Rafu Staff and Wire Service Reports
SEATTLE.–For 10 seasons, he has been the only major leaguer with his first name on the back of his jersey. That is, until tonight, when he will trade the lettering for pinstripes.
Ichiro Suzuki is headed to a new team–one that plays without names on their backs–and, after all these years, maybe a shot at playing in the World Series.
The New York Yankees acquired the star outfielder from the Seattle Mariners in a trade Monday for two young pitchers.
The Yankees, with the best record in the majors, also got cash in the deal that sent 25-year-old righties D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar to the last-place Mariners.
Ichiro won’t need to travel far to join his new team; he only needs to move his gear across the hall to the visitors’ clubhouse, as the trade was announced a few hours before the Yankees played at Seattle.
The 38-year-old Suzuki had spent his whole big league career with Seattle. The 10-time All-Star and 10-time Gold Glove winner is batting .261 with four home runs, 28 RBIs and 15 stolen bases this year.
Wearing a business suit, the Japanese star who has been one of the most prolific hitters in baseball history took the walk down the corridor from the Mariners’ locker room to the visitors’ side, stopping to appear at a press conference in between.
“I am going from a team with the most losses to a team with the most wins,” he said through his interpreter, “so I am not able to contain my excitement in that regard.”
At one point during the announcement, Suzuki was moved to tears while reading a statement in Japanese.
Ichiro is third on baseball’s all-time career hits list with 2,533 hits, behind Pete Rose (4,256) and Ty Cobb (4,191), not including the 1,278 hits he had in his nine seasons in Japan’s Pacific League.
“On behalf of our ownership group and everyone in the Seattle Mariners organization, I thank Ichiro for the great career he’s had here in Seattle,” Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln said in a news release. “Several weeks ago, Ichiro Suzuki, through his long-time agent, Tony Attanasio, approached Chuck Armstrong and me to ask that the Mariners consider trading him. Ichiro knows that the club is building for the future, and he felt that what was best for the team was to be traded to another club and give our younger players an opportunity to develop.
“I know that I speak for all of Ichiro’s fans, both here in the Pacific Northwest, around this country and also throughout Japan, in wishing him and his wife Yumiko the very best as he continues his baseball career with the Yankees.”
Lincoln also expressed his confidence that Suzuki will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The former Orix Blue Wave star who has been one of the most recognizable faces in Japan for some 20 years, will wear number 31 for the Yankees. The New York Daily News reported that he was expected to play right field and bat eighth in the lineup on Monday night.
Suzuki is a career .322 hitter, a former AL MVP and holds the record for most hits in a season. He had batted over .300 in every season until dipping last year.
The only thing missing on Suzuki’s resume is an appearance in the World Series, and he may get a chance with the Yankees. Suzuki was the AL MVP and rookie of the year in 2001 after a stellar career in Japan, and the Mariners reached the AL championship series that season before losing to the Yankees. Seattle has not been back to the playoffs since then.
The Yankees made the trade a few days after learning that speedy outfielder Brett Gardner would likely miss the rest of the season because of an elbow problem.
The Yankees certainly hope this trade with the Mariners works out better than the last big deal between the teams. New York sent prized young catcher Jesus Montero to Seattle before the season for All-Star pitcher Michael Pineda, who was later injured and is out for the year.
Mitchell made his major league debut this season and pitched four games for the Yankees. Farquhar made his big league debut last year with Toronto and was claimed last month on waivers by the Yankees from Oakland.