In the Seattle twilight, Ichiro Suzuki takes batting practice. Under the late afternoon cloud cover common to the Pacific Northwest, Ichiro does everything he’s always done. He approaches the game the same everyday.
Yet, this season is different. Ichiro is 37 and the natural progression of a player battling age is taking course. Many of us view athletes as immortal characters, destined to sit on a throne of physical superiority for all of history. We all seem surprised when a player proves to be human and his physical attributes decline.
As Ichiro’s career slowly draws to a close, his Major League accomplishments will draw an ever-increasing critical eye. But why wait for the end of his career? Ichiro is already a Hall of Famer in my mind.
Contrary to many suggestions and ideas floating around the career of Ichiro Suzuki, his Japanese statistics can not be used as an official measure of his Hall of Fame candidacy. But that’s like telling a juror to disregard an objected statement in the courtroom. The information is out there and will always stir about in the backs of voters minds.
For his career in Japan, Ichiro hit .353, collected 1,278 hits, and earned seven Gold Glove awards. Ichiro was clearly the best player in Japanese baseball at the time. And he was rewarded for it. Ichiro resides in the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame. Yet, the question remains, will he make the MLB Hall of Fame?
First, let’s look at Ichiro’s career numbers with Seattle.
These are incredible numbers, but they only represent 10 + years. Ichiro should not be penalized for being born in Japan, growing up in Japan, and starting his career in Japan. So let’s see how his nearly 11 year career numbers match-up with some of the greatest outfielders of all-time. But I’m not going to look at just any 11-year span. I’m going to look at a span including similar ages.
As you can see, I selected, at random, two Hall of Fame players from each outfield position. Ichiro out-hit every player on this list during his nearly 11 years in the league, and he still has some games left before he officially hits the 11 year mark. His batting average is better than three of these players. He stole more bases than four of them. Overall, Ichiro has had 10 + years of Hall of Fame caliber statistics.
Declining statistics are normal as players age. Ichiro has dipped from superstar to mere star. His 11 years in the league so far have been some of the most successful in history. At 37, he may be losing a step and dropping in average, but he could play until he is in his early 40’s if he wants to. Ichiro could play 4 more years, averaging 150 hits, and still make it to 3,000 hits in his Major League career.
However, even without joining the 3,000 hit club, Ichiro Suzuki is a proven Hall of Fame player. When his career is over, he will be the only player in history to take up residence in the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame and the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.