Bronx, NY—Ichiro Suzuki reached a baseball milestone that has been accomplished by only two men in baseball history, Pete Rose and Ty Cobb. Suzuki’s single to left field in the first inning of Wednesday night’s encounter between the Yankees and the Toronto Blue Jays was his 4,000th hit in professional baseball.
As was done more than a half-century ago when Roger Maris hit his 61st home run in a single season, some baseball observers will try to demean the outstanding and rare accomplishment by saying 1,278 of the 4,000 hits were achieved in Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) and should not be added to his Major League Baseball (MLB) totals.
Suzuki’s ability and his achievements on the baseball field in Japan and the United States should earn him enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown as soon as he is eligible.
Although Ichiro will not be 40 until October, his long baseball journey started as a young boy under the strict direction of his father. His decision to pursue professional baseball as his calling began before he reached his teenage years. He excelled in Little League baseball and on his high school team.
His statistics, thus far, in each nation and collectively in both are superlative and show his superiority as a player regardless of the competition.
His batting average as a member of the Orix Blue Wave for nine seasons was .355. From his first full season, 1994, through his last year in Japanese pro ball, 2000, Ichiro, in all seven seasons, was a NPB All-Star, a Pacific League (PL) batting champion, a winner of the Best Nine Award, and a Golden Glove recipient. He was also the PL MVP in the first three of those magnificent seasons.
Neither the cultural change nor the level of the play in the major leagues prevented the first position player from Japan from excelling in MLB as he had in Japan. In his first year with the Seattle Mariners (2001), he was elected Rookie-of-the-Year and MVP of the American League.
In each of his first 10 seasons in MLB, Ichiro was a Gold Glove winner and a member of the A.L. All-Star Team.
His extreme versatility on the baseball field has been displayed by watching him every day and by the numerous and varied awards he earned, batting champion, stolen base leader, Silver Slugger Award winner and, of course, 17 consecutive years, in both nations, of the Gold(en) Glove as recognition of his defensive superiority as an outfielder.
Ichiro in a post-game press conference expressed the importance to him of being an all-around expert ballplayer, “As an amateur, I thought you had to good in everything to be a professional. Then I found out that wasn’t true. I’ve always taken pride in all the things that happen in baseball. I work very hard. I want to be able to do all the things at a high level.”
Not only has Ichiro excelled in Japan and the United States, but he led the National Team from Japan to the Gold Medal in the first two sessions of the World Baseball Classic (WBC), 2006 and 2009.
After Ichiro reached first base on Wednesday, all the Yankees players left their dugout and came onto the field to congratulate their great teammate on his rare accomplishment. The fans in the stands rose to cheer him. His countryman, Munenori Kawasaki, the Toronto third baseman was also applauding while standing at his infield position.
Ichiro, who always conducts himself as a serious professional, was more impressed by the supportive reaction of others than his own achievement, “I thought this number was just special to me. I wasn’t expecting what happened today, so much joy and happiness from them [teammates and fans]. I was really overwhelmed. The game was stopped for me. I was so happy and overjoyed with how they supported me. When I look back on this, what makes it important is that my teammates came out.”
Now that he has 2,722 hits in the majors, Ichiro was asked if his goal was to reach 3,000 hits. His response exhibits his professional mindset, “I can’t have that as a goal. What happens today determines what happens tomorrow.”
The consummate professional intends to prepare to do his best every day. One who is fortunate to watch him once or on a regular basis is seeing one of the all-time best players who brings credit upon the sport.