The Seattle Mariners will no doubt retire the No. 51 one day and a case can be made for the Mariners to do something only six other Major League Baseball teams have done before.
They could retire it in honor of two players: Randy Johnson and Ichiro Suzuki.
Ichiro makes his return to Safeco Field this week with the Miami Marlins. He's just a part-time player now (12 at bats in nine games this season before Monday) as he inches closer to retirement, although the 43-year-old told The Miami Herald he wants to play until he's 50.
He's a first-ballot lock for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, having amassed more than 3,000 hits in the majors. Only four other men have that many hits and have not made it to Cooperstown. Two are Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, who are not yet eligible for the ballot. One is Rafael Palmeiro, who is dogged by doping allegations. The other is Pete Rose, banned for life for betting on baseball.
Ichiro's best days were in Seattle. He won both American League Rookie Of The Year and Most Valuable Player in 2001. He set a Major League single-season record with 262 hits in 2004. He had over 200 per season during his first ten years in the majors and earned 10 Gold Gloves.
If you include his hits from playing in Japan before coming to America, Ichiro has a professional baseball record 4,309 hits and counting -- beating Rose's 4,256. But most baseball aficionados don't count those hits in Japan.
Ichiro never got the chance to play alongside Johnson. The Big Unit was traded to the Houston Astros in 1998, then moved on to the Arizona Diamondbacks, the New York Yankees, then back to Arizona before ending his career in 2009 with the San Francisco Giants.
No one questions the majority of Johnson's success came in the desert, which is why he went into the Hall of Fame in 2015 as a Diamondback. He won four consecutive National League Cy Young awards from 1999-2002 and was Co-MVP of the 2001 World Series along with Curt Schilling. Johnson went 3-0 in that series, including getting the win in Game 7, coming on in relief of Schilling one day after starting Game 6.
But he first made his name during his nine years in Seattle. He was the first Mariner to throw a no-hitter. He was a rare 20-game winner for Seattle. He won the American League Cy Young in 1997. He pitched a complete game to beat the California Angels in a one-game playoff to get Seattle to its first postseason in 1995. And in the Division Series against the New York Yankees that year, he came in from the bullpen on one day rest to win the spellbinding Game 5.
While they never wore a Mariners uniform at the same time, Johnson and Ichiro will be together in Cooperstown in five or six years -- or 12 if Ichiro's wish to play until 50 comes to fruition. It seems only appropriate that they be side-by-side on the facade in left-center at Safeco Field, next to Jackie Robinson, Ken Griffey Jr., and Edgar Martinez, who will have his number retirement ceremony this summer.
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