get up at 3:00 AM to do laundry. The young batter also maintained a rigorous class schedule and excelled academically. By his senior year Ichiro was a familiar face at Japan's National High School Baseball Tournament, known as Koshien. Upon graduation from high school in 1991, he was drafted to play professional ball for the Pacific League's BlueWave, a team owned by the Japanese leasing company Orix.
"I'm unique. I'm a very rare kind of player."
During his first year with the BlueWave, Ichiro devoted himself to perfecting his game. As S. L. Price of Sports Illustrated commented, "He spent most of his free time in the batting cage, with teammates coming and going from breakfast, lunch, nap, dinner to the endless tattoo of his bat on ball." Ichiro also developed a very unique batting stance that included lifting his right leg and swinging it back and forth like a pendulum. His hours of practice proved to be worth it; Ichiro quickly became known as a slasher at the plate, hitting line drives to the corners of every ballpark in every game.
During his seven full seasons playing for the BlueWave, the left-handed hitter racked up an impressive record: Each season he hit between .342 and .387 and averaged twenty-nine doubles, seventeen home runs, and twenty-eight stolen bases. He also earned seven batting titles and set a national record for getting to first base in fifty-seven consecutive games. Ichiro was named Most Valuable Player three times, and in 1998 he was key to leading the BlueWave to their first Pacific League pennant.
Ichiro's prowess in the batting box quickly helped make him the most well-known and celebrated person in Japan, but it was his style that catapulted him to mythic proportions. With a lean, teenager-like physique, spiky hair, and a penchant for wearing sunglasses and his baseball cap backwards, the five-foot-nine Ichiro was not the typical, conservative Japanese player. He especially appealed to younger fans, who viewed him as something of a rock star. Ichiro soon became a one-man industry, with his own line of sports apparel, including colorful Nike Air Max sneakers that were snatched up by the millions.
Another suggested reason for Ichiro's popularity was his notoriety for being tight-lipped in interviews. "He is a man of few words, so he doesn't talk so much," noted Michael Knisley of Sporting News. "And the more mysterious he acts, the more mystique he has." According to Jeff Pearlman of Sports Illustrated, the reason for Ichiro's reserve was more practical: If he thinks he has not contributed to a game he feels there is simply nothing to say. The fashionably dressed hitter may have been aloof with the press, but he obviously enjoyed playing to, and sometimes with, the crowd. In fact, during game lulls Ichiro was known to play catch with fans sitting in the right-field stands.
Ichiro reached the pinnacle of fame when, in 2000, his father built a four-story museum in Nagoya, Japan, dedicated solely to his celebrated son. Nearly three thousand articles are on display chronicling the life and times of Ichiro, which is amazing considering he was only twenty-four when the museum opened. Items include his childhood Nintendo game cartridges, baseball jerseys, report cards, nearly one hundred scrapbooks containing news clippings—and even Ichiro's dental retainer. According to the museum manager, who spoke with Jim Caple of ESPN.com, "When Ichiro was a child his father told Ichiro's mother, 'He is going to be a great athlete. We must keep everything."'
Ichiro conquers America
Although he was a star in Japan, Ichiro had been setting his sights on American baseball since the spring of 1999, when he spent two weeks in spring training with the Seattle Mariners. In 2000 he announced to Orix that once his full nine years playing pro ball in Japan was up, which it would be in 2001, he was going to consider offers from other teams, including those from the United States. Aware that Ichiro's departure was unavoidable, and faced with business losses, Orix decided to "post" Ichiro, meaning they put Ichiro on the auction block. The Mariners beat out other hopeful franchises, and on November 9, 2000, offered Orix more than $13 million for a thirty-day window to negotiate with Ichiro. On November 18, the powerhouse hitter signed a three-year deal with Seattle worth a reported $15-$20 million. He became the first Japanese position player to sign with a U.S. baseball team.
Ichiro may have been eager to play American ball, but he claimed the decision to leave Japan was a hard one. "Inever said it was easy for me," he revealed to John Rawlings of Sporting News. "But it wasn't interesting anymore. People have twisted that very often. As the better pitchers left my league, it wasn't fun." Ichiro also claimed to be both hesitant and excited about his move. As he told Michael Farber of Sports Illustrated, "Sometimes I am nervous, sometimes anxious, but Iwant to challenge a new world." Ichiro began to adapt to his new life by asking in his contract for English lessons for himself and his wife, Japanese television personality Yumiko Fukushima. He also made it clear that, just as he had in Japan, he wanted to be recognized by his first name only. In May 2001 Ichiro became the first and only U.S. player to wear a baseball jersey bearing only a first name.
The Mariners did not regret opening their purse for their Japanese import. By the end of his first season Ichiro was known, according to Rick Reilly, as "the fastest man in baseball with the best outfield arm playing for the winningest team." He posted a .357 batting average, with fifty-six stolen bases, leading the major leagues in both categories. Ichiro also became only the second player to be voted American League Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in the same season. Over the next three years the Japanese slugger continued to be the most successful and consistent leadoff hitter in U.S. baseball. "Idon't think you can pitch him one way," New York Yankees's manager Joe Torre commented to Jeff Pearlman. "You can go in and out, up and down and he makes the adjustment. You can get ahead of the count, and Ichiro still seems relaxed. He doesn't seem to have any weaknesses."
Ichiro's clear focus and intense concentration contributed to such comments, and his many rituals clearly intrigued American fans and members of the press. Sportswriters reported on his exercise regimen, which included a constant stretching and rolling of shoulders when he is in the outfield between pitches; a massage before each game; and methodically rubbing his feet with a wooden stick in the locker room. According to Ichiro, and according to Eastern medicine, healthy feet are key to a healthy body. A wooden stick helps massage certain points on the foot that supposedly improve such things as flexibility and circulation.
Ichiro also believes that mental preparation is equally important to physical preparation. Before each game he watches a tape of his opposing pitchers, and after each game he spends time by himself with only his handcrafted glove for company. Ichiro carefully wipes away any dirt from the glove, rubs in a protective cream, and checks all the lacings. As he explained to Brad Lefton of Sporting News, "The glove is directly connected to the game. There's a special meaning in reflecting back on your day's work while paying homage to a piece of equipment that helped you. So while Icare for my glove, Ialso reflect back on my mistakes and try to identify the causes."
Out of the Shadows: George Sisler
When Ichiro Suzuki hit his way into sports history he also put the spotlight on another player who had almost been forgotten in the shadows: George Sisler. Sisler is considered by many to be one of the greatest first basemen of all time and perhaps the most legendary player in the history of the St. Louis Browns. He had a fifteen-year batting average of .340; he was a swift base runner; and he was known for his acrobatic fielding. But Sisler was also a quiet and modest man whose reputation was eclipsed by some of his more charismatic contemporaries such as Ty Cobb (1886–1961) and Babe Ruth (1895–1948).
George Harold Sisler was born on March 24, 1893, in Manchester, Ohio, but spent his early years in Nimisila, a tiny coal-mining town just south of Akron. From early on, baseball was his life. When he was fourteen Sisler moved to Akron in order to pitch for Akron Central High School. While still in high school he signed a contract to play professional ball, which would take effect as soon as he graduated. Sisler's father, however, urged him to pursue his education first, so in 1910 he enrolled at the University of Michigan (U of M) in Ann Arbor. During his years at U of M Sisler emerged as one of the top college ballplayers in the country, and although he graduated in 1915 with a degree in mechanical engineering he decided to turn pro, signing with the American League's St. Louis Browns.
Sisler began his career as a pitcher, but because he was too good with a bat to be limited to hitting once every four days, he soon took over at first base. From 1915 until 1922 Sisler maintained a .374 batting average, reaching .407 in 1920 and peaking at .420 in 1922, a record that no one has since approached. "Gorgeous George," as he was known to his fans, continued to rack up record after record, and in 1920 he was at the pinnacle of his career, reaching the single-season record of 257 hits that remained untouched until 2004. Sisler also achieved career bests of 19 home runs, 18 triples, 49 doubles, 122 runs batted in, and 137 runs scored. According to sports historian Bill James, who spoke with Dave Kindred of Sporting News, in 1920 Sisler was "about as great of a player as you can be."
Unfortunately the baseball legend's career was cut short in 1923 after he suffered a bout of sinusitis (a severe sinus infection), which caused double vision for a time and forced him to sit out the entire season. Sisler continued to play for the Browns until 1928, when he was traded to the Washington Senators. After appearing in only twenty games Washington turned his contract over to the Boston Braves, who kept Sisler on the roster until 1930. Although he performed admirably, Sisler never quite achieved his former glory, and he considered 1923 to be his last true year in baseball. After playing briefly in the minor leagues for two years Sisler retired in 1932. He left professional baseball for the next ten years, but returned to the major leagues in 1943 to scout for the Brooklyn Dodgers. From 1951 through 1965 Sisler served as a scout and hitting instructor for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He died on March 26, 1973, at the age of eighty.
Two of Sisler's sons, Dick and Dave, played major league ball in the 1950s, and a third son, George Jr., served as an executive in the minor leagues. Five members of the Sisler family were on hand when Ichiro Suzuki broke Gorgeous George's eighty-four-year-old record. As Sisler's grandson, Bo Drochelman, told Bob Sherwin of the Seattle Times, "My grandfather really respected the game of baseball. He cherished it and played every minute to the hilt. That's the part of Ichiro I think he would have loved, a man dedicated to the game. That would have made him proud, that kind of person breaking his record."
Sizzles Sisler's record
Mistakes did not come often for Ichiro, although he did experience a bit of a slump in 2003, when he finished the year with a disappointing-for-him .257 average. A refreshed Ichiro, however, was back in action in 2004, and as the season progressed he broke record after record. Nicknamed Wizard by his teammates he proved he had magic in his feet, his glove, and especially his bat. Ichiro became one of only eleven players to have four consecutive 200-hit seasons, and as the playoffs drew closer speculations were flying that he would beat the single-season hitting record of 257 set in 1920 by George Sisler (1893–1973) of the St. Louis Browns.
On October 1, 2004, before a sold-out crowd, Ichiro tied the record during the first inning of the Mariners-Texas Rangers game. During the third inning he rocketed a line drive to left field and secured his place in baseball history. The stands erupted; fireworks soared over the ballpark; and teammates and fans gave Ichiro a two-minute standing ovation as he stood, beaming, on first base. "It's definitely the most emotional I have gotten in my life," the usually calm and collected Ichiro admitted to Bob Sherwin of the Seattle Times after the game. "It's definitely the highlight of my career, and I was thinking 'Is there something better in my future?"'
Considering he was only thirty years old when he broke Sisler's record, many predicted that there was much more ahead in Ichiro's future. By mid-2005 he had already broken at least two more batting records: On June 14 he became only the third major league player in history to hit one thousand runs in less than seven hundred games; and on July 30 Ichiro reached his 1,058th hit, the most any player has achieved in their first five-seasons of play. Don Baylor, the hitting coach for the Mariners, forecast that his star right-fielder would possibly break an unprecedented .400 batting average by season's end if he started the year at .350; as of July 2005 Ichiro was batting .385. The modest Mariner, as usual, was cautious when speaking to the press about the hype. As he told Phil Rogers of ChicagoSports.com, "Idon't know if I'll ever do it. I just want to be a player people say has a chance." For a man who S. L. Price claims has become an "an omnipresent cultural icon," that is definitely an understatement.
For More Information
Farber, Michael. "Rising Son: The Defection of Ichiro Suzuki." Sports Illustrated (December 4, 2000): p. 68.
Kindred, Dave. "Ichiro Is a Vision of Hitters Past." The Sporting News (October 4, 2004): p. 64.
Knisley, Michael. "Follow That Star!" The Sporting News (March 19, 2001): p. 12.
Lefton, Brad. "In Focus: Mariners Outfielder Ichiro Suzuki's Mental Preparation Is as Big a Part of His Game as His Blazing Speed and Powerful Throwing Arm." The Sporting News (March 10, 2003): pp. 10–14.
Montville, Leigh. "The Single Guy: Ichiro Suzuki." Sports Illustrated (October 4, 2004): p. 20.
Pearlman, Jeff. "Big Hit: Ichiro Suzuki." Sports Illustrated (May 28, 2001): p. 34.
Price, S. L. "The Ichiro Paradox." Sports Illustrated (July 8, 2002): p. 50.
Rawlings, John. "A Star Arrives." The Sporting News (March 19, 2001): p. 6.
Reilly, Rick. "Itching for Ichiro." Sports Illustrated (September 17, 2001): p. 112.
Verducci, Tom. "Leading Man: The Job of the Leadoff Hitter Is to Get on Base, and Who Does It Better than Ichiro Suzuki?" Sports Illustrated (April 4, 2005): p. 58.
Caple, Jim. "It's All Ichiro All the Time at the Ichiro Exhibition Room." ESPN.com: Baseball (November 14, 2002). http://espn.go.com/mlb/columns/caple_jim/1460455.html (accessed on August 23, 2005).
Sherwin, Bob. "Hits-tory! Ichiro Breaks Sisler's Record." The Seattle Times (October 2, 2004). http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/mariners/2002052125_ichiroheads02.html (accessed on August 23, 2005).
"Suzuki, Ichiro." UXL Newsmakers. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/general/culture-magazines/suzuki-ichiro
"Suzuki, Ichiro." UXL Newsmakers. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/general/culture-magazines/suzuki-ichiro
Japanese baseball player
Ichiro Suzuki—already a bona fide hero in his native Japan—made a sensational debut in American baseball in the opening years of the 21st century. Suzuki, adjudged the best-known person in Japan—even better known than Emperor Akihito, who came in second—in a popularity poll during the 1990s, ended his first two seasons in Major League Baseball with a total of 450 hits, more than any other player in major league history. In his first two seasons with the Seattle Mariners, the outfielder compiled a batting average of .336 and in 2002 collected more votes than any other American League (AL) player in balloting for the All-Star Game. Even his opponents are full of praise for Suzuki's batting power. "There's no secret way to get him out," Boston Red Sox manager Grady Little told Sports Illustrated. "All you can do is concentrate on the other eight guys." After more than two years in the United States, Suzuki still speaks very little English, but it seems to have done nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of either baseball fans or the media. He remains wildly popular in Japan, where early morning television broadcasts each of his games, and his face is forever present on T-shirts, subway ads, and in the newspapers.
Born in Kasugai, Japan
Suzuki was born in Kasugai in the Aichi prefecture of Japan on October 22, 1973. By the age of three, he was playing with a toddler-sized bat and ball outside his home. When he was only eight years old, Suzuki convinced his father to let him join a local baseball club. Since the local ball club played only on Sundays, Suzuki prevailed on his father to play catch and pitch to him whenever possible during the rest of the week. His father, Nobuyuki Suzuki, later became a coach for his son's baseball club. The younger Suzuki's talents as a ballplayer were already abundantly evident by the time he entered Nagoya Electric High School, also known as Aikodai Meiden. While in high school, Suzuki participated in Japan's National High School Baseball Tournament, or Koshien.
Fresh out of high school, Suzuki was drafted in the fourth round of 1991's Japanese free agent draft by the Orix Blue Wave of Kobe, a member of the Pacific League and one of the leading Japanese pro baseball teams. During his nine seasons with the Blue Wave, he collected seven consecutive Pacific League batting titles, was named Most Valuable Player three times, and in 1998 led his team to a Pacific League pennant. In 1992, his first year with the Wave, Suzuki split his time between one of the team's minor league ball clubs and the majors. He hit .366 in fifty-eight games with the minor league club before he was called up to the majors where he batted .253 in forty games. The following year, Suzuki started off again with the minors, hitting .371 in forty-eight games but only a disappointing .188 in 164 at-bats with the majors. He hit his first home run in the majors on June 12, 1993, off a pitch from Hideo Nomo of the Kinetsu Buffalos. His first exposure to baseball out-side Japan came in 1993 when he played a season for the Hilo Stars in Hawaii Winter Baseball.
Comes Into His Own in 1994
Suzuki really came into his own during the 1994 season with the Blue Wave, batting .385 and setting a Japanese record with 210 hits in only 130 games. That same year, he scored in sixty-nine consecutive games between May 21 and August 26. In 1995 Suzuki led the Pacific League with forty-nine stolen bases and knocked home a career-high total of twenty-five home runs. Suzuki in 1996 led the Blue Wave to a Pacific League pennant and the Japanese championship with a win over the Yomiuri Giants. In 1997 with Akira Ogi as the new manager of the Blue Wave, Suzuki enjoyed a string of 216 consecutive at-bats without a strikeout. He won his fifth straight Pacific League batting title in 1998.
Suzuki's 1999 season was cut short when he was struck by a pitch in late August, breaking the ulna bone in his right hand. He nevertheless managed to lead the league for the sixth straight year with a batting average of .343. In 2000, his final year with the Blue Wave, Suzuki maintained a batting average of .387, a Japanese record. For the second year in a row, an injury in August cut short his season. Suzuki's magic on the ball field elevated him to super-celebrity status in Japan, where a poll in the 1990s showed him to be the country's best-known person, trailed closely by Japanese Emperor Akihito. So popular was Suzuki in his homeland that it became difficult for him to go anywhere in Japan without being over-whelmed by fans and the media. So intense was the media scrutiny that when Suzuki and television personality Yumiko Fukushima decided to marry, they flew to Los Angeles for the ceremony. In an interview with ESPN.com, Suzuki said the intrusiveness of the Japanese media had become intolerable. "They would even watch me go to the haircut place or the restaurant. Then they would interview the people at the haircutters."
Mariners Seek Out Suzuki's Services
Suzuki's outstanding performance on the baseball diamonds of Japan had not gone unnoticed on the other side of the Pacific. So excited were the Seattle Mariners about the possibility of landing Suzuki that the team paid the Blue Wave just over $13 million for the right to offer the dynamic batter a contract. On November 18, 2000, Suzuki signed a three-year deal with the Mariners. The contract was reportedly worth about $16 million. The ballplayer and his wife flew to Seattle and fell almost immediately in love with their new home. They were particularly pleased to find a city where they could go out in public without being mobbed by fans and the local paparazzi.
America's Suzuki fans were not disappointed when their hero finally made his debut in Major League Baseball in April 2001. The Japanese import kicked off his American baseball career with a 23-game hitting streak that fell only one game short of the club record set by Joey Cora. With two home runs and a total of eleven RBIs, Suzuki batted .336 in his first twenty-five games with the Mariners. But his statistics only seemed to get better with time. By season's end, he boasted a batting average of.350 with a total of 242 hits. Suzuki also became the first rookie ever to garner the most ballots for the All-Star Game. A big factor in his All-Star balloting popularity was the decision by Major League Baseball to distribute ballots in Japan. After the end of the regular season, Suzuki became the first rookie since Fred Lynn (in 1975) to win both the MVP and Rookie of the Year awards.
|1973||Born October 22 in Kasugai, Aichi Prefecture, Japan|
|1982||Joins local baseball club at the age of 8|
|1992-2000||Plays nine seasons with Japan's Orix Blue Wave|
|1999||Marries television personality Yumiko Fukushima|
|2000||Signs three-year contract with Seattle Mariners|
|2001||Makes major league debut with Seattle Mariners|
Related Biography: Manager Akira Ogi
Not until Akira Ogi was brought in as the new manager of Kobe's Orix Blue Wave in 1994 did Ikiro Suzuki truly come into his own as a player. Before Ogi arrived on the scene, tension between the previous manager, Shozo Doi, and Suzuki had kept the batter from performing at his best. Doi, frustrated by Suzuki's failure to follow his orders, kept the player in the minors for much of Suzuki's first two years. Among the first things Ogi did after joining the Blue Wave was to bring Suzuki back to the majors. Confident that the batter had what it took, he added him as starter and then just left him alone to do his own thing.
Suzuki did not disappoint, batting .385 and tallying a record 210 hits in the 1994 season. Suzuki's breakthrough, under the guidance of Ogi, helped to power the Blue Wave to Pacific League pennants in both 1995 and 1996. In 1995, Ogi's team faced off against the Yakult Swallows in the Japan Series, losing the series in five games to the Swallows. The Blue Wave went all the way in 1996, vanquishing the Yomiuri Giants in the fifth game of the Japan Series.
Before beginning his career as a manager, Ogi played second base for the Nishitetsu Lions from 1954 to 1967, compiling a batting average of.229 with seventy home runs in 1,328 games. Ogi coached the Kintetsu Buffalos from 1988 to 1992, winning a Pacific League pennant in 1989.
Compared to Rod Carew, Ralph Garr
To many seasoned baseball observers, Suzuki's incredible bat control evoked memories of Rod Carew, but Mariners manager Lou Piniella said that he found his new star's playing style more reminiscent of Ralph Garr. (Garr, who played thirteen seasons with the Atlanta Braves, Chicago White Sox, and California Angels between 1968 and 1980, had a career batting average of.306.) Piniella observed that the momentum from Suzuli' left-handed swing propelled the batter toward first base even before he'd left the batter's box, forcing infielders to rush their throws—even on routine grounders.
Even in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, Suzuki could not escape the scrutiny of the Japanese media. In 2001 reports circulated that a Japanese Web site owner was willing to pay $2 million to anyone who could bring him a photograph of Suzuki in the nude. To preserve his privacy, Suzuki was forced to change clothes in a secluded area of the Mariners' locker room. Increasingly upset by the persistence of the Japanese media, Suzuki and Mariners teammate Kazuhiro Sasaki in July 2001 staged a brief boycott of members of the Japanese press.
Suzuki is the only player in Major League Baseball to be identified by his first name on the back of his jersey, a practice that originated in Japan under Blue Wave manager Akira Ogi. Although a few of Japanese baseball's better known pitchers came to Major League Baseball before him, Suzuki was the first position player to be signed by a MLB club. Despite the enormous sums the Mariners spent to land Suzuki, there were loads of skeptics in Seattle and elsewhere around the United States who doubted that the Japanese player would do well on this side of the Pacific. His spectacular performance during his debut major league season convinced all but the most diehard doubters.
Player Exodus May Hurt Japanese Baseball
Ironically, Suzuki's phenomenal success in Major League Baseball may well eventually help to undermine the pro game in Japan that gave him his start. Los Angeles Dodgers pitching coach Jim Colborn told Sports Illustrated that approximately three dozen of Japan's best players could end up playing in the major leagues. Colborn, a former Mariners director of Pacific Rim scouting who coached in Japan, said the likely loss of such top players as Seibu Lions shortstop Kazuo Matsui, Kintetsu Buffalos third baseman Norihiro Nakamura, and Yomiuri Giants centerfielder Hideki Matsui to the MLB threatens to turn Japanese baseball into a farm system for MLB. Even Japanese baseball fans are increasingly turning their attention to American baseball. Former Blue Wave general manager Steve Inow told Sports Illustrated: "Every day, people [in Japan] are watching major league baseball games, and short term, that's not so good for us. These are difficult times. Japanese baseball is at a turning point. Which way do we go?"
In his second season with the Mariners, Suzuki slipped slightly from the stellar performance of his debut year, but only slightly. His batting average fell to.321 from .350 in 2001. Suzuki's hits in 2002 totaled 208, down from 242 in 2001. Although the total number of Mariners selected to play in the 2002 All-Star Game was down sharply—from eight to three—from the previous year, Suzuki led the major leagues in the total number of votes received. More than 2.5 million votes were cast for the Seattle rightfielder. He was joined by fellow Mariners Freddy Garcia and Kazuhiro Sasaki, both pitchers. Interviewed by the Associated Press only days before the game on July 9, Suzuki said, "I'm a little bit excited knowing I'm going to be in that event again. I've been around a year and a half, and the votes I got this year are a different quality of votes."
Helps Lead MLB All-Stars to Victory in Japan
In November 2002 Suzuki went 4-for-4 to help lead the Major League Baseball All-Stars to victory over their Japanese counterparts in the seventh game of the annual exhibition series in Japan's Sapporo Dome. The Japanese team took the first three games of the series, but the MLB team bounced back to take the next four games and win the series. In the final game, Suzuki hit three singles and a double for the major leaguers.
|SEA: Seattle Mariners.|
Awards and Accomplishments
|1994||Named Pacific League's Most Valuable Player|
|1995-96||Named MVP of Pacific League|
|1998||Led Japan's Orix Blue Wave to Pacific League pennant|
|2000||Compiled batting average of .387 for the year, a Japanese record|
|2001||Named American League Rookie of the Year|
|2001||Named American League Most Valuable Player|
|2002||Voted to All-Star Game|
At five feet, nine inches and 160 pounds, Suzuki is a little bit diminutive compared to most American ballplayers, but it's obviously done nothing to hamper
his performance. In just two years, he's taken Major League Baseball by storm, amassing a total of 450 hits, more than any other player in history. As Ray Knight, bench coach for the Cincinnati Reds, told Sports Illustrated, Suzuki is "impossible to defend, but he's a joy to watch." Just how far he will go remains to be seen, but there's no doubt that Suzuki will remain a force to be reckoned with for several years.
Address: Ichiro Suzuki, c/o Seattle Mariners, SAFECO Field, 1250 1st Ave. S., Seattle, WA 98134.
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"Player Pages: Ichiro Suzuki." The Baseball Page. http://www.thebaseballpage.com/past/pp/suzukiichiro/default.htm (November 19, 2002).
"Players Choice: Ichiro Suzuki." Bigleaguers.com. http://bigleaguers.yahoo.com/mlbpa/players/6/6615 (October 14, 2002).
"Player Pages: Honus Wagner." The Baseball Page.com. http://www.thebaseballpage.com/past/pp/wagnershonus/default.htm (November 19, 2002).
"Suzuki, Ichiro." Nippon Professional Baseball. http://www.inter.co.jp/Baseball/player/register/japan/01020904.html (November 19, 2002).
Sketch by Don Amerman
"Suzuki, Ichiro." Notable Sports Figures. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/sports/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/suzuki-ichiro
"Suzuki, Ichiro." Notable Sports Figures. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/sports/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/suzuki-ichiro