Current New York Yankees outfielder Ichiro Suzuki will soon accomplish an impressive feat by picking up his 4,000 professional hit which will get combined with his MLB career and his time in Japan. The question is so what?
There’s no question that it’s an incredible individual accomplishment. Yet, in 2001 when he first appeared as a rookie with the Seattle Mariners all the talk about Ichiro was about how much power he possessed and the performances he put on in batting practice. At the time with Bret Boone, Mike Cameron, Edgar Martinez and John Olerud were with the franchise, so being the slap hitter with the high average perfectly suited that team that won 116 games.
In 2001 he won the Rookie of the Year Award and MVP. As the franchise progressed its goal was to build around Ichiro and that became a complete disaster. This happened with terrible trades, free agent signings that made no sense for their new ballpark and the Mariners best offensive player unwilling to change his approach at the plate.
Ichiro had said at one point “if I’m allowed to hit .220, I could probably hit 40 [home runs], but nobody wants that.” He has also made similar statements in the past too that have the same message. Still it reflects the selfishness during his time with the Mariners and why the team struggled to win throughout his tenure. The main reason for the Mariners struggles primarily not being able to score runs, so would a .275-.285 average with 25-30 home runs been better?
The Mariners didn’t make him the face of the franchise until 2005 as Boone was 36 on his last legs of his career, Olerud got released during the 2004 season and wound up signing with the Yankees, Martinez retired after the 2004 season and Cameron left as a free agent after the 2003 season.
In attempts to put solid offensive players around him Richie Sexson got signed and he provided the power in his first two seasons before his production fell off in the next two, Randy Winn became one of the Mariners better players also signed third basemen Adrian Beltre who in 2004 hit .334 with 48 home runs, 121 rbi, 32 doubles and 200 hits with the Los Angeles Dodgers. During Beltre’s time in Seattle he never came close to those numbers due to Safeco Field being a pitcher friendly park. Still if Ichiro hit third instead of leading off there might have been more of an opportunity for him.
From 2005-2012 the Mariners had two winning seasons winning 88 in 2007 and 85 in 2009. He got traded to the Yankees in July of 2012, which was another losing season from the franchise. At the time there were contract extensions going on and former Mariner Jay Buhner stated this about the situation “I’d vomit.”
Interestingly enough in 2007 and 2008 then managers Mike Hargrove and John McLaren called team meetings as his teammates couldn’t stand Ichiro. Calling him “selfish” and at one point a team insider said “I just can’t believe the number of guys who really dislike him, it got to a point early on when I thought they were going to get together and go after him.”
With the Mariners unwilling to admit their mistake in Ichiro one of the worst trades in team history got made and that is when Adam Jones got sent to the Baltimore Orioles along with four other players for Erik Bedard who started 46 games in three seasons with the team. Jones has become an All-Star and one of the best defensive center fielders in MLB.
Another notion is that Ichiro is one of the best leadoff hitters in baseball history, sure his career batting average of .320 helps, his obp is low at .363, his walk total is too low at 538, doesn’t run enough and doesn’t hit for enough power. Currently he has 2,716 hits, 513 have gone for extra bases meaning that’s a percentage of 18.9 percent.
When Ichiro does carry out his 4,000th career hit again the question become so what?