This May, Ichiro Suzuki became the first player age 42 or older to go 4-for-4 or better in a game. He then added six more hits in the next two games for 10 total over the stretch, the most by a 42-year-old since Cap Anson did it in August 1894. The way Ichiro shifts his weight and feet when he swings, he's basically stepping out of the box (already on the first base side) and beginning his sprint to first while making contact. "I was a skinny kid, even in Japan," he told the New York Daily News through his translator, Allen Turner. "That's how I started doing the things I did. It was natural. I learned while playing the game with what I had." The Marlins outfielder is now just three shy of 3,000 career hits in Major League Baseball (after recording 1,278 in Japan). Let's take a a closer look at the legend's greatest MLB feats.
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In 2004 Ichiro set the single-season hits record with 262
George Sisler's record of 257 hits had stood since 1920. Ichiro won the batting title in the record-setting year with a ridiculous .372 batting average powered by 225 singles (also an MLB record) including 57 infield hits. How does Ichiro do it!? Not rhetorical: There's a practiced method to his madness. Suzuki is a "slap and run" hitter who specializes in making contact. He has phenomenal hand-eye coordination and an uncanny ability to maneuver the barrel of the bat even mid-swing, allowing him to direct the ball where he wants it to go. That's the slap. As for the run, consider this from his former New York Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long: "With him, the uniqueness is how his body bails out, but his bat stays in the zone a long time and if he doesn't necessarily hit it flush but it hits the ground and bounces, he's going to be safe."
Getty ImagesKoji Watanabe
In 2010, he reached 200-plus hits for the 10th consecutive year
That's now the MLB record. When Ichiro cracked 200 in 2009, he broke Willie Keeler's mark of eight straight 200-hit seasons that spanned 1894 to 1901. Many of the base knocks over Ichiro's 10-year streak were infield hits like the 57 from the 262-hit campaign. STATS LLC has credited Ichiro with 670 total infield hits over his career, the most of any player since it started recording infield hits data in 1987. That doesn't mean Ichiro can't hit the long ball, too. "There's a lot of power in that body, a lot of sock -- in batting practice, he hits as many balls out as anybody I've ever had," Long said. "But in games you don't see that swing."
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He's hit 37 home runs to lead off games
That's a lot of leadoff taters, and puts him in the top 10 in the category that Rickey Henderson leads by a large margin with 81. Of course, smacking singles in every direction is still his game, and his career high for home runs in a season is 15 in 2005. A reporter once asked him if he could imagine hitting 50 homers in a season and he responded: "I don't know about 50 home runs, maybe 50 saves," he joked. Which takes us to Ichiro's long-sought-after pitching debut.
Ichiro pitched one inning in Miami's final game of the 2015 season
After Ichiro campaigned in Seattle and New York, interim Marlins manager Dan Jennings finally helped Ichiro realize his dream of toeing the rubber. It wasn’t just a goofy, outlandish dream of his though -- Ichiro was a pitcher in high school, took the mound in Japan’s 1996 ASG and maintains his arm strength with long-toss sessions. “I remember every time our bullpen had ran dry in an extra inning game, Ichiro would take his translator over to the manager and plead his case for an inning,” former Mariners teammate Ryan Rowland-Smith shared in 2015. “He was like a kid begging for a toy at the checkout line of a supermarket. Which was rare to see a guy of his stature act like that!” His moment finally arrived on October 4, 2015, in Philly, in the bottom of the eighth. In one inning of work, Ichiro allowed two doubles and one earned run.
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He’s only one of two MLB players ever to win the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in the same year
The other is Hall of Fame Boston Red Sox center fielder Fred Lynn. Like Lynn, Ichiro wasted no time before making a splash in the bigs. In his 2001 debut, he led the league with 242 hits that translated to the AL batting title with a .350 average. He also led the league with 56 stolen bases and scored 127 runs. Speaking of his debut season, maybe you recall how Ichiro introduced the league to his fielding abilities.
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The Long throw
As in Terrence Long, former Oakland Athletics outfielder and one of the early victims of Ichiro’s right field cannon. Check out the throw on April 11, 2001. Now, some metrics disagree about Ichiro’s actual arm strength, but he’s proven proven highly effective at charging the ball and preventing runners from advancing, perhaps owing to word-of-mouth tracing back to Long and some of the others he's cut down.
He once stole 45 consecutive bases without getting caught
That’s an American League record and second in MLB history only to Vince Coleman, who swiped 50 in a row. The record spanned from April 19, 2006, to May 17, 2007, when Jose Molina, one of the slowest men on foot, mowed down Ichiro at second base. Guess who was on the mound for the Angels for that out? The other nearly AARP-eligible National Leaguer, Bartolo Colon! As of today, Ichiro’s career stolen base total stands at an even 507, the highest for an active player.
Getty ImagesDenis Poroy
In 2007, Ichiro became the first and only player to ever hit an inside-the-park-home in an All-Star Game
Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts was on first base in the top of the fifth inning when Ichiro ripped a Chris Young fastball off the right field wall at AT&T Park. Ichiro managed to fly around the bases standing up to give the American League a 2-1 lead. He earned MVP honors for his 3-for-3 performance in the AL’s 5-4 victory. Actually, Ichiro was the de facto American League All-Star MVP for most of the league’s reign when it beat the NL every year from 1998 to 2009 (notwithstanding that dreadful 2002 tie). Although Ichiro uses a translator for interviews, he’s never failed to communicate with teammates and coaches. (Continued)
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Bonus: Motivational speeches
Here’s Yahoo’s Jeff Passan in July 2008 explaining Ichiro’s speeches before All-Star Game, which David Ortiz claimed is the reason why the AL wins: "[Ortiz] pointed to Ichiro Suzuki, the Seattle Mariners' wisp of an outfielder, a man who still uses a translator to do interviews with English-speaking reporters – and happens to be baseball's amalgam of Anthony Robbins and George Carlin. Every year, after the AL manager addresses his team, Ichiro bursts from his locker, a bundle of kinetic energy, and proceeds, in English, to disparage the National League with an H-bomb of F-bombs, stunning first-timers who had no idea Ichiro speaks the queen's language fluently and making returnees happy that they had played well enough to see the pep talk again."
Getty ImagesGreg Trott
Bonus: What women want
"There's a lot of power in that body, a lot of sock -- in batting practice, he hits as many balls out as anybody I've ever had," former hitting coach Kevin Long said. "But in games you don't see that swing." The man simply thrives on getting hits and sticks to what he's good at. Most of the time. "Chicks who dig home runs aren't the ones who appeal to me," Ichiro said in 2009. "I think there's sexiness in infield hits because they require technique. I'd rather impress the chicks with my technique than with my brute strength. Then, every now and then, just to show I can do that, too, I might flirt a little by hitting one out." That's a real quote. Yes, he also has a good sense of humor.