Ichiro Suzuki has finally logged his 3,000th major league hit, a triple against the Rockies. At 42 years old, the Marlins right fielder has earned legend status several times over: with Japan’s Orix Blue Wave, with the Seattle Mariners, and now by joining one of baseball’s most exclusive clubs.
The road to 3,000 was not without some bumps, of course. Just how many hits Ichiro actually should be credited for is a matter of some debate: In June, he notched career hit no. 4,257, surpassing all-time hit king Pete Rose’s lifetime total — but not exactly, because 1,278 of Ichiro’s hits came during his nine seasons in Nippon Professional Baseball. The ensuing debate over whether and how his hits in Japan should count (¯\_(ツ)_/¯), whether to include Rose’s minor league hits to compensate (no), whether Rose is as disagreeable as Ichiro is agreeable (yes), and whether that last fact is a major determinant of how you view this question (well …) ripped apart families, friendships, and Twitter followings, leaving torn-up pages of Baseball Prospectus and Baseball Almanac in its wake.
But for all the debate, Ichiro remains an enigma more than 15 years after making his MLB debut with the Mariners. He famously refuses to speak to reporters in English, even though he has a strong grasp of the language: He says that he fears being misunderstood, and so relies on longtime translator Allen Turner instead.
Even through a translator, Ichiro has exhibited a remarkable knack for saying things that are enlightening, bizarre, or, more often, both. So as we celebrate Ichiro, let’s also reflect on some of the lessons he has shared with us in interviews through the years.
First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you. (Then you win?)
“In the 16 years that I have been here, what I’ve noticed is that in America, when people feel like a person is below them, not just in numbers but in general, they will kind of talk you up. But then when you get up to the same level or maybe even higher, they get in attack mode; they are maybe not as supportive. I kind of felt that this time.” (As told to ESPN The Magazine, 2016)
Ichiro says he was taken aback by the defensiveness that Rose and his supporters showed as Ichiro neared 4,256 hits. From this, he deduced what may be one of the bleaker summaries of the American character offered in recent memory: vacillation between pleasantness when you’re disregarding someone and vitriol when you’re facing a threat.
You are not the boss of your pets.
“I do not have the dog’s permission.” (As told to various reporters, 2001)
In 2001, Ichiro said he could not reveal the name of his dog. (The dog must eventually have relented: His name was Ikky.) He also credited his dog with convincing him to stay in Seattle: “He said, ‘Woof, woof, woof,’ which meant, ‘Stay, stay, stay,’ Of course, I listened.”
Life is (perhaps worryingly) short.
“But I think you are eligible for the HOF ballot five years after you retire, so I think I will be dead by then.” (As told to ESPN The Magazine, 2016)
Ichiro is fooling nobody. He will still be jogging bandily around right field long after we are all buried in the earth.
Swear often and with enthusiasm.
“*@&(*@&$ ^^@^% *** @*&!) **!^!^%! (!***!*!*&^# &&&@ ^%!$ (^!*!&!^!” (As told to most every All-Star team that he was ever a part of)
Ichiro? Our Ichiro? An unending wave of vile curse words to bless the All-Star Game? Yes.
Swear often and with enthusiasm, in Spanish.
“Ibid.” (As told to seemingly every Spanish-speaking player he ever came across)
It is a tradition that has earned him the love of the league’s Latin players, who have in turn adopted him as one of their own, once pulling him into a commemorative photo of players from Venezuela.
Sell nude photos of yourself if you want.
“If that was true, I’d take the picture myself and send it in.” (As told to The New York Times Magazine, 2001)
As Ichiro, a veritable superstar in Japan, crossed the Pacific and became a superstar in the United States as well, rumors swirled that a Japanese magazine was offering $1 million for a nude picture of him. He subsequently specified that he’d “do it if they’d disappear.” It is unclear if he meant the pictures or the magazine staff.
Learn what you love, and if that thing is not Cleveland, do not go there.
“To tell the truth, I’m not excited to go to Cleveland, but we have to. If I ever saw myself saying I’m excited going to Cleveland, I’d punch myself in the face, because I’m lying.” (2007)
Maybe wait till the late fall to visit Kansas City.
“August in Kansas City is hotter than two rats in a fucking wool sock.” (As told to Bob Costas, 2007)
I have never been to Kansas City in any month, but I believe this more than I believe anything on this earth.
Accept only as many kisses as you would like.
“When I first came [to the Mariners], I had a three-year deal. At that point all I thought was that I want to do the best I can in those three years. But in my first game, there was a play I made that was pretty good. I came in and Lou [Piniella, Seattle’s manager from 1993 to 2002] gave me a kiss. So I thought, ‘Three years is too long! If I am going to get kissed every day, I don’t want to be here!’” (As told to ESPN The Magazine, 2016)
Ichiro stayed far longer than three years, so presumably he was upfront about his emotional needs/desire for boundaries/spiritual well-being, as we all should be in the relationships that matter.
Don’t show off just to get the attention of the opposite sex.
“Chicks who dig home runs aren’t the ones who appeal to me. 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.” (As told to The New York Times, 2009)
“If you can’t handle me at my pop-up, you don’t deserve me at my highly effective ground ball.” — Ichiro, basically. Here’s to no. 3,000 and all the delightful weirdnesses still to come.