Ichiro: completely unique

Ichiro is as hip, stylish and in step with the times as any player in Major League Baseball, even if he doesn’t express it in fluent English.

Before the All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium last season, Ichiro willingly gave me a brief taste of hip-hop. I’m no music critic – although I did once review a Bruce Springsteen concert for the late, lamented Los Angeles Herald Examiner — but it sounded dead on to me.

“Ichiro is as cool as it gets, man,” Reds manager Dusty Baker had told me. “He’ll bust out some Snoop on you.”

The Mariners’ superstar, alone at his locker in the ancient home clubhouse at Yankee Stadium, was just starting to feel it before I was ushered away, deprived of more Ichiro unplugged by pre-game time constraints.

Now here he is, on the verge of reaching 200 hits for the ninth consecutive season, meaning every season he’s played in the Major Leagues of this country. We’re fortunate that it could happen here, at Angel Stadium, because this is a performer to savor, one for the ages.
As contemporary as he is on every level, Ichiro, more than any other current player, takes us back to another time, another century.

If you’re younger than dirt and would be curious to know what Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker, greats of those early times, played like, Ichiro is your ticket.

He slaps and dashes. He laces line drives everywhere. He runs as if swept by a quiet storm. He makes difficult plays routine and has a cannon for an arm. I’ll never forget the throw he made his rookie year to erase Oakland’s Terrence Long trying to reach third base on a single. I was thinking, that’s Clemente, Roberto Clemente.

Ichiro has pounded out and beat out his singles on wonderful teams (2001) and dismal ones. He has been as consistent as the weather in the Pacific Northwest. You know it’s going to rain base hits when this guy is on the field.

Ichiro is much like Pete Rose in that way, without the fury. Ichiro is a better hitter than Rose was, with all due respect, and much faster. Defensively, it’s no contest. Ichiro is among the best ever; Pete took his talents to physical limits that never constrained Ichiro. 

If Pete was Charlie Hustle – and he was – Ichiro is Mr. Cool, in any language.

Seattle likely will finish no better than third in the American League West this season, but it led the division in legends with Ichiro and Ken Griffey Jr. The Mariners also own perhaps the game’s most gifted young pitcher in Felix Hernandez, who takes his place right alongside Tim Lincecum.

Griffey has been, in my judgment, the player of his generation. Nobody ever had more fun playing the game than The Kid, and nobody ever was more fun to watch.

Ichiro Suzuki has been simply unique. His value can be measured with statistics that will carry him to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, but there’s never been a number that defines style and class packaged in the one dynamic frame.

I’ll settle for No. 51, the one worn by the great Ichiro, a blazing star for several continents and all time.





  1. angelsgirl012

    wonderful blog mr spencer and i completely agree with you. The Kid, Ichiro and King Felix are just a pleasure to watch as a baseball fan. Ichiro is beyond words and just think how his numbers might be if he played in the US sooner. I enjoy playing seattle because of these three. You don’t want to miss any of their action.

  2. starshine2

    Hey Lyle, I found something that completely disturbed me this morning in the LA Times and I had to share it, as well as my personal email to the writer, with you:

    LA Times columnist T.J. Simers visited the Angels’ clubhouse to see whether anyone had developed any charisma the last few months. Most of the pitchers were reading books, maybe the only team in baseball with so many players who can read, the whole place, though, feeling more like a library than a clubhouse. Brian Fuentes’ locker was on the opposite side of the room, the other pitchers apparently not liking him. Or maybe this side of the room is for those who can’t read. Whatever, I asked what it was like playing for a boring team, figuring it has to be exciting after playing previously for Colorado. I was nice too, never letting on that I knew he had lost his job as closer when the Rockies went to the World Series. “I don’t know what to tell you, man,” huffed Fuentes, while quickly grabbing his stuff. “I got some other stuff to do.”

    And my response:

    Mr. Simers;

    Your article just proves why no one reads the Times anymore. It was extremely rude, condescending, pessimistic, and unnecessary. I’m sorry I had to find it on Fox Sports rumors page, and be subjected to such crap. The Angels may not be “your” LA team, but they deserve some respect. As a player, Fuentes deserved more than your immature speculations about his locker placement. Pretty low blow. I would hope someone with professional writing experience would do better to leave his personal biases in his living room than to take them to print and sound like a tantrum throwing five year old. Wow, is all I have to say to that. I’m ashamed to even be a subscriber of this paper. I might think twice about renewing it if this is the kind of thing I’m going to be subjected to when looking for news about my LA teams.

    And on another note, I would think we’d be proud of players that enjoy reading and encourage an education. As a public school English teacher, I’m offended that anyone would make reading sound “dull” or “boring” especially when there are young people reading your articles. I hope none of them take you seriously enough to change their reading patterns because you think reading makes for “boring” people.

    I’m sad that I have to turn the page in the actual paper and see it glaring at me a full page of nonsense, rumor-laden bias. Thanks for alienating a reader that USED to have respect for journalistic media.

    Stacy Morrison

    Just wanted to raise awareness about how terrible our sports media can be. As an English teacher, I highly praise the emphasis on education, literacy, and education that our Angels team has displayed. I can’t believe anyone would make that out to be a negative, and they wonder why our students these days think reading is for the “uncool” – our media is almost wanting our youth to be ignorant so that they’ll have to rely on the opinions of people like this guy in the paper. I’ve never been so angry and put off in my life.

  3. dredleelam

    I have a problem with a part of the “Ichiro is hip and stylish” thing.

    Correct me if I’m wrong . . . but didn’t he play a MAJOR roll in the “call me ICHIRO” mandate that came down from (was it) the Seattle club? (or was it MLB?). Perhaps it was cultural misunderstanding.

    But I took it as the height of arrogance, not “hip and stylish.”

    Let’s see . . . who said one had to call Ruth “the babe”? Did he force the yankees to force that one on the press? And if he had, how would it have been taken by the public and the press?

    Reggie? Cobb?

    Can you imagine Stan “The Man” Musial and such talk? Hell, he’s a little embarrassed when recognized in a crowd.

    I agree that Ichiro Suzuki has proven himself to be a wonderfully talented and proficient major league ballplayer, on both sides of the pond.

    I do not, however, share the enthusiasm in the cultural icon part. I haven’t seen any evidence of humility over the man’s career. Maybe I’ve missed it; clearly, I don’t know him personally and the cultural and language barriers may be too high for him to get around.

    But cool? I’m not buying that one and I’ll stick with arrogant until I see evidence to the contrary.

  4. diamondgirl55

    That was an awesome entry and gasp! from an Angels pro blogger šŸ™‚ I agree with you in everything you say and myself being Japanese having lived in Tokyo for 18 years watching Ichiro ever since he started playing baseball, I can tell you he’s not arrogant. He’s always been very reserved, “cool” and definitely stylish! His brother is a fashion designer in Japan and what’s wrong with being a MLB star that loves to look good? šŸ™‚ Thanks for the awesome blog, it was fun reading it! xoxo http://diamondgirl55.mlblogs.com

  5. jiggy4figgy

    Ichiro is an amazing player. He runs up walls, has incredible speed, a good eye and power. The ultimate package. I can’t compare him with Cobb. Ichiro would not slide with the intent to spike the opposing player.

  6. Buz

    Wow gotta disagree with the dredleelam comment. Ichiro is very humble.. very gracious.. and oh, very good at what he does. Perhaps you miss something from the translation dred.. but, I think you’ve got the wrong pic on this guy. Ichiro is “cool”.

    Buz – http://buzblog.mlblogs.com/

  7. dredleelam

    ok.. I don’t want to scratch this scab for long.

    but no one has addressed the issue I raised.

    Not talking about his play… he’s an All Star, probably a future hall of famer.

    He, and his people, MANDATED the “Ichiro” thing.

    you may not call me Suzuki. Ichiro Suzuki. Mr. Suzuki. You may only refer to me as the iconic ICHIRO.

    if you do otherwise, you’ll be in violation and I won’t be happy and I won’t talk with you.

    Now that doesn’t sound “gracious” or “humble” to me. And that didn’t come as an idea from the club (mariners) or MLB (though they both cooperated in propagating it as policy).

    We can’t even get the Angel broadcasters to call Howard Kendrick by his proper name.

    But Mr. Suzuki . . . he’s so precious, that we have to call him “the Babe” (ok, not quite) BEFORE HE EVEN GETS ESTABLISHED AS A PLAYER HERE (then of course, whether we like it or not, thereafter).

    He IS a wonderful player. But that was a demand that struck me as the height of arrogance. Still does.

    Signed, lovingly

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