Groz Remembers 2001 Mariners: When Ichiro became Ichiro

Jul 28, 2021, 11:54 AM
Mariners Ichiro...
Ichiro Suzuki is one of two players ever to win the MVP award as a rookie. (Getty)

2001: A Baseball Odyssey – a weekly look back at the record-setting 2001 Mariners and the players who got them there.

Jan. 5, 2001 was certainly the red-letter day in the story of the 116-win 2001 Mariners. It was the day they signed Ichiro.

M’s trade Graveman, Montero to Astros | M’s get Anderson from Pirates

Less then month earlier, free agent Alex Rodriguez had surprised the team by signing with division rival Texas. That meant that in barely two years, the M’s had seen Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr. and A-Rod all leave the team, an unprecedented loss of star power. It seemed completely unfair to expect Ichiro to fill the gap.

At spring training in Arizona, Mariners manager Lou Piniella at times seemed perplexed by Ichiro’s approach; the young outfielder just seemed to be content to slap the ball the other way. It famously came to a head when Lou asked Ichiro if he ever turned on a pitch. Ichiro looked back and responded, “Sometimes,” then stepped to the plate and pulled a home run onto the berm. Piniella stopped worrying.

Ichiro was an immediate smash, hitting safely in 16 of his first 17 games. He showed off his arm in his 10th game, as well, with the “Star Wars” throw to nail Oakland’s Terrence Long trying to go first to third on a single, and it just kept getting better and better and better.

July 28 was a fairly typical night for Ichiro, who went 3 for 4 with a double, two RBIs and stole his 35th bag of the season in a 5-1 M’s win over Minnesota, raising his season average to .328 as the M’s improved to 75-29.

As good as it was going in July, Ichiro was just getting warmed up. The August month of his rookie season was one of the great months a Mariners hitter has ever had. He had 51 hits in just 28 games for a .429 average, doing a lot to propel him to American League Rookie of the Year and MVP honors at season’s end, where he joined Boston’s Fred Lynn (1975) as the only players in baseball history to win both awards in the same year.

It all seemed so unlikely that cold January day, but a new era of baseball had begun in Seattle.

Follow The Groz on Twitter.

More 2001 Mariners memories from Groz

The curious case of Al Martin
Freddy García replaces the ace he was traded for
Kaz Sasaki and Seattle’s incredible bullpen
• Seattle hosts an All-Star Game for the ages
• The bounceback year of M’s Hall of Famer Dan Wilson
• Mark McLemore, the all-important 10th man
• Edgar Martinez cements his legacy with his last great season
• Aaron Sele, the pitcher who ‘fell from the sky’
• Bret Boone gave Seattle a huge, surprising boost
• Paul Abbott, the forgotten hero of the historic ’01 M’s
• Introduction: Celebrating the 2001 Mariners, 20 years later

Seattle Mariners

Mariners MLB logo...
The Associated Press

MLB drops arbitration cuts after union holds on free agents

Major League Baseball withdrew its plan for more limited salary arbitration on Tuesday, a day after the MLB players' union withdrew its demand for greater free agent eligibility.
19 hours ago
Mariners Mitch Haniger Servais...
Brent Stecker

The important message Mitch Haniger sent about the 2022 Mariners

After hearing Mitch Haniger's thoughts on the Mariners' offseason, Jake and Stacy break down what they say they couldn't agree more with.
3 days ago
Mariners OF Kyle Lewis...
Brandon Gustafson

Can Kyle Lewis and Evan White contribute to the Mariners in 2022?

Baseball America's Kyle Glaser joined Jake & Stacy and discussed what the Mariners can likely get from Kyle Lewis and Evan White next season.
4 days ago
Mariners Jarred Kelenic...
Brandon Gustafson

‘No reason to panic’ after Mariners OF Jarred Kelenic’s rocky debut

Jarred Kelenic struggled in his first taste of MLB action, but Baseball America's Kyle Glaser says not to worry about the young Mariners OF.
5 days ago
Shannon Drayer

Mitch Haniger sees Mariners getting closer to his World Series goal

Mariners outfielder Mitch Haniger joined 710 ESPN Seattle's Wyman and Bob and sounds hungrier than ever after the 90-win 2021 season and two big M's moves this offseason.
6 days ago
Mariners Julio Rodríguez...
Shannon Drayer

Drayer: 3 Mariners in top 20 in new Baseball America prospect rankings

Once again, the Mariners have five players in the first Baseball America top 100 rankings of the year. And they're mostly high on the list, too.
7 days ago
Groz Remembers 2001 Mariners: When Ichiro became Ichiro