Suzuki to M’s signals trend

  • VALERIE REITMAN / Los Angeles Times
  • Saturday, November 11, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

By VALERIE REITMAN

Los Angeles Times

TOKYO – Japan is in mourning for perhaps its most popular baseball hero ever, Ichiro Suzuki, who appears headed for a spot on the Seattle Mariners’ roster.

But his departure from Japan could be more significant than simply losing a seven-time batting champion, ace right fielder and national heartthrob.

It could presage a major loss in stature for baseball here, if the man who is known by his first name, Ichiro, does well.

“Japanese teams will become the minor league teams of major league ballclubs,” lamented Musaru Ikei, political science professor emeritus at Keio University and a baseball fanatic. “If Ichiro succeeds, other fielders will follow one after the other … just like Russian ice hockey, which now has no power and no popularity” because top players are signing with NHL teams.

Indeed, Japanese fans will be closely watching to see if Suzuki can cut it in the majors. About 10 Japanese stars have jumped to the major leagues, but they have all been pitchers, among them Hideki Irabu, Hideo Nomo, Masato Yoshii and Shigetoshi Hasegawa. Relief pitcher Kazuhiro Sasaki of the Mariners was recently named the American League’s rookie of the year.

But Suzuki will be trying to make it as a leadoff or No. 2 hitter and outfielder, playing every day.

“This is the best opportunity we’ll have to see whether the No. 1 Japanese player can do well or not in the major leagues,” Masanori Murakami, the first Japanese pitcher to play in the U.S. in the 1960s, said in a telephone interview. “I think Japanese fans and Ichiro himself have mixed feelings, both of expectation and anxiety.”

Manager Bobby Valentine of the New York Mets, who managed in Japan, has called Suzuki “one of the five best position players in the world.” Speed, both in the outfield and on the basepaths, is one of Suzuki’s main attributes. He has averaged 28 steals over the last seven seasons.

But at about 5-feet-11 and 170 pounds, he lacks the brawn of many U.S. stars.

“Japanese fans expect him to achieve the same thing he did in Japan, but it’s too much,” said Daisuke Araki, a television commentator and former pitcher for the Yakult Swallows who was a minor league coach for the Cleveland Indians last year. “I don’t think Ichiro can beat the top-class U.S. players, but he’ll be able to play well with average major league players.”

In addition to their smaller size, Japanese players tend not to run and steal as aggressively as U.S. players, who have “more guts to win,” said Araki.

The Mariners won the bidding rights for the 27-year-old Suzuki this week, bidding $13.125 million that will be paid to the Orix Blue Wave of Kobe, Suzuki’s Japanese team. Other bidders were the Dodgers, Angels and Mets.

Salary must still be negotiated for Suzuki, who in nine seasons has a .353 batting average, with 118 home runs and 529 runs batted in. If the Mariners are unable to come to terms with Suzuki, he will return to Japan for another season and the Blue Wave will return the bidding money.

But Suzuki appears to be chasing a dream rather than money. He earned about $5 million in Japan last year and rejected a renewal offer of about $30 million over five years from the Orix to take a chance in the U.S. majors by letting the Orix post him for U.S. bids.

“I feel like a high school player a couple of days before the draft, very nervous, very excited, very eager to play in the U.S.,” Suzuki said after announcing that he wanted to go to the United States.

Suzuki joined the Blue Wave in 1992 after high school, originally as a pitcher, then later switching to right field.

Suzuki is popular with women in Japan.

“He’s not a showoff,” said Masumi Kurosaki, 28. “He is not flashy, which is quite common among baseball players.”

Yumiko Yamanaka, a 33-year-old nurse, thinks he has great self-confidence and that “his life is very cool. … His play is like a craftsman’s, very beautiful and solid.”

He scored big points with women fans by last year marrying a former television sports commentator seven years his senior. Just as unusual in clean-cut Japan, he wears a scraggly goatee and dresses casually, often wearing his baseball cap backward.

Suzuki probably will feel more at home in Seattle than perhaps any other U.S. city. Star relief pitcher Sasaki is his friend. And the team’s majority owners are executives with Japanese video game giant Nintendo.

The venue didn’t please all the fans left at home who are rooting for his success.

“I wish another team could have gotten him, so other major league teams would get attention of Japanese people,” said Ryuji Tamaki, 24, a salesman in Tokyo. “Japanese players should be scattered around.”

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Sports

From left to right: Arlington’s Kierra Reese and Stanwood’s Ellalee Wortham, Ava DePew and Presley Harris. The foursome, called “Awesome Mix 12,” won the High School Elite division in 2023 and returned to Spokane Hoopfest this year to claim the Women’s Competitive division title. (Photo courtesy Sarah Reese)
Winter Wesco rivals, summer hoopfest champions

Arlington’s Kierra Reese and Stanwood’s Ava DePew, Presley Harris and Ellalee Wortham teamed up to win back-to-back 3-on-3 titles.

Louisville guard Hailey Van Lith found little room between South Carolinas Destiny Littleton (11) and Laeticia Amihere. (Carlos Gonzalez / Star Tribune)
These Olympians in the 2024 Paris Games have ties to Washington state

Nineteen athletes competing in France are from The Evergreen State.

UW Husky rowing will be well-represented in Paris at 2024 Olympics

The U.S. eight competes in heat racing on July 29 with finals on Aug. 3.

Once an MLB bust, Mill Creek’s Travis Snider now hopes to change toxic culture

When Snider made it to the big leagues in 2008 at just 20 he was one of the game’s top prospects, touted as the Blue Jays’ next great hitter.

Golden Knights center Chandler Stephenson (20) skates with the puck during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Flames at T-Mobile Arena on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024, in Las Vegas. (Ellen Schmidt / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Chandler Stephenson’s deal about broader Kraken goals rather than dollar value

The former Golden Knights centerman signed a seven-year deal for $6.25 million with Seattle last week.

Chandler Fry makes a short birdie putt on Hole 6 on Kayak Point Disc Golf Resort’s Red Course. Fry is a professional from Olympia, Wash., and he has tallied 31 career wins. He will be one of the players in this year’s Mixed Pro Open (MPO) division. (Photo courtesy Andy Jaynes)
Disc golf tournament to bring hundreds of competitors to Kayak Point

The fourth annual Kayak Point Open will feature some of the best players in the state and the region this weekend.

Seattle Mariners catcher Cal Raleigh (29) celebrates his two-run home run with a trident as he high fives teammates during the first inning against the Texas Rangers on Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in Arlington, Texas. (Elías Valverde II / Tribune News Service)
Statistics show just how terrible Mariners’ offense has been | Analysis

Seattle leads the AL West, but situational hitting has been a setback.

Everett AquaSox outfielder Lazaro Montes, the Seattle Mariners’ No. 4 ranked prospect, smiles while running onto the field prior to Everett’s game against the Spokane Indians on June 26, 2024 at Funko Field. (Photo courtesy Evan Morud / Everett AquaSox)
AquaSox week in review: Big-prospect Montes one stop closer to dream

RJ Schreck and Will Schomberg lead split against Vancouver.

Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Logan Gilbert throws in the first inning against the Cleveland Guardians on April 7, 2023, at Progressive Field. (John Kuntz / Tribune News Service)
Mariners righty Logan Gilbert earns first MLB All-Star nod

Gilbert has made 18 starts this season and averages 6.5 innings per start, the highest in the AL.

Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Bryan Woo #33 reacts after striking out San Francisco Giants’ Casey Schmitt #6 in the second inning of their MLB game at Oracle Park in San Francisco, Calif., on Monday, July 3, 2023. Woo played for Alameda High School. (Jane Tyska / Bay Area News Group)
Mariners’ Bryan Woo, Gregory Santos in line for rehab outings with Everett AquaSox

The 24-year-old pitcher has been on the injured list since June 25, and his next rotation is Saturday.

Pictured are some of the bracket winners from last year’s Lake Stevens Classic pickleball tournament. (Photo courtesy Pablo Granados)
Registration for Lake Stevens pickleball tournament still open

The 2024 Lake Stevens Classic is July 11-14, no strings attached.

The group of Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Justin Rose on the third green in the second round of the 2015 U.S. Open golf tournament at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash., on Friday, June 19, 2015. Spieth finished 5 under par for the tournament, making him the sixth player in history to claim both the Masters and U.S. Open titles the same year. (John David Mercer / Tribune News Service)
With no U.S. Open in sight at Chambers, Pierce County ponders Saudi-backed LIV Golf

Various U.S. Open venues are scheduled through 2042, but the 2015 host is not on the list.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.