On the third day of Mariners-mas, a 27-year-old Ichiro Suzuki was posted to Major League Baseball from Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB). Suzuki, known by most by his given name, Ichiro, was signed by the Seattle Mariners that winter, but that was just the first step on his journey to international stardom and a record-breaking career.
After a fantastic 2000 Seattle Mariners season, the Mariners lost their treasured young star, Alex Rodriguez, to free agency. With an aging roster of veterans Dan Wilson, John Olerud, Mark McLemore, Jay Buhner, and Edgar Martinez, the future was uncertain in Seattle.
Although Ichiro had already played eight years of professional baseball in Japan, the Mariners were unsure of what they’d be getting out of their new outfielder come Opening Day in 2001. However, once the season started, they quickly realized they coudn’t have asked for anything better.
In his rookie season in 2001, Ichiro posted a league-leading .350 BA, 242 hits, and 56 stolen bases, as well as a .381 OBP and eight triples. As the much-needed new star in Seattle, Ichiro won both the American League MVP and Rookie of the Year that season (the first player to do so since Fred Lynn of the Boston Red Sox in 1975), and took home a Gold Glove, beginning his incredible streak of 10 straight Gold Gloves to start his career.
While Ichiro certainly put up incredible statistics throughout his Mariners career, it was his unorthodox fundamentals that will forever etch him into the memories of baseball fans.
Disregarded by several managers and coaches throughout his baseball career, Ichiro’s swing was described by many as a “pendulum”, where his weight would shift drastically from back to front during his swing, instead of staying straight-up and balanced with his weight staying on his back leg. Take a look at Ichiro’s “pendulum swing” below; you’ll be hard-pressed to find another major-leaguer (let alone future Hall-of-Famer) with remotely similar mechanics.
Nearly every at-bat from Ichiro was a highlight in itself, but there was arguably no greater moment in Ichiro’s career than his 258th hit in the 2004 season, breaking George Sisler’s 84-year-old single-season record. In a season that was clearly the end of an era of outstanding baseball in Seattle, Ichiro’s record-breaking year may well have kept alive the fandoms of a massive population of passionate Mariners fans as the team began its rebuild.
Since it never gets old to watch, here is Ichiro’s legendary “Hit #258”, followed by his classy visit to George Sisler’s daughter, Frances Drochelman, with Dave Niehaus on the call:
Ichiro Suzuki ended his Mariners career with a .321 BA, 2,542 hits, and 438 stolen bases, and became the 30th player in MLB history to reach 3,000 hits during the 2016 season as a member of the Miami Marlins. Ichiro will be inducted into the Mariners Hall of Fame at T-Mobile Park next season on August 27th, and we can’t wait to see him in Cooperstown when he joins the ranks of MLB Hall-of-Famers three years from now.