There’s no denying that when the career of Ichiro Suzuki comes to an end there will be plenty to remember him for. The 40 year old outfielder is hoping, however, for an opportunity to get on the mound before that day finally does come. It wouldn’t be his first chance to pitch, either.
Wednesday’s 13 inning game between the New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox forced Joe Girardi to use 21 players, everyone on their roster with the exception of the team’s four other starting pitchers. Suzuki’s opportunity to take the mound didn’t come on Wednesday, but the veteran was not at all hesitant in admitting to David Waldstein of the New York Times that he has hopes of getting that opportunity before things are all said and done.
“I would be happy to help if they need me,” he said, his eyes brightening at the prospect of it.
Known across the baseball world first for his offensive accomplishments, Suzuki has made a career out of being a standout defensive outfielder. Highlights of his throws from right field to cut off runners at third base were commonplace throughout the first few years of his career in the Major Leagues.
He initially began as a pitcher, however, when he was in high school in Japan. He was good, at that. An injury eventually put an end to his pitching career, resulting first in a move to first base and then a shift to the outfield where he was able to concentrate on defense and hitting. He finished his high school career with a .505 batting average, but because of his small stature many teams in Japan’s Nippon Professional League were hesitant to draft him – letting him drop to the fourth round of the 1991 draft.
In nine seasons in Japan’s top league he’d bat .353/.421/.522, while collecting 1,278 hits. He won seven batting titles and three MVP awards during that span, while also appearing in seven All Star Games. The 1996 contest was the last time he’d get on a mound.
With his team up 7-3 in the bottom of the ninth inning he was called upon to pitch. Hideki Matsui, well before he’d join the Yankees himself, was scheduled to be the next batter but he was pulled for a pinch hitter instead of being allowed to step up to the plate against Suzuki. Shingo Takatsu, who’d end up working out of the White Sox bullpen years later, entered the batter’s box instead and would ground out to end the game.
Suzuki left Japan following the 2000 season to sign with the Seattle Mariners. He’d take home the MVP and Rookie of the Year Awards his first season in the Major Leagues. He’d go on to play in ten consecutive All Star Games and win ten straight Gold Glove Awards. Over parts of 14 seasons (including the 2014 campaign) he’s hit .319/.361/.414 and has amassed a total of 2,766 hits, including an MLB record 262 in the 2004 season.
Only two men have ever topped 4,000 career hits in the Major Leagues – Ty Cobb and Pete Rose. Two of the greatest hitters the game’s ever seen. Suzuki has 4,044 over the course of his long and illustrious career between Japan and the United States. He’s a near certainty to be inducted in the Hall of Fame for both leagues that he played in. He’s truly been one of the greatest players ever to play the game of baseball and all he’s dreaming of is one last chance to pitch.