Ichiro Suzuki, entering the 27th season of his professional career, is going back to where his major league story began.
With injuries ravaging the Seattle Mariners’ outfield, the team announced on Wednesday that they had added the 44-year-old Suzuki to provide some depth, bringing back the franchise icon they traded to the Yankees in July 2012.
Suzuki has had an up-and-down career since he left Seattle, and last year, even accounting for a small surge in the second half, was definitely one of the down years. He appeared in 136 games for Miami, hitting .255 with a .318 on-base percentage, .332 slugging percentage and just nine extra-base hits. His game-changing speed, which had been so prevalent for two decades, did not show up in his results, and his prodigious fielding ability appeared to have abandoned him, with Sports Info Solutions crediting him with minus-1 defensive runs saved.
All of that added up to Baseball Reference assigning him minus-0.3 wins above replacement. It was the second time in two years that Suzuki had been judged to be below the value of a replacement that could easily be found on a minor league roster.
Suzuki, who has talked often of his desire to play for as long as teams will have him, does not have any obvious goals that he is trying to achieve in extending his career. His legacy is secure, and he will almost assuredly be the first player enshrined in the Halls of Fame in both the United States and Japan. In the United States, he is a 10-time All-Star, a 10-time Gold Glove Award winner and a two-time batting champion. He is one of just 31 members of baseball’s 3,000-hit club, despite starting his career in North America at 27. The second-latest start for a member of the 3,000-hit club was Wade Boggs, who debuted for Boston when he was 23.
There are even those who have encouraged including Suzuki’s 1,278 hits in Japan as part of his career total, which would make him baseball’s true hit king rather than Pete Rose. But that questionable inflation — which falls apart as an argument if you also give Rose credit for his 427 minor league hits — is unnecessary to bolster Suzuki’s reputation as one of the most unusual and fantastic players the game has ever seen.
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