SEATTLE.–Ichiro Suzuki was inducted into the Seattle Mariners Hall of Fame on Aug. 27, giving his entire 16-minute speech in English while reflecting on his career.
Suzuki became the 10th member of Seattle’s Hall of Fame, joining former teammates Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez, Jamie Moyer, Jay Buhner and Dan Wilson, who had previously been honored by the club. All but Buhner were in attendance.
Suzuki’s speech was one of the few times he’s spoken extensively in English in a public forum.
The ceremony also included video messages from several baseball stars including Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, Albert Pujols and Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Going to the podium, Suzuki greeted the crowd by shouting, “What’s up, Seattle” to thunderous applause.
“Twenty-two years ago, my life forever changed when I became a Seattle Mariner. I am beyond grateful to this organization and this city,” Suzuki said as he thanked his teammates, club personnel, fans and family.
“I am touched by the warm support of so many Mariner Hall of Famers who made time to be here tonight…I am honored to join this new Mariners team. Thank you all for being here to welcome me in person.”
Baseball Hall of Fame President Josh Rawitch was also in attendance. Suzuki will be eligible for induction into Cooperstown in 2025.
Griffey and Suzuki sat next to each other during the ceremony. The pair were teammates in Seattle during the 2009-10 seasons.
“There is a guy I like to call George. You know him as Ken Griffey Jr. He was my idol even before I came to America, but in 2009 he returned to Seattle and I finally got to be his teammate,” Suzuki said.
“Yes, he’s a jokester. But for me, he’s also a true professional. He helped me in more ways than I can express. Being his teammate is truly one of my career highlights.”
Suzuki spent the first 11 seasons of his major league career with the Mariners before getting traded to the New York Yankees midway through the 2012 season. He played parts of three seasons with the Yankees, three more in Miami before returning to Seattle to close out his career.
“When I returned in 2018, it was as if I had never left. The passion with which you welcomed me back touched my heart. It is one of the best memories of my career, and I will never forget that feeling,” Suzuki said as the crowd chanted his name.
A 10-time MLB All-Star, Suzuki won 10 Gold Gloves and two batting titles and was the 2001 AL MVP and Rookie of the Year.
The fleet-footed hitting machine, also known for his defensive skills and cannon arm in right field, set MLB’s single-season hit record with 262 in 2004 and had 200-plus hits for 10 straight MLB seasons.
In his 28-year professional career, Suzuki had 1,278 combined hits in Japan’s majors and 3,089 in MLB, for a total of 4,367 – more than MLB career hit leader Pete Rose’s 4,256 in top-flight competition.
Several of the ceremony guests mentioned the inevitability of Suzuki joining Martinez, Johnson and Griffey in the National Baseball Hall of Fame after he becomes eligible.
“I’ve been a fan of you since I was young,” Ohtani said in Japanese. “It is a little strange for me to now speak in a video message about you, but I will continue to honor you and do my best. Congratulations on your day.”
But this induction with the Mariners is special because of his connection with the franchise and city that started when he arrived in 2001 and continues today.
“When I first came here, I was not a free agent. The ownership here took a chance on me and gave me this opportunity,” Suzuki said a day before the event in Seattle. “And then as I played here, I knew there was expectations and I tried to meet those expectations. As I played that relationship began and it’s something that’s very special. So I guess you could say it just became this way. It took time. It was like a relationship and we got to this point.”
His final appearance came at the beginning of the 2019 season which Seattle opened with two games in Japan. Suzuki announced his retirement after the second game. He’s spent the past several years as a special assistant to the chairman for the Mariners and regularly is in uniform and working with players or fielding balls during batting practice.
“I was 27 years old when I came to Seattle. I could never imagine my career in America would last 19 seasons and that I would still be in Seattle today,” Suzuki said. “With that in mind, I would like to say to the current players your future has possibilities that you cannot imagine as well. So embrace it by giving your best without imposing limits on yourself.
“If a skinny, undersized guy from Japan can compete in this uniform, and then stand before you tonight to accept this honor, then there’s no reason you cannot do it either.”
Kyodo News contributed to this story.