When the New York Yankees acquired Martin Prado from Arizona, it seemed to signal the end of Ichiro Suzuki’s time in New York, if not Major League Baseball.
In fact, Prado pinch-hit for Suzuki in the seventh inning of a loss to Boston on Friday, the day after the trade. On Saturday, Prado started in right field, ahead of the Japanese veteran. Suzuki is 40, and time finally seems to have caught up to him.
If this is the end of his playing career, he likely will leave quietly – unlike certain teammates – but his impact on baseball has been anything but. He is a pure hitter, an increasingly rare breed of player, and one of the best the game has seen.
When Suzuki arrived in Seattle, in 2001, after winning seven consecutive batting titles in nine seasons in Japan, he was dismissed by the pundit class as too lightweight and having a skill set better suited to fast-pitch softball.
In his first season he was Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year and batting champion for a Mariners team who went 116-46. In 2004, he broke an 84-year-old record by getting 262 hits. He won 10 Gold Gloves and become the first major-leaguer to have 200 or more hits in 10 successive seasons. Not bad for someone who was supposed to be, at best, a fourth outfielder in the majors.
It is hard to find someone who believes he is not a first-ballot Hall of Famer. The only question lingering over him is where he ranks in baseball’s pantheon of great hitters.
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