At 38-years-old, no one would fault Ichiro Suzuki for hanging up his glove and cleats at the end of the season. After 9 seasons for the Orix Blue Wave in the Japanese Pacific League and then another 12 seasons for the Seattle Mariners (and now the New York Yankees), you can say that Ichiro has enjoyed a good run.
The only thing no one can not say for certain is if Ichiro is ready for retirement.
Let’s be honest here, we are talking about a man who has spent his entire adult life playing professional baseball. The competitive spirit makes it difficult to walk away when getting yourself amped up for a game is pretty much all you have known for two decades.
Still, if you had asked any pundit prior to the trade deadline if Ichiro was headed toward retirement, most would agree that his better days were behind him and that the best thing for the aging star would be to walk off into the sunset. After all, Ichiro had slid significantly in 2011, posting a career worst .272 batting average and a .310 on-base percentage. He followed that up with a disappointing start to the 2012 season, in which he was hitting .261 with a .288 on-base percentage prior to the trade deadline.
Now, the slide of the Seattle Mariners and their decision to enter a rebuilding process certainly had its effects on Ichiro’s performance, but the regression was evident. Sensing that things in Seattle were not going to improve, either with the team’s immediate outlook or with his own performance, the impending free agent requested to be traded at the deadline and Seattle appeased him by flipping him to New York.
And that is where the fun of speculation took a complete left turn.
Playing in front of a large crowd and in the heat of a pennant race has seemed to reinvigorate Suzuki. In his 59 games for the Yankees, Ichiro has been back to his slap-hitting self, putting up a .326 batting average, 5 home runs, and 23 RBI. More so, his on-base percentage is up from .288 to .350 in New York, while his OPS has risen from .642 in Seattle to .824 in New York.
All of this leaves Ichiro with a difficult decision in the offseason. He is a free agent, so he does not have any obligation to return. However, there is the chase for 3000 hits in Major League Baseball, which he will likely be less than 400 away from when the 2012 campaign closes. Nailing that achievement down will end any arguement over whether Suzuki belongs in Cooperstown.
For a guy like Ichiro, with those competitive juices flowing, that one last hurdle may be take a lot to walk away from. Of course, it also comes down to getting the two or three-year commitment from a team to make it happen, but the marketing factor makes that decision easier for any interested club, especially if the price is right.
For Suzuki’s legacy, it may be worth the risk.