Ichiro Suzuki yesterday was etched into the pantheon of the baseball gods, notching his 4,000th career hit between the Japanese Nippon League and Major League Baseball.
In the precise and scrappy fashion he's become so known for, Ichiro Suzuki tallied his milestone hit on Wednesday by slashing a single past Blue Jay third baseman Brett Lawrie.
It’s been hard to keep track of his progress because, well, you know, biogenesis and all that, but for once in the past month and a half something positive has come out of baseball, something historic. Ichiro joins only two players to amass 4,000 hits in a career, Pete Rose and Ty Cobb, two players that, from a statistical standpoint anyways, are some impressive company to be with.
Ichiro, the slight of build, Japanese-born hitting machine, came to the States in 2001 having recorded 1,278 hits with a .355 batting average in the highly competitive Nippon League. He had mixed expectations at first, with Bobby Valentine, the then-New York Mets manager, publically endorsing Suzuki as “one of the five best players in the world” and former Cincinnati Reds reliever Rob Dibble doing the exact opposite by promising to “run naked through Times Square in the dead of winter if Ichiro [won] the batting title."
Of course, Dibble would end up making his run, albeit in a speedo, as Ichiro went on to win the batting title, American League MVP, Rookie of the Year, the stolen-base title as well as a gold glove in his first season with the Mariners. We all became believers then.
But Ichiro’s greatness is a unique case. He’s a widely respected player, but when reminiscing about the baseball greats his name very rarely surfaces. Americans acknowledge his presence but do not overstate it like they do with his current teammate Derek Jeter or some of the legends like Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig.
This of course pales in comparison to Ichiro’s status in Japan, where he is more popular than Michael Jackson was at the height of the 80s. Wherever Ichiro goes, there are legions of Japanese reporters — we’re talking well over 15 different news outlets – that follow his every move. Ichiro is his own beat, a full-blown celebrity in his home country. He’s perhaps the most revered athlete in the world in that sense.
Yet in this country, Ichiro is subtly a legendary ballplayer. He doesn’t possess a great deal of power, cracking ten homers in a single season only twice in his thirteen years in the MLB, nor is he a particularly outspoken individual, still using a translator to speak with the media and keeping to himself. He’s about the farthest thing from Joe DiMaggio as it gets, there’s no aura, there’s no sensationalism, there’s just consistent day-in-day-out effectiveness.
In the wake of his lost bet, Dibble amended his statement by saying that Ichiro is like “the Energizer Bunny, he just keeps going and going.”
Going and going in the sense that he never strays from his routine, ever. The most fascinating thing about Suzuki as a player is his discipline in taking care of his body. During the downtime within a game (and let’s face it, in baseball there’s A LOT of it), Ichiro is always stretching and keeping limber. Moreover, while everyone else is hitting the showers right after the game, you’ll find Ichiro by his locker rolling out, stretching and doing an assortment of exercises to keep his body fine tuned.
It’s almost biotic, Ichiro never shirks his excercises. He never seems to have that, “eh, I don’t feel like doing my usual grind today” moment that most human beings are prone to. The result has been possibly the healthiest player in baseball history. In his entire career Ichiro has never missed playing time with a self-induced muscle injury; he’s played in 3,073 of a possible 3,186 games between Japan and the United States. You know why Ichiro reached the 4,000-hit milestone? Because he’s never broken down and is the very essence of consistency, discipline, competitiveness and all the intangibles the perfect athlete ought to have.
Frankly, while Ichiro has definitely lost some pop in his bat with age, he could conceivably play until his mid-forties if he continues to protect and maintain his body in the same manner. At this point Ichiro is like that old, reliable car that seems to run forever.
The MLB record books may not recognize Ichiro’s milestone officially, but he deserves to be honored all the same. Suzuki is the guy you want setting milestones in baseball, he’s the epitome of hard work and unrelenting discipline. Maybe if those traits were more rampant in baseball as a whole, the sport wouldn’t be stuck in the quagmire it’s in today.
Congratulations Ichiro, you’ve certainly earned it.
By: Ryan Gilmore