When he entered Major League Baseball in 2001 at the age 27, Ichiro Suzuki had the weight of an entire nation and franchise on his shoulders. Seattle was in a three-year span had lost two of the game's best players in Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez and the game's best left hander in Randy Johnson.
Suzuki burst onto the scene by winning Rookie of the Year and MVP while leading the Mariners to 116 wins and a berth in the ALCS.
Little did anyone know it would be the start of certain first ballot Hall of Fame career. In his eight and half years Ichiro has been an All-Star every season and won eight gold gloves during that time span. Only Albert Pujols has a higher batting average among active players at .334. Ichiro amazingly has averaged over 225 hits per season coming into 2009 and with 131 hits through 82 games he is well ahead of that blistering pace.
There are two things that separate Ichiro from most players, in particular lead-off men, his consistency and his ability to be five-tool player despite being a lead-off hitter.
Ichiro's worst season statistically was in 2005 when he hit a career low .303 and had career-lows in on base percentage .350 and hits 206; yet he hit a career-high 15 home runs and drove in 68 runs, which leads me to think he is a five-tool player. Many would say Ichiro does not hit for power and the stats would show that, but there is a difference between not being able to and not choosing to do so.
If Ichiro wanted to he could hit 15 to 20 home runs a year but his average and on base percentage would suffer as it did in 2003 and 2005 the two years where he had double-digit home runs.
At 35 Suzuki is showing no signs of slowing down as he battles Joe Mauer for the batting title. It is inevitable that he will get 3,000 hits if he stays healthy. I don't think 4,000 is out of reach for him.