TOKYO • Ichiro Suzuki, the unique and pioneering star who amassed 4,367 hits in 28 professional baseball seasons across two continents, announced his retirement on Thursday, concluding one of the most remarkable careers in sports history.
The 45-year-old revealed his decision to his Seattle Mariners teammates before their regular-season Major League Baseball (MLB) game against the Oakland Athletics in Japan. The news filtered out to the crowd and around the world after the Kyodo News Service reported it during the game.
And, with the final out in Seattle's 5-4, 12-inning win over Oakland, Suzuki's career as a player ended in the country where it began.
"For me, it doesn't get better than tonight," the Japanese said through Allen Turner, his long-time interpreter, at a news conference in the bullpen adjacent to the team's clubhouse in the Tokyo Dome. "Nothing can top what happened tonight for me.
"I have retired from baseball. I'm very thankful to the fans and to the Mariners and all the people who work for the Mariners. I'm very thankful to them."
His retirement was not entirely a surprise, considering Suzuki had been decommissioned as a player by the Mariners early last season.
Record number of hits in a single Major League Baseball season Ichiro Suzuki holds from the 2004 season.
But, when he was removed from his position in right field by Seattle manager Scott Servais before the bottom of the eighth inning, the fans stood and chanted "Ichiro, Ichiro" to salute one of the most talented and dedicated players the game has seen.
All of the Mariners' position players departed the field so that Suzuki would be the only one on it, and he waved to the fans as he trotted off the field before hugging each of his teammates.
Several Mariners teared up, including Yusei Kikuchi, a Japanese pitcher making his MLB debut for Seattle.
Alluding to Suzuki's celebrity status as on par with "Madonna and Michael Jackson", former Mariners teammate Shigetoshi Hasegawa hailed him as "not just a baseball player (in Japan)".
Known for his strict regimen and year-round routine of stretching, conditioning and taking batting practice, Suzuki had at least 200 hits in each of his first 10 MLB seasons, including 2004, when he set a record with 262.
He won two batting titles, was named to 10 All-Star teams and won 10 Gold Glove awards as he dazzled fans with his powerful and accurate arm from the outfield.
Over parts of 19 seasons in the United States, he compiled 3,089 hits.
In Japan, where he started off as a professional, he had 1,278 hits in nine seasons.
A .311 hitter in the majors and a .353 hitter in Japan, Suzuki is perhaps the greatest spray hitter in history regardless of league.
He hit for very little power - despite being known for prodigious blasts in batting practice - and drew relatively few walks.
Yet despite spending nine years of his pro career in a different league, he will retire with the sixth-most singles in MLB history, having outdistanced masters of the art like Rod Carew and Tony Gwynn.
In addition to his line drives, Suzuki was a top-notch defender and an above-average base stealer, giving him a skill set that sticks out among his peers.
Off the field, the outfielder, through a combination of his personality and his insistence that his interpreters provide literal translations from his Japanese to English, has long been known for delivering spectacular quotations.
He did not disappoint when asked by Sports Illustrated in 2002 to describe his career and his instant fame upon joining Seattle in 2001, declaring he was "unique" and "a very rare kind of player".
His distinctive achievements should also be further secured in a few years, when he will almost certainly become the first player to be inducted into the sport's halls of fame in both Japan and the US.
NY TIMES, WASHINGTON POST