Ichiro Suzuki returned to the Seattle Mariners this week at the ripe old age of 44. In his press conference on Wednesday he was quoted as saying, “I think everybody has heard I want to play ’til I’m 50. But I always say I want to play at least until I’m 50.” Ichiro returns to the Mariners outfield where he first began his Major League Baseball career after leaving Japan and his team the Orix Blue Wave.
Ichiro’s accolades are simply ridiculous. I didn’t even realize all of them until researching them. He’s been a 10 time All Star, an All Star MVP, a 10 time Gold Glove winner, a 3 time Silver Slugger and two-time American League Batting Champ. Not to mention he was the American League MVP in 2001 the same year he won the AL Rookie of the Year. Did I forget to mention the hits? How many you ask? Currently at 3,080 and he holds the single season mark for most hits in a season with 262 in 2004. He compiled 10 consecutive seasons with 200 hits, the longest streak by any player in history.
There are several Mariners players who are young enough to be his children and grew up watching him play. Dee Gordon (29 years old) who signed this off-season with the Mariners played with Ichiro in Miami the last three seasons. Suzuki shouldn’t be any everyday player but Seattle’s outfield needs help with their recent injury news. He can contribute leadership in the clubhouse along with mentoring their younger players. Don’t forget the jersey and ticket sales. I bet the Team Store is frantically ordering #51 jerseys for Opening Day. Seattle fans always turn out to watch Ichiro play.
Bartolo Colon signed a minor league contract and has joined the Texas Rangers for Spring Training in Arizona. He is currently fighting for a job in the Ranger starting rotation. My personal favorite Bartolo stat is – he’s the last Montreal Expo that is still playing Major League Baseball. The Expos were moved to Washington after the 2004 season and no other Expos are still playing.
Bartolo is trying to make good on a promise to his mother. He had promised her in 2014 before she passed away that he would play until he’s 45. He will turn 45 this May. Bartolo began his career in 1997 with the Cleveland Indians at the age of 24. His salary was just $150,000 and he appeared in 19 games, winning 4 and losing 7.
Colon won the Cy Young Award in 2005 with the Angels. He has been a four-time All Star with his last appearance coming in 2016 playing for the National League. In 20 seasons he’s pitched just over 3,300 innings recording 2,454 strikeouts. His body doesn’t bring to mind any sort of fitness or training program. Yet he continues to keep on pitching.
Utley just re-signed a two-year $2 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He has been part of their infield since late in the 2015 season when he was traded by the Philadelphia Phillies. He also worked out at Dodger Stadium the entire off-season and didn’t hide the fact that he wanted to return to the Dodger organization.
Chase Utley is most known for his aggressive base running and his slide into second baseman Reuben Tejada of the New York Mets during the 2015 National League Division Series. He broke Tejada’s fibula sliding attempting to break up an inning ending double play. Major League Baseball took notice creating a new slide rule now dubbed the “Utley Rule” which is to keep players from getting hurt by those collisions at second base.
Utley was part of the World Series Dodger team last year playing in 127 games, hitting .236 with a .728 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. He gives Manager Dave Roberts an experienced left-handed bat on the bench and a leader in the clubhouse. He will turn 40 in December and his new contract was the only multi-year deal that the Dodgers signed this off-season.
The older I get I find myself applauding those that can still excel in their sport at an age that may not seem quite possible. Each passing year seems to take a little bit of speed and strength away from me. I read an article earlier this year that said clubs don’t put much value on leadership when signing players. I believe veterans can bring something to the clubhouse that a Manager doesn’t have the ability to.
Veteran players can have those deeply personal conversations with younger players without coming from a place of authority unlike their Manager. They might be somebody that a player admired therefore easily filling the role of somebody they want to emulate. At the right price it clearly makes sense to have one or two reliable veterans on your roster. As the saying goes age is just a number.
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