April 19, 2017, five years ago today: In what we thought would be the final at-bat of his career at his old home, Safeco Field, Miami’s Ichiro Suzuki hits a home run—his first on the road in four years—thrilling Seattle fans toward the end of a 10-5 Mariners win. The 43-year-old Ichiro had anchored rightfield and led off for the M’s for nearly 11 seasons before being traded to the New York Yankees in 2012. He would, however, return to Seattle in 2018 after three seasons with the Marlins and end his career in the second game of the 2019 season with an emotional walk off the field in Tokyo.
Ichiro joined the Mariners in the prime of his career in 2001. He was already 27, coming off nine seasons of Japanese superstardom with the Orix BlueWave. Ichiro’s impact was immediate. He rapped out 242 hits, the most ever by a big league rookie, and the most in the majors by any player in 71 years. He also led the American League with a .350 batting average and 56 stolen bases, started the All-Star Game, and won the AL Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year awards.
He posted more than 200 hits and batted .300 or better in each of his first 10 seasons with the Mariners. In 2012, the story goes that Ichiro, batting “only” .288, felt guilty about taking a roster spot in Seattle while the team was rebuilding with younger players. So he requested a trade, and after 11½ seasons as a Mariner, he was traded to the Yankees mid-season. In 2015, Ichiro signed with Miami as a free agent and played three years with the Marlins, excelling as a pinch-hitter. But the team bought out his contract at the end of the 2017 season.
His return to Seattle was interesting. About a month into the 2018 season, Ichiro went on what was termed a sabattical and moved into the Mariners front office. But he did not rule out a return to the field. Ichiro and the M’s scripted his final exit at the beginning of the 2019 season. Seattle and Oakland opened with a two-game series in Tokyo, and toward the end of the second game, he walked from rightfield to the dugout, taking three minutes to wave to adoring Japanese fans and hug his teammates. He officially retired later that evening.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)