Japan baseball great Suzuki ends glittering MLB career


Tokyo (AFP)

Japanese hit king Ichiro Suzuki announced his retirement Thursday, calling time on a record-breaking career that saw him shatter a host of Major League Baseball milestones.

The 45-year-old called it quits for the Seattle Mariners after an emotional two-game series against the Oakland Athletics in front of adoring Japanese fans that capped an MLB career stretching back to 2001.

After grounding out in his final at-bat, Suzuki was called back to the dugout from right field to thunderous applause from a sellout Tokyo Dome crowd.

He raised his fists and doffed his cap before being hugged by each of his Mariners team mates, several of them sobbing before the team went on to win 5-4 in extra innings to sweep the series.

"It was like a dream to wear this uniform for the last time and to end my career in Japan like this," said the future Hall of Famer, fighting back tears.

"After 28 years in professional baseball, it was unbelievable to go out on a note like this."

Suzuki was called back to the field after the game by the crowd of 54,000 who clapped and chanted his name for more than 20 minutes before their hero emerged for a farewell lap of honour.

"I never imagined I would see a Japanese crowd so passionate," he said. "It was such a special moment."

Japan's most successful baseball export set a number of MLB records since sweeping to rookie of the year honours in 2001.

Two years ago the left-hander passed Rod Carew to become the most prolific foreign-born MLB hitter, finishing with 3,089 hits.

Most notably in 2004 Suzuki broke an 84-year-old record for hits in a single season, finishing with 262 -- five more than baseball legend George Sisler had in 1920.

- Perennial All-Star -

Suzuki subsequently became the first Major Leaguer to record 200 hits in 10 consecutive seasons -- an achievement that was marked with a commemorative stamp in Japan where he remains a celebrity, appearing on TV commercials and billboards nationwide.

He also helped Japan win the World Baseball Classic in 2006 and 2009.

But Suzuki -- more commonly known by his first name -- stepped aside to take up a front office job last season before entering his 19th MLB campaign on a minor league deal with the Mariners.

His future had been in doubt, however, after hitting just .080 in spring training, sparking fears the Japanese superstar would face the chop when the Mariners trimmed their squad to 25 players on returning from Tokyo.

"I had actually worried I could get sacked every day after moving to the New York Yankees in 2012," revealed Suzuki, who ruled out a return to Japanese baseball or a future as a manager.

"That has been my mindset evert since. I've had a very long career and I just want to thank everyone who has supported me along the way."

Suzuki made his professional debut for Japan's Orix BlueWave in 1992 before moving to the majors in 2001 and becoming a perennial All-Star with the Mariners.

With his best seasons behind him, he was traded to the famous Yankee pinstripes on a two-year deal, then to the Miami Marlins before rejoining Seattle in 2018.

To the disappointment of Japanese baseball fans, there was no fairytale ending for Suzuki as he finished his final series hitless.

"I don't have any regrets," he insisted. "I've loved baseball ever since I was a kid -- and even though someone will eventually come along and break my records, secretly I'm proud of what I've achieved."