There have been countless players from the Nippon Professional Baseball and the Far East in general that have simply struggled to adapt to Major League Baseball once they reach it. Some find sustained success and become familiar names and everyday players. Then there is Seattle Mariners legend Ichiro Suzuki.
In 2001, Ichiro would make the jump to the majors and not only find success, but would be considered as one of the the greatest all-around players in the world.
In 2001, Seattle Mariners star Ichiro would win the MVP, Rookie of the Year, Gold Glove, a batting title and was an All-Star Selection
He did come into the league at 27 years old with nine years of NPB experience. While Japanese baseball has plenty of talent and is highly competitive, there is still a talent gap between the two leagues. Likewise, he was having to deal with lifestyle changes and a language barrier. He certainly was a rookie on the other side of the world.
Watching Ichiro captivate the league with his unorthodox stance and iconic running swing at the time was so fresh to witness. Not only was it different, but he was owning the league doing it.
In hindsight, it’s fascinating to see the bigger picture of Ichiro’s career knowing that his first year wasn’t an anomaly. He would end up doing this in the MLB for the next decade and then some.
To add to the legend of Ichiro’s performance in his first year in MLB, the Mariners would win a historic 116 games. He was the main difference, the catalyst of their offensive attack. No one had fingerprints all over those wins more than Ichiro.
Although he is best known for his legendary pure hitting, he would also be equally as impressive in the field. He became known for having one of the best outfield arms in baseball history. Combined with impeccable range factor and flyball route efficiency, Ichiro was a sight to behold in right field as well. In the 152 games played in right field, logging 1300+ innings, Ichiro would commit just one error.
A paragraph won’t do Ichiro’s offensive numbers that year justice. He was so good that year that a list has to be made: (Bold indicates led Majors)
- .350 Batting Average
- 8 HRs
- 69 RBIs
- 242 Hits
- 56 Stolen Bases
- .838 OPS
- At Bats (692) and Plate Appearances (738)
- 127 Runs
- 34 Doubles
- 8 Triples
- 316 Total Bases
Ichiro stuck out 53 times over the course of the season, meaning he had more stolen bases than strikeouts. The sheer amount of baseball he played, combined with his minuscule number of strikeouts, resulted in a staggering 13.1 at bats per strikeout ratio.
Due to Seattle’s 116 wins, Ichiro found October baseball much easier than others have in their first campaign. His first ever MLB postseason series saw Ichiro catch absolute fire as he was 12 for 20 vs Cleveland in the series without a strikeout.
Perhaps even more powerful than Ichiro’s introductory year to America was the influence he would have on America’s youth. Tons of kids would soon have Ichiro’s poster on their walls, imitating his unique swing, and patterning their game after him. Who else came into the league from the very start and made a bigger impact on the sport? Babe Ruth? Ted Williams? Ty Cobb? Shohei Ohtani? Pretty decent company.
We’re all experiencing and witnessing Ohtani’s immense talent, who also hit the ground running in MLB. While he is a completely different player enticing the league in his own unique way, one can’t help but be reminded of the last time a Japanese player traveled halfway around the world to play baseball better than anyone on the planet. The next unanimous Cooperstown selection might not be such a mystery, and Ichiro didn’t make that decision very hard, from the very start.