Mariners legend and future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki will transition to the role of special assistant to the chairman with the ballclub, effective immediately. The Mariners made the announcement Thursday, including the news that this will "preclude him from returning to the active roster in 2018."
"We want to make sure we capture all of the value that Ichiro brings to this team off the field," Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a statement. "This new role is a way to accomplish that. While it will evolve over time, the key is that Ichiro's presence in our clubhouse and with our players and staff improves our opportunity to win games. That is our number-one priority and Ichiro's number-one priority."
"With Ichiro's track record of success, his personality, his unique perspective and his work ethic, he is singularly positioned to impact both our younger players and the veterans in the clubhouse," Dipoto continued. "We really don't want him to change anything that he's doing right now, with the exception that he will not be playing in games.
"We believe that Ichiro's signing and his assimilation into our team has helped us this season and we want to make sure we continue that."
According to Ichiro's agent, via Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, he is adamant that this is not a retirement, but more of an evolution in his career.
Ichiro’s agent, John Boggs: “He is not retiring. He’s taking on a different role for 2018, and 2019 has yet to evolve.” Might Ichiro return for the team’s opening series next season in Japan? “There is always that possibility . . . The future has yet to be determined.”— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) May 3, 2018
Perhaps Ichiro's swan song will take place next March, when the Mariners open the season against the A's for two games in Japan. Otherwise, even if Ichiro doesn't want to admit it, this is a retirement. It sounds like Dipoto intends it to stay that way.
"While this agreement only covers the 2018 season, it is our goal that Ichiro be a member of the Seattle organization long-term," Dipoto said. "As his role evolves over the 2018 season, it will inform the team and Ichiro on his best fit with us in 2019 and beyond."
Look, Ichiro had an unbelievable career, but he's done. He's hitting .205 with a .255 on-base percentage and zero extra-base hits. He had a 77 OPS+ last season. There's no shame in being done as a player. Father Time is undefeated, even if some outlast him longer than others.
Ichiro did just that, playing in 18 big-league seasons despite not debuting until his age-27 season. He's now 44.
A career .311 hitter, Ichiro amassed 3,089 hits in the majors and that was after collecting 1,278 hits in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball. He also stole 509 bases while scoring 1,420 runs in his MLB career.
Among every player in MLB history, here are the ones with at least 3,000 hits and 500 steals: Rickey Henderson, Paul Molitor, Lou Brock, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Eddie Collins and Ichiro. The other six players are in the Hall of Fame -- several inner-circle all-time greats included -- and Ichiro will take his spot in the Hall whenever he becomes eligible.
Further, Ichiro had 10 seasons with at least 200 hits. The only other player in history to do that was Pete Rose. Ty Cobb did it nine times. Derek Jeter, Paul Waner, Lou Gehrig and Willie Keeler did it eight times. No one else did it seven times. Ichiro did it in his first 10 MLB seasons and, again, that was starting at age 27.
It's just a remarkable career that words couldn't quite do justice.
Godspeed in your new role, Ichiro. It's been a pleasure to watch you play.