There are underrated players in every professional sport.
In the NBA, Los Angeles Lakers forward Lamar Odom, San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili and Golden State Warriors guard Monte Ellis never seem to get the love that they deserve. Likewise, NFL players like Denver Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton, New Orleans Saints running back Pierre Thomas and Green Bay Packers running back Ryan Grant rarely get mentioned when fans talk about the best players on the gridiron. In leagues that are literally filled with stars, superstars and mega-superstars, someone has to get overlooked and, as a result, these guys don’t end up getting the credit they should.
In baseball, there is one player in particular who comes to mind as consistently underappreciated: Mariners right-fielder Ichiro Suzuki. Despite the fact that he’s easily one of the best players in all of baseball, the Seattle Mariners are hardly ever on TV—and almost never in a pennant race—so his name doesn’t get brought up when people start talking about Major League Baseball’s MVPs.
With baseball season on again and Ichiro taking home his tenth Gold Glove last year (which ties an American League record), here’s a just a few reasons why he should be on your radar.
He spent nine successful seasons in Japan’s pro Pacific League before he ever played in a Major League Baseball game.
It’s hard to imagine any pro athlete in America spending a decade dominating a sport here before heading off to another country to put together a Hall of Fame career. But Ichiro managed to do it by starting his pro career in the Pacific League when he was just 18 and playing in Japan until 2000, when the Mariners paid $13 million for the right to sign him to a contract. Though a handful of people—including Mike Hargrove, who would later manage him—doubted his ability to make the leap to the Major Leagues, he’s more than proven all his doubters wrong.
In his 2001 rookie season with the Seattle Mariners, led both the league in both batting average and stolen bases.
The only person to have done this before, other than Ichiro, is Jackie Robinson. Ichiro belted out a .350 batting average and stole 56 bases, leading both statistical categories in the American League. No one had done that since the great #42 did it back in the 1950s.
He has consistently finished in the top 10 in hits, batting average, steals and runs.
Ichiro does a little bit of everything. And he does them consistently. At the end of the last 10 seasons, Ichiro has been near the top of all of these categories.
He broke an 84-year-old record during the 2004 season for most hits in a season.
Pete Rose didn’t even do this. In 2004, Ichiro hit a record-breaking 262 hits to pass former St. Louis Browns first baseman George Sisler. He also had more hits during a four-year span (between 2001 and 2004) than any other player in MLB history.
He has played on two Japanese teams that have won the World Baseball Classic.
When he’s not knocking MLB pitchers around, Ichiro spends his time representing his country. In 2006 and 2009, Ichiro agreed to play for the Japanese team in the WBC and helped the team get victories over South Korea.