This week, Ichiro Suzuki smacked his 4,000th career hit, combining all his base knocks from both his time in Japan and his 13 seasons in MLB. While he may have reached this milestone in a Yankee uniform, Ichiro played almost his entire career for the Seattle Mariners. In Seattle, he made 10 straight All-Star teams, won 10 gold gloves for his work in the outfield, and was both Rookie of the Year honors and MVP in 2001. While he once was one of the best baseball players in the world, no one would argue that he wasn't well past his prime when the Yankees acquired him in July of 2012 for two minor league pitchers. However, in spite of somewhat low expectations, he has become a dependable hitter and provided much needed speed on the bases for New York in his season and a half in pinstripes.
Last year, Brian Cashman acquired Ichiro after Brett Gardner's injury left them with a big hole in their outfield. The Yankees desperately needed help, and Ichiro provided a marked upgrade over other aging players like Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones. Upon arriving in the Bronx in late July, Ichiro was a solid contributor down the stretch as the Yankees held on to win the AL East by two games. During his two and a half months in New York, he hit .322, heating up especially in the last 30 games of the season, when he hit .385 with 19 runs, 11 RBI, and 10 stolen bases. In the (admittedly disastrous) playoffs, Ichiro was one of the only Yankees that showed up. While he didn't have any highlight-reel home runs like Ibanez, he still hit a respectable .275 and actually was tied for the team lead in RBI (he, and Ibanez, both had five). But no matter how well Ichiro did, there was no way the Bronx Bombers could overcome the October disappearance of Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez, who combined to hit .098 with no home runs and only four RBI.
But the fact remains, Ichiro was certainly productive post-trade, and the Yankees coming up short in the ALCS in no way can be laid upon his (sleight) shoulders.
In 2013, Ichiro hasn't completely replicated the success he had in the second half of 2012. His average has slipped to .272 and his OBP is only .307. His WAR is a paltry 1.5, which pales in comparison to the WARs he posted with the Mariners and is almost a whole win lower than last year's 2.4. However, there can be no doubt that the Yankees are better with him in the lineup than with anyone else the Yankees have, even if he's continuing to decline. He's third on the team in runs, as well as third in hits, and while that might not seem like saying much given the sad state of the Yankee offense this year and the constant shuffling of injured/re-injured players in and out of the lineup, the fact remains that Ichiro has been one of the only consistent hitters the Yankees have had in 2013. Now, with Curtis Granderson back, the Yankees are finally fielding the outfield they hoped they'd have for the second half of the season. Even with an aging Ichiro in the lineup, he certainly makes the Yankees much better than involving any of the fill-in outfielders such as Vernon Wells (.1 WAR/.246 BA) that saw playing time while Granderson recovered from injury.
While he hit well down the stretch last year, this year, Ichiro has certainly struggled, since the All-Star Break. Since then, he's hit just .245 with two doubles and 12 runs scored in 106 AB. Looking forward to who the Yankees will be playing in the final month of the season, Ichiro is only hitting .223 against the three teams ahead of New York in the AL East (Baltimore, Boston, and Tampa Bay). The Yankees play 20 of their final 37 games against these teams. If New York is going to win enough to make up enough ground to get to October, they may have to do so in spite of Ichiro continuing to struggle against their division rivals.
While he won't be remembered as a Yankee by the rest of the league, the fact remains that he celebrated one of his greatest accomplishments wearing the fabled pinstripes. This was something not lost on the fans, who chanted and cheered as Ichiro smacked a seeing-eye single through the hole between third and short. Their love for this great player makes it seem that, if he does something in October when Yankee legends are truly made, they could see him, in a couple years, as one of their own. Not just as another aging star acquired in the twilight of his career, but as a Yankee who truly made a difference.
In any way, the fans would certainly like to help Ichiro celebrate another milestone in pinstripes: Winning his first World Series title.