Ichiro Suzuki has rejoined his original MLB team, the Seattle Mariners, for what will be his 18th season in the major leagues. He officially signed a one-year deal with the Mariners on Wednesday.
But long before he came to the majors as a "rookie" in 2001, Ichiro was already a larger-than-life superstar in his native Japan after nine years with the Orix BlueWave. When you add up both sides of his incredible, nearly three-decade-long career, you'll find he's about to unofficially reach another milestone.
While 2018 won't serve as an official record since he spent his first nine seasons in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball, come Opening Day, Ichiro's cumulative 27-year career between both NPB and MLB will match that of Nolan Ryan, whose 27 seasons are the major-league record.
Ryan's Hall of Fame career spanned from 1966-1993 (injuries cost him a 28th season in 1967). Another Hall of Famer, 19th-century superstar Cap Anson, also played at the highest level for 27 years, though some consider Ryan to be the sole record-holder because Anson's career started in the National Association, which has had its status as an official "major league" disputed.
Only 10 men have played 25-plus big-league seasons and many of them were either unproductive at the end or were coaches making one-game cameos. Ichiro - MLB's second-oldest active player, a few months younger than fellow quadragenarian Bartolo Colon - isn't what he used to be at the plate, but he still managed to make 215 plate appearances for the Miami Marlins last year and even became the oldest player to start a game in center field.
Ichiro's unparalleled career: 1992-Present
The 44-year-old Ichiro, who became one of just nine players with 4,000 professional hits in 2016, stated last spring that he wants to keep playing baseball until he's 50. He might have to return to Japan to pull that off, but if he can play somewhere every year until then his age-50 campaign, 2024 would mark his 33rd professional season.
Thirty-three years would push Ichiro past Julio Franco and Minnie Minoso (32 seasons each around the world, though Minoso had a few publicity stunts at the end), but it wouldn't be enough to catch 19th-century star Jim O'Rourke, who played at least 38 seasons (23 of them in MLB) from 1872-1912. Still, it would obviously be an impressive and historic feat if he can reach his goal.
Now that he's about to "match" Ryan's MLB record, we can't call it an impossible task for Ichiro, who's not just a baseball legend but an ageless wonder.