LeBron James, Tom Brady, Mozart, Pablo Picasso, Michelangelo, and Ichiro Suzuki all have something in common: they are masters of their craft. Just as LeBron James is indisputably the best basketball player on the planet, Ichiro Suzuki is the best contact hitter that baseball has ever seen. Ichiro’s success he has experienced in his storied career has been unparalleled.
He has been able to carve out an illustrated career by not launching moonshots, but rather putting the ball where the fielders aren’t. Suzuki pioneered the art of opposite field slap-hitting, a skill that is very often overlooked in today’s MLB. He entered the league in the heart of the Steroid Era of baseball, a time where power was what defined stars in the MLB. Nevertheless, Ichiro was able to become one of the most widely known MLB players, despite never hitting over 15 home runs in a single season, and reaching double digits only three times.
The story of him becoming one of the MLB’s best all starts in Japan. Ichiro started out his professional career with the Orix Blue Wave in Japan’s Nippon Baseball League. There he first showed his aptitude at getting base hits in bunches. When he was only twenty years old, Suzuki accrued 210 base hits which was the single season record for hits in a season at the time.
After spending nine seasons in Japan, Ichiro decided to take his talents across the Pacific Ocean to the Seattle Mariners and the MLB. In his first season with the Mariners he was able to pace the majors in base hits, stolen bases, and batting average. That led to him becoming only the second player to ever win MVP and Rookie of the Year accolades in the same year.
However, even though that 2001 season was a historic one, it wasn’t hit best. The 2004 season saw Suzuki setting the single season record for hits in a year. He was able to win the Most Valuable Player award yet again, further solidifying his spot among baseball’s best. Ichiro’s accomplishments don’t stop there as he was able to become the first player to ever achieve ten consecutive 200-hit seasons. Making the aforementioned feat even more impressive is those ten seasons were his first in the majors.
He is still playing fairly well at the age of 43, a testament to his excellent health and durability. Even though he is currently only a shell of his former self, Suzuki is still a talented contact hitter.
There has been some controversy over whether Ichiro Suzuki or Pete Rose should be considered the all-time hits leader. If you combine Suzuki’s hits from Japan and the MLB, it comes to 4,327 (3049 in the MLB, 1078 in Japan), which eclipses Rose’s 4,256 which came exclusively from the MLB. Albeit the fact that Rose is the MLB’s hit king, Ichiro owns a higher batting average for his MLB career; a full nine points higher than Rose’s .303 career clip. If Ichiro had started his professional career in the MLB instead of in the NPB, he would have likely have garnered over 4,256 hits in the majors since Japan’s season is a full eighteen games shorter than the MLB’s.
Regardless of who you believe deserves the distinction as the all-time hit king, it is hard to disagree with Suzuki being the best contact hitter baseball has ever seen. His name will be forever attached to the art of contact hitting, a feat not many players before him have achieved. His combo of contact and speed made Suzuki the prototypical leadoff hitter. Ichiro is truly a master of his craft.
Follow me on twitter: Follow @jackstatsblog