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Angels

Angels reflect on the awe-inspiring career of Ichiro Suzuki

Ichiro Suzuki might have stopped just short of announcing his retirement Thursday, but he is six years from being eligible for membership in the American Assn. of Retired Persons. When Suzuki made his major league debut in 2001, Mike Trout was 9.

Little wonder, then, that Trout and Kole Calhoun dropped a more contemporary frame of reference as they marveled aloud at Suzuki’s accomplishments: Come on, the guy pounded out a record 262 hits one year? That’s 50 more than Jose Altuve!

As a member of the American League West, the Angels have been bedeviled by Suzuki for two decades. For those too young to recall Suzuki at the height of his talents — he was the AL rookie of the year and most valuable player for the Seattle Mariners in 2001 — Albert Pujols made an angelic comparison.

“This is the guy that was the Mike Trout,” Pujols said, “back from ’01 to probably 2015.”

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Calhoun was an Arizona schoolboy who lugged his glove to Cactus League games and asked players to sign it. One spring, he got Suzuki to sign, and he forever became the best player to autograph that glove.

“No close second,” Calhoun said.

The Angels visit Seattle this weekend, but the anticipation has been extinguished. Japan’s most successful major league player will not face Japan’s most intriguing major leaguer. The 44-year-old Suzuki will not have the chance to bat against the 23-year-old Shohei Ohtani.

“I have nothing but the utmost respect for him, what he has done for this game, our country and for the fans,” Ohtani said in a statement. “I wish we could have played against him, but it wasn’t meant to be. I wish nothing but the best for him moving forward.”

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Pujols laughed about the one-word answer he would get when asking Suzuki about the secret to his success: “stretch.” He remembered Suzuki darting into the gap to rob him of an extra-base hit in the All-Star game 15 years ago — possibly robbing him of that game’s MVP award, won by the Angels’ Garret Anderson.

And he described fellow major leaguers awed by Suzuki’s array of skills. If Suzuki wanted to hit 20 home runs every year, Pujols said he could have.

“This guy could put the ball in the seats, any time,” Pujols said.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia jokingly said that, while he did not know Suzuki very well, he got to see plenty of him as he rounded third base and headed home in front of the Angels’ dugout.

“Every facet of the game was important to him, and he played every facet of the game with incredible depth,” Scioscia said. “He beat you with his glove. He beat you on the basepaths. He beat you in the batter’s box.”

When he first saw Suzuki’s unique mechanics at bat, Pujols said, he wondered whether the guy would be able to hit in the major leagues. Ground balls were not forbidden then — talk of launch angles had not yet arisen — but Suzuki sure hit a lot of them.

“Two hop to shortstop, beat it out,” Pujols said.

Said the Angels’ Ian Kinsler: “It didn’t matter how far the left fielder played on the line, or how many people you put on the left side of the field, he was either going to beat out a ground ball or find a hole somewhere. His hand-eye coordination was insane.”

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In announcing he would take off his uniform and work in the Mariners’ front office for the rest of the season, Suzuki left the door open to play in 2019. He is a career .322 hitter, but he batted .205 this year.

“I don’t think he’s done,” Pujols said.

“When I start using a cane, that’s when I’ll know I’m ready to retire,” Suzuki told reporters in Seattle.

Suzuki had talked this spring about wanting to play until he was “at least 50.”

“He might be able to play until 60,” Pujols said. “Maybe you will have to get a wheelchair to get him down to first base.”

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin


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