Baseball legend Ichiro retires: "I regret nothing"
Backstories

Baseball legend Ichiro retires: "I regret nothing"

    NHK World
    Senior Correspondent
    Japanese baseball legend Ichiro Suzuki of the Major Leagues' Seattle Mariners has announced his retirement. The 45-year-old outfielder held a news conference after the second of the two-game Opening Series against the Oakland Athletics in Tokyo on Thursday.

    Ichiro said he decided to retire when the Mariners' training camp was coming to a close. He said he had failed to produce results during the camp, but his contract with the team allowed him to play in the games in Japan. He added he regrets nothing.

    Ichiro said he promised and truly believed that he would be an active player until at least the age of 50. He said he was unable to fulfill the promise, but that without it, he would not have been able to come this far.

    Reaction from Japanese players

    Ichiro inspired many Japanese players who are now in the Major Leagues.

    Mariners' rookie pitcher Yusei Kikuchi struggled to hold back tears when he was asked about Ichiro's retirement. Kikuchi says, "Playing with Ichiro was a happy time for me. It was a gift." He adds, "I saw Ichiro for the first time when I was in the third grade, in the summer. It was my first time to watch a live baseball game. He is still the same as he was back then. He was, and is, a superstar and someone to admire. He would start getting ready before anyone else, and showed me how to relate to the sport. I will treasure the moments I shared with Ichiro for the rest of my life. I am determined to make the best of the experiences in my career as a baseball player."

    Two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani from the Los Angeles Angels says he always aspired to be like Ichiro. Otani says, "He's my role model. He always will be. I can't watch him play anymore. But he's always been my idol and will remain an inspiration."

    Masahiro Tanaka, an ace pitcher for the New York Yankees, says Thursday night was a fitting end to an illustrious career. Tanaka says, "When he was called in for the last time, what happened was uniquely American. It was quite a send-off. Everyone, including the opponents, applauded. It was a special atmosphere, and that doesn't happen to just anyone. I think it shows how much respect Ichiro has earned."

    Appreciation from Kobe

    Ichiro turned professional when he joined the then-Orix BlueWave of Japan's Pacific League in 1992. He played for the team, based in Kobe in western Japan, for nine years.

    A Kobe resident says Ichiro's performance gave people hope after the massive earthquake in 1995.
    A fan in his 50's says, "Ichiro kept playing for Orix even after the Great Hanshin Earthquake struck Kobe. I watched some of the games back then. His retirement is regrettable. Ichiro, as a middle-aged like me, gave me strength." A fan in his 70's says, "I want Ichiro to come back to Kobe where he played actively for many years and become the next manager of Orix."

    Records achieved

    Ichiro had 4,367 career hits in his 28 years in Japanese professional baseball and the Major Leagues. He surpassed the career hit record set by Pete Rose in the majors.

    In Japan, Ichiro played from 1992 to 2000. He had 1,278 hits, a batting average of .353, 118 homeruns and 529 RBIs. He stole 199 bases.

    Ichiro had 210 hits in 1994, breaking what had been the record at the time. It was the first time in the history of Japanese professional baseball for a player to log more than 200 hits per season.

    Ichiro was Japan's batting champion for seven years in a row from 1994 to 2000. He had the most hits in Japan five years in a row, from 1994 to 1998. In 1995, he was the top RBI hitter and stolen-base king.

    Ichiro played in Major League Baseball from 2001 to 2019. He had 3,089 hits -- the 22nd-highest number on record. His batting average was .311. He had 117 homeruns and 780 RBIs. He stole 509 bases.

    Ichiro recorded 242 hits in his rookie year in the majors, winning the title of batting champion. He was also the season's stolen base king. He was chosen as the American League's Rookie of the Year and MVP.

    From then to 2010, Ichiro attained 200 hits for 10 consecutive years, becoming the first player to mark the feat in MLB history.

    In 2004, he marked an MLB season record of 262 hits. He became batting champion for the second time.

    Ichiro's Legacy

    I worked in the US for almost 7 years and focused on Ichiro and Major League Baseball.

    I think the first thing people will remember about Ichiro is that he was simply one of the best baseball players in the world.

    People always knew he was great in Japan. There was some initial uncertainty in the US, but it didn't take long for people to realize how great he was.

    His strong arm was compared to a laser beam by local media and he was often described as a wizard at bat. He had speed. He had it all. He's the reason why Major League Baseball became a part of daily sports news coverage in Japan.

    Dozens of Japanese journalists used to follow his every move at every game. American journalists compared the attention he was given to a rock star's.

    Ichiro played for such a long time and he's retiring with a phenomenal track record -- 3,089 hits in the MLB. He stayed healthy and never suffered a major injury. He had strict pre-game routines that he never changed.

    I think the other thing Ichiro will be remembered for is paving the way for other Japanese to play in the MLB. A handful of other field players came after Ichiro, including Shohei Ohtani.

    Ichiro set the bar for them. So far, no one has surpassed it, or even come close. But I definitely think Ichiro opened some doors.

    In the locker room, he didn't speak a lot. He was always more of a performance-speaks-for-itself kind of player. He rarely spoke at press conferences.

    But on Friday, he spoke for more than an hour. That's an exceptionally long time for Ichiro. He also answered questions openly. With that, and his decision to announce his retirement here in Tokyo, I think Ichiro wanted to send a big thanks to his fans here in Japan.