Ichiro Suzuki life and biography

Ichiro Suzuki picture, image, poster

Ichiro Suzuki biography

Date of birth : 1973-10-22
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Honshu, Tokyo, Japan
Nationality : Japanese
Category : Sports
Last modified : 2010-11-11
Credited as : Baseball player MLB, rightfielder with the Seattle Mariners,

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Ichiro Suzuki was born on October 22, 1973 in Honshu, an island about 150 miles southwest of Tokyo, Japan. If Ichiro didn’t already possess an instinctive love of baseball, his father, Nobuyuki, and mother, Yoshie, made sure he developed one. Indeed, they planned for him to become a professional baseball player as soon as he entered the world.

Nobuyuki pushed the hardest. He owned a small cooler repair factory in the town of Toyoyama, but spent most of his free time watching and studying baseball. His favorite team was the Chunichi Dragons, who played in the nearby city of Nagoya. Ichiro received his first baseball and glove after his third birthday. To this day, he talks about the gifts as though they were treasures.
Ichiro joined Little League when he was six, even though he was two years younger than the league’s minimum age. He skirted the rule thanks to his dad, who coached his team. The elder Suzuki signed up his son under an assumed name, and Ichiro was so talented that no one questioned the fact that he was by far the smallest boy in the league.

Nobuyuki tried to give Ichiro every advantage possible on the diamond. That included turning him into a left-handed hitter. Though Ichiro was a natural righty, he learned to bat from the opposite side of the plate to make best use of his speed. Nobuyuki also taught his son the mechanics of pitching and the value of fitness and proper eating habits. Every afternoon until he reached the 7th grade, Ichiro practiced with his father at a nearby field. A typical session included throwing from the pitcher’s mound and a long stretch of batting practice.

They also visited the batting cages together. The fastest machine threw 75 mph. By the time he was 12, Ichiro was setting up several feet in front of the plate to simulate faster pitching—and still getting good cuts. He began to think he might have a future in baseball after watching the star of the local high school team at the cages. He was a good five years older than Ichiro, but didn’t seem that much better.
At home, Ichiro was instructed to load up on protein and vitamins. He was not allowed to eat anything until Nobuyuki approved it first. One of his dietary staples was a special muscle-building soup made by his aunt.

By the time Ichiro enrolled in seventh grade, he was the best young player in his area. He had a smooth swing with a big leg kick (borrowed from slugging star Kazunori Shinozuka), and his fastball was clocked at more than 80 mph. More impressive than his physical skills were his mental ones. Thanks to his father, Ichiro really understood the game. At the plate, he could adjust his batting approach to meet the demands of any situation. On the mound, he mastered the art of changing speed and hitting spots, which made his fastball untouchable.
In 1987, Ichiro enrolled at the Nagoya Electric High School. Better known as Aikodai Meiden, it was one of three first-rate schools in the Suzukis’ part of central Japan. Ichiro chose Meiden because it offered him the clearest path to professional baseball. The school’s coach, Go Nakamura, had established a reputation for preparing players for the pros. In all, Meiden had produced eleven Japanese major leaguers.

Nakamura looked past Ichiro’s exaggerated leg kick and saw the makings of a marvelous hitter. He ignored the boy’s small stature and saw a great pitcher. But like every teenager who goes into a big-time baseball program like Nakamura’s, Ichiro had to fight for playing time—and earn the respect of his teammates. This meant doing the team’s laundry and cooking rice for his hungry teammates. There was so little time left for studying that Ichiro took to washing dirty uniforms in the pre-dawn hours, when everyone at school was asleep and all the machines were empty.

It was an imaginative solution to a problem faced by generations of high-school freshmen. And it was consistent with Ichiro’s approach to all things in life, both on and off the diamond. Japan’s baseball tradition diminishes the role of the individual and elevates the importance of the team, despite the fact that at its core baseball is a highly individual sport. This philosophy keeps the truly talented players from fully expressing their gifts, instead rewarding them for playing the same way as everyone else. Ichiro was taught outside of the sports mainstream, and thus was more like western athletes. If he thought there was a better way to do something, he did it—regardless of what his coaches and teammates thought.
By his sophomore season, Ichiro had established himself as a solid starter. By his senior year he was the best hitter and pitcher on the team. Led by Ichiro, Meiden gained national acclaim, and was invited to play in the Koushien tournament, Japan’s most prestigious amateur baseball event. Ichiro and his teammates acquitted themselves well, beating several larger schools, but lost before reaching the finals. Ichiro says he still regrets that Meiden never won the tournament.

Ichiro graduated from high school in 1991. There was no doubt he was headed for a professional baseball career. Japanese scouts had been watching him for years. But Ichiro was already looking beyond his country’s major leagues. After watching former big leaguers such as Jim Paciorek, Larry Parrish, and Warren Cromartie enjoy productive careers in Japan, it occurred to him that someday he might like to try playing in North America.

ON THE RISE

From a talent standpoint, Ichiro had few peers among Japan’s top teenage players. Yet during the country’s 1991 baseball draft, one team after another passed on him. The reason was his size. Ichiro stood only 5-9, and weighed less than 160 pounds. Finally, the Orix Blue Wave, who played in the port city of Kobe, selected him in the fourth round. This was only the beginning of the disappointment that would mark his early pro career. When Ichiro arrived in camp, Orix’s manager, Shozo Doi, took one look at his body and waved him into the outfield. His pitching career was over. Once Doi saw Ichiro bat, he banished the youngster to the minors, convinced he would never hit with his unorthodox style.

Ichiro’s first pro season had its ups and downs. He played most of the year for the Blue Wave’s farm club in the Western League. There he encountered a hitting coach named Kenichiro Kawamura. This was, literally, a stroke of luck, for Kawamura knew instantly that, with a little fine-tuning, the teenager’s swing would work in the majors. Ichiro batted well over .300 all year, and gained confidence in his abilities.

Injuries on the big club left Doi little choice but to call Ichiro up during the 1992 season. The Orix skipper played the rookie in 40 games, and watched disapprovingly as he batted .253. Ichiro briefly considered changing his methods at the plate to make his manager happy but ultimately decided against it. This was his style, it worked, and he was going to stick with it. Despite limited success with the Blue Wave, Ichiro ended the year as the Western League’s batting champion and MVP. The following spring, Ichiro encountered the same resistance from Doi, who shipped him back to the minors. Recalled again, he produced a meager .188 average in just 64 at bats.

Ichiro thought all he needed was playing time against top-flight competition. Orix officials agreed, and sent him to Hawaii in the winter of 1993 along with some other Blue Wave prospects to participate in a new league that brought together young players from both American and Japanese baseball. Ichiro played for the Hilo Stars and stung the ball at a .311 clip. The quality of players in the Hawaiian Winter League was high—Jason Giambi, a future American League MVP, won the batting championship. Ichiro’s average was good for fifth; he also finished among the leaders in RBIs. Hilo, meanwhile, won the league title.

Ichiro returned to Japan brimming with confidence but fearful of another conflict with Shozo Doi. Imagine his delight upon hearing the news that Doi was being replaced with Akira Ogi. On the first day of camp the new manager told Ichiro that he was his everyday rightfielder. The 20-year-old responded with a season for the ages. He collected a record 210 hits, captured the batting crown with a .385 average, earned a Gold Glove for his defense, and was named the Pacific League MVP.

Ichiro’s numbers were awesome, but the most remarkable thing about the 1994 season was the way Japan embraced its newest superstar. Ichiro did everything differently than other ball players. He hit, ran, threw, walked, talked, and warmed up in his own way. In the past, Japanese fans would have found this very distasteful. But the wind was shifting in Japan—young people no longer felt the need to conform—and Ichiro was adopted as a sort of standard bearer for these changing times. The back of his uniform bore his first name instead of his last, making him seem more like a rock star than an athlete. Fans and the press (who are allowed much freer access to athletes in Japan) swarmed around him wherever he went. In one short season, Ichiro had become a bona fide phenomenon.

His star rose even higher the following season, when he led the Blue Wave to the Japan Series. The team’s home city of Kobe had been devastated by an earthquake in January of 1995. Thousands died, thousands more were homeless, and the people were in desperate need of something to cheer about. The players wore patches on their uniforms that read “Gambarou Kobe” (“Let’s Do Our Best for Kobe”), and they played their best baseball in years. Ichiro won the batting title again and was named Pacific League MVP. He also topped the circuit in hits, runs, total bases, on-base percentage, stolen bases and RBIs.

Kobe was transformed during the pennant race; the wave of civic pride that helped ease the after-effects of the earthquake crested as the team made it to the championship series. Unfortunately, the Yakult Swallows, champions of the Central League, were too strong for the Blue Wave, beating them 4 games to 1. However, Ichiro’s brilliant season had elevated him from youth cult status to national treasure. It wasn’t just teenagers who loved him; now it was everyone.

Ichiro won the batting title and MVP again in 1996, as the Blue Wave successfully defended their Pacific League pennant. This time, the team won the Japan Series, defeating the fabled Yomiuri Giants 4 games to 1. The clincher came in Kobe’s Green Stadium. Ichiro was a thorn in the Giants’ side throughout the five games, reaching base seven times and hitting a home run.

After the season, Ichiro played for a Japanese all-star team in an exhibition series against a group of touring major leaguers. American players had little respect for the brand of baseball being played in Japan, and gave little credence to the possibility of a Japanese position player making it in the majors. That changed when they got a load of Ichiro Suzuki. Most of the time he looked like the best player on the field—for either side. Catcher Mike Piazza told the local press that Ichiro could easily hold his own in the majors. As a result Ichiro’s status in Japan grew ever larger.

The 1997 season saw Ichiro win a fourth straight batting championship and reach a new personal high with 91 RBIs. During one stretch he went 216 at bats without striking out to set a new league mark. That fall, Ichiro again dazzled a team of American stars, stealing bases at will and batting well over .300.

Ichiro’s fame was through the roof. He was the wealthiest and most adored athlete in Japan. His marketing power was incredible. In fact, he canceled a lucrative deal with Nike to market his own line of clothing—and it quickly became the country’s top seller. The downside of fame and fortune, however, was beginning to take its toll. Privacy became a luxury that Ichiro rarely enjoyed. He could not leave his apartment without being followed. He could not eat at a restaurant without a wall of bodyguards between himself and the other diners. He and his girlfriend, television newswoman Yumiko Fukushima, found it impossible to have a normal date. When they decided to marry, they flew to Los Angeles under assumed names and had the ceremony performed there. They were afraid that a wedding in Japan would bring the country to a grinding halt.

Perhaps inevitably, Ichiro’s mind was beginning to wander on the ballfield. He still won the batting championship in 1998, and led the league in hits, but his RBI and stolen base totals plummeted. When the Blue Wave failed to reach the postseason for the second year in a row, Ichiro started thinking more seriously about playing on the other side of the Pacific.

Like all Japanese players, Ichiro was under contract for a minimum of nine seasons. Though his salary was the richest in Japanese history, he was still counting the days when he could test his skills against true major leaguers. The Orix Corporation, the large leasing company that owned the Blue Wave, knew its young star had his heart set on playing in America. They were willing to let him go, as long as they were compensated. In 1999, they set in motion a plan that would make Ichiro and Orix both very wealthy.

That March, the company sent Ichiro and two other players—Nobuyuki Hoshino and Nobuyuki Ebisu—on loan to the Seattle Mariners. Publicly, Orix claimed it was simply a way to foster better relations between American and Japanese baseball. But everyone knew the truth: Ichiro was being marketed to the majors.

Ichiro had a blast during his stay with the Mariners. He learned a lot about life in the big leagues, got along with the other Mariners (with the help of an interpreter), and gained important insights on how he would have to mold his game to succeed in the majors. Specifically, Ichiro saw that he would have to cut down on his big leg kick; American hurlers were bigger, faster, and could throw more pitches for strikes than their Japanese counterparts. Over the next two years he would gradually shorten his stride.

Ichiro loved the relaxed atmosphere of the Mariners’ clubhouse, and was a big fan of American baseball’s shorter practices. He also appreciated the fact that he could walk down the street without someone sticking a camera in his face. Deep down, he was convinced that this was where he belonged. Refreshed and rejuvenated, Ichiro rebounded with an excellent season in 1999. Though a wrist injury cut his year short by five weeks, he clubbed 21 homers and captured his sixth consecutive batting title.

This set the stage for the 2000 campaign. After the season, the team would “post” Ichiro. This meant that other teams would be invited to submit a sealed bid for the right to negotiate with him. The highest bidder would then have 24 hours to reach a contract agreement. Whether Ichiro stayed or left, Orix would keep the posting money, which in his case was likely to run into eight figures.

Ichiro gave Japanese baseball fans a memorable farewell season. He batted over .400 for the first half, until a strained rib cage muscle slowed him the rest of the way. He still ended up with a personal-best .387 average, which was good for a seventh batting championship.

MAKING HIS MARK

On November 1, 2000, Orix notified Hiromori Kawashima, the commissioner of Japanese baseball, that it planned to post Ichiro. Kawashima then contacted Bud Selig, the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, to let him know that the bidding process would soon begin. Ichiro had hired an American agent, Tony Attanasio, to help with what can be a tricky situation. Attanasio informed interested teams that it would take more than money to sign his client. Ichiro and Yumiko wanted to live in a city with a solid Japanese community, and play for a team that had a realistic shot at winning the World Series.

These requirements scared off most major-league organizations, leaving the Seattle Mariners, New York Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Anaheim Angels as the only clubs submitting bids. On November 9, Seattle was declared the winner with a bid of more than $13 million. Ichiro was thrilled. A three-year contract worth more than $14 million (plus an additional $9 million in incentives) was quickly hammered out, and Ichiro and his wife started packing for Seattle.

The couple arrived in December and stayed in a hotel while they got their bearings and looked for a place to live. Ichiro flew down to Arizona in January to get a head start on spring training. An enormous throng of Japanese reporters was already waiting for him.

Ichiro’s principle concern heading into spring training was to get his timing down at the plate. For several weeks he concentrated on staying on top of the ball, and growing accustomed to the different rhythm of American pitchers. Ichiro was not driving the ball, but rather grounding it around the infield. Hits were few and far between in the early going, which made the Seattle brass a little nervous. Had the team committed $27 million to sign a slap hitter? Ichiro remained patient and started to round into form. Just when word was spreading among pitchers that the Japanese superstar was a weakling with the bat, he started rocketing line drives all over the place.

Back in Japan, a whole new brand of Ichiro-mania was building. Reports from the various newspaper, magazine, television and radio correspondents stationed in Arizona kept fans updated on every miniscule development. Seattle’s first game of the exhibition season, a charity event against the San Diego Padres, was televised live in Japan at five in the morning—creating a not-so-small army of bleary-eyed factory and office workers that day. For many fans, the 45-plus Mariner games the government planned to air on Japanese television were not enough. Many went to travel agencies for special “Ichiro Trips” to the U.S. cities where he was scheduled to play.

The Mariners opened the season against the Oakland A’s at home in Safeco Field. Seattle had lost its best player, Alex Rodriguez, to free agency, yet there was an air of confidence on the field and in the clubhouse. The Mariners sensed that they had a special player in their midst, and could hardly wait to unleash him on the rest of the league.

The hits kept coming for Ichiro in May. After putting together early-season hitting streaks of 15 and 23 games, he was on pace to challenge the all-time mark of 257 hits, set by Hall of Famer George Sisler in 1920. And the victories kept coming for Seattle; with each win, the all-time record of 116 seemed less far away.

As the All-Star Game approached, Ichiro-mania had swept Seattle. Sushi joints were serving Ichi-rolls and the seats behind the team’s new star were renamed “Area 51” after his number. That the team gave Ichiro the number that had once been worn by Randy Johnson was no coincidence. Fans were still angry about the trade that sent him to the National League in 1998—as well as the subsequent departures of Junior Griffey and Alex Rodriguez—so this was a great way to show them that they were bringing in new superstars to “replace” them. Meanwhile, the rest of the country was discovering Ichiro. As All-Star balloting drew to a close, he was announced as the league’s top vote-getter. Ichiro was the first rookie outfielder since Tony Oliva in 1964 to crack the AL’s starting lineup. Ichiro got a hit in the All-Star Game, which was played in Seattle. Ironically, it came against Randy Johnson.

As the Mariners embarked upon the second half of the season, manager Lou Piniella began to rest his key players. Ichiro had not had a day off, so when his average began to slip in July, he was given a breather. Revitalized, Ichiro went on a 21-game hitting streak that lifted his average into the .350s.

Ichiro was having a great time. He was playing well, the team was winning, and he adored Seattle. The only problem was an old and familiar one: The Japanese media was getting out of control. Despite warnings from the team, they were hounding Ichiro all over the place. One magazine offered $2 million for a picture of him naked, so he could no longer dress with the other players in the locker room. Ichiro and Kaz Sasaki decided they would boycott the Japanese reporters. Without quotes from their two headline-makers, they suddenly realized their jobs might be in jeopardy, and things calmed down considerably.

Seattle ended the regular season with a record of 116-46, and won the division by 14 games. Although several Mariners had MVP-caliber seasons, Ichiro was unquestionably the engine that pulled the train. His stats were eye-popping. He won his eighth batting championship in eight years, led the majors with 75 multi-hit games and 56 steals, and had the highest average in baseball both with runners in scoring position (.445) and the bases loaded (.545). He obliterated the all-time record for hits by a rookie (242), and broke the AL mark for singles (192).

The perfect ending to this record-smashing season would have been a World Series ring. But baseball rarely works that way. The Mariners ran into trouble in the playoffs, first against the Indians and then against the Yankees. Seattle split the opening games of its Division Series with Cleveland, then got torched in Game 3 by a score of 17-2. One loss away from elimination, the team pulled together and tied the series on a clutch, bases-loaded single by Ichiro in the seventh inning of Game 4. The Mariners pulled out Game 5, 3-1, to move on to the American League Championship Series. Ichiro, who banged out 12 hits, got his name in the books again with a record .600 average.

Seattle’s struggles continued, however, against pitching-rich New York in the ALCS. The Mariners dropped the first two games at home, then went to Yankee Stadium needing at least two wins to stay alive. They nearly evened the series, but the more experienced Yankees were just too tough, and Seattle went down in five games.

After the season came a cascade of honors and awards for Ichiro. He won a Gold Glove (he made just one error all year), took Rookie of the Year honors, and edged his old Hawaiian League foe, Jason Giambi, for the American League’s Most Valuable Player award.

On paper, Ichiro’s rookie year ranked among the greatest ever. The reality of it was arguably far more impressive. Ichiro wasn’t just learning a new league. He had to acclimate himself to an entirely new game, new culture, and new language. As always, he had confidence that his way was the right way, even when most baseball people (including for a time his own manager!) thought he would be a mere shadow of what he had been in Japan.

As expected, the fanfare and media crush surrounding Ichiro died down somewhat in 2002. This seemed to be just fine with the Japanese star, who picked up right where he left off. At the All-Star break, Ichiro was leading the AL in hitting with a .358 average. With a winter of video under their belts, opposing pitchers had adjusted their approach to Ichiro, but he in turn had adjusted to them. He was far more selective in 2002, drawing as many walks by late July as he had during his rookie campaign, and his on-base percentage was up significantly. His average continued to climb, at one point approaching the .400 mark.

Meanwhile, the first-place Mariners seemed ready for a big stretch run. The team looked similar to the squad that ran away with the AL West in 2001. Garcia and Moyer remained the aces of the starting staff, Sasaki anchored the bullpen, and Olerud, Boone, and Cameron comprised the heart of the batting order. Of the new faces in Seattle, Jeff Cirillo, Ruben Sierra, and Desi Relaford were the most prominent additions.

The final two months of 2002 did not play out as planned, however. Once again, Ichiro seemed to tire in August, but unlike the year before, he was unable to snap back into form and endured his first prolonged slump in the majors. Enemy hurlers began running fastballs in on his hands, taking away his ability to serve the ball to leftfield. There were a lot of lazy flies to right in August and September, and not enough grounders in the hole between short and third.

With fewer opportunities to run the bases, Ichiro’s production sagged. So too did the Mariners’ fortunes. The team lost its lead in the AL West, and Seattle fans watched in dismay as the A’s and Angels knocked them out of the playoff hunt.

Ichiro’s late-season woes were not immediately evident in his numbers. Even when he was dragging, he was still a terrific player, ending the year with a .321 batting average, 208 hits, 111 runs scored, and 31 steals. All, however, were below his rookie numbers. The silver lining was that Ichiro’s 68 walks more than doubled his 2001 total. He also played in 157 games—proving his durability over a long season.

The 2003 campaign was pretty much a mirror image for Ichiro and the Mariners. He started the year in a slump, but picked up the pace come May. Over the next three months Ichiro batted better than .370, scored 62 runs and stole 21 bases.

Not coincidentally, Seattle played its best baseball of the year during this stretch. Boone was putting up MVP-type numbers, while Randy Wynn, one of the new faces on the team, injected more speed into the lineup. The former Tampa Bay outfielder came over to the Mariners as part of an offseason deal that saw manager Lou Piniella leave to run the Devil Rays. Bob Melvin was hired to replace him, and seemed to push all the right buttons. He also got great efforts from Moyer and youngsters Gil Meche, Ryan Franklin and Joel Piniero.

But come August, after spending half the season atop the AL West, Seattle collapsed. Part of the problem was an injury to Sasaki that threw the bullpen into disarray. But a sluggish finish from Ichiro also contributed to the team’s woes. The Mariners dropped to second behind the A’s, then fell from the Wild Card race. Just as in 2002, Ichiro’s final stats—including a .312 batting average, 111 runs, eight triples and 34 steals—looked good on the surface. But his inability to sustain his scorching mid-summer tear raised some new questions about him.

Ichiro altered his approach in 2004. He knew enough about the U.S. game to see where he could be most productive, and had learned enough about himself as a major leaguer to pace himself through the 162-game schedule. The compromise Ichiro made was to concentrate on hitting hard grounders and serving up soft liners, while taking big cuts only in certain situations. This meant sacrificing his extra-base hit production, but it would leave him fresher when the dog days arrived.

Unfortunately for the Mariners, the dog days started before the All-Star break. Newcomers Scott Spiezio and Rich Aurilia did not contribute as hoped, and reliable veterans like Boone, Olerud and Edgar Martinez got off to sluggish starts. Without run support, Moyer, Garcia and Pineiro had trouble racking up victories, and the bullpen—now led by free agent Eddie Guardado—rarely got to do the job it was paid for. Meanwhile, the Angels, Rangers and A’s were all playing winning baseball, leaving little for the Mariners to do but win back a little lost respect.

Early in the year, Ichiro seemed to be having another typical season. He started slowly but caught fire in May, recording a 50-hit month to bring his average up into the mid .300s. The hits continued to come in bunches during July and August, with a couple of five-hit games. Hitting close to .500 in the second half and rarely walking, Ichiro began to close in on a record that had heretofore been considered unassailable: George Sisler’s 257 hits. He had made a run at the record as a rookie, but fell well short. This time, however, it seemed less likely Ichiro would wear down in September. He was feeling strong and was still locked in at the plate.

Obviously pleased that he wasn’t fading down the stretch, Ichiro actually loosened up in the clubhouse and truly seemed to be enjoying the game. He kept rolling singles through the infield, beating out choppers, and dumping hits in front of the outfielders, and as play entered the final week he passed the 250-hit mark.

As is typically the case when a time-honored record falls, the critics started coming out of the woodwork. Ichiro’s detractors pointed to several instances when he laid down bunts in inappropriate game situations, and swung at pitches that would have been ball four—all presumably in his quest to surpass Sisler.

The debate was still raging when he passed Sisler on the final Friday of the season against the Texas Rangers in Seattle. With Sisler’s daughter, Frances. and other family members in attendance, Ichiro chopped a first-inning single over Hank Blalock’s head for hit number 257. In the third inning, he grounded a ball up the middle against Ryan Drese for number 258. Ichiro added a third hit later in the game. He finished the season with 260 hits—including a record 223 singles—and won his second batting title with a .371 average.

Baseball traditionalists may attempt to dismiss Ichiro’s hit record because of the context in which he achieved it—playing for a losing team, eschewing walks, and concentrating on singles instead of longer hits. It might be worth reminding his detractors that Sisler faced identical criticism. In an era when first basemen were beginning to blast balls out of the park, Sisler stubbornly continued spraying singles.

Perhaps the only inescapable conclusion that can be drawn from Ichiro’s record-shattering 2004 season is that he has digested everything he can on this level of baseball and has found a way to do what he likes best: outhit everyone and win batting titles. A unique player when he arrived in 2001, he has evolved even further and discovered a remarkable path to success.

It is a success that raises an interesting question for American baseball—the same one, in fact, that it did in Japan: Has the traditional way of teaching and playing baseball brought out the best in its most talented players? It may take a while before the sport can answer that question, and longer still until it acknowledges the existence of a new paradigm. But at the very least, Ichiro has opened baseball’s eyes to the talent pool on the other side of the sunset, and opened its mind to an ocean of intriguing new possibilities.

ICHIRO THE PLAYER

Ichiro’s quirky hitting style enables him to time and adjust to almost any pitcher, get good hard swings, and spray hits from line to line. An excellent situational hitter, Ichiro has the power turn on a pitch and drive it into the seats. More often, he picks a hole and laces the ball through it. His bunting ability forces infielders to play closer, which means he can dump hits into shallow left.

While other top hitters adjust from game to game, he adjusts from pitch to pitch. Depending on the pitcher, the pitch, and the game situation, Ichiro can employ one of five distinct swings. In 2004, he became particularly adept at banging fastballs into the turf with a swing that has him leaning toward first. On these strokes, he can make it down the line in 3.7 seconds, forcing infielders to make perfect plays.

Ichiro’s baserunning is as potent a weapon as his hitting. In fact, it often seems he is taking his first step toward first base as he swings. This leads to a ton of infield hits and creates a lot of bobbles and hurried throws. On the basepaths, Ichiro is quick and daring. He almost always has the green light, and will steal on any pitch. This puts catchers under intense pressure, which sometimes leads to their calling for fastballs when off-speed pitches are in order. Obviously this benefits the Mariners hitting behind Ichiro in the lineup.

Ichiro’s defense is absolutely sensational. The only reason he plays right field for Seattle is because Randy Winn is in center. Both have plus arms, but Ichiro’s is stronger and more accurate, and thus better suited for right. He made a couple of highlight-reel throws to third early in the 2001 season, and after that enemy runners stopped challenging his arm. Ichiro gets as good a jump on fly balls as anyone in the league, and never seems to take a bad angle. On short hits he charges the ball aggressively and always comes up ready to throw.

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