In honor of the last day of American Pacific Islander Heritage Month and Mac Suzuki’s birthday, today we take a look at Suzuki’s baseball career. In 1996, Suzuki became the first Japanese player in the American League, and the third player from Japan in the Major Leagues. Suzuki was preceded by Masanori Murakami (who debuted with the Giants in 1964) and Hideo Nomo (who debuted with the Dodgers in 1995).
Makoto Suzuki was born in Kobe, Japan, on May 31, 1975. He played baseball for 18 seasons in both the U.S. and Japan. After his final game in Japan, Suzuki continued to play minor league baseball for another five seasons in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. His first job in baseball, however, was in 1992 as a batboy/clubhouse attendant for a minor league team in Salinas, California. When Suzuki was 16, his parents sent him to the United States partly as punishment for getting kicked out of high school and partly so that he could get a fresh start. Through family connections, Suzuki got a job with the Salinas Spurs making $300 a month. His main responsibilities were in the clubhouse washing uniforms and doing other housekeeping chores. However, at the end of the season, the team let Suzuki pitch in the final game. The next year, he became a full-time player.
The team moved to San Bernardino and was renamed the San Bernardino Spirit for the 1993 season (check back next week – I’ll trace the movements of the Salinas Spurs as a franchise). In 1993, Suzuki appeared in 48 games, winning 4 and losing 4, with an ERA of 3.68. After the season ended in September, Suzuki signed with the Seattle Mariners. Assigned to the AA Jacksonville Suns for the 1994 season, Suzuki appeared in 8 games and had an ERA of 2.84. He spent the 1995 season with the rookie-level Arizona Mariners and the high-A Riverside Pilots compiling a 5.40 ERA in 10 games. Suzuki spent the 1996 season with the AA Port City Roosters in Wilmington, North Carolina, and the AAA Tacoma Rainiers; he made his major league debut with the Seattle Mariners on July 7, 1996.
Suzuki spent the 1997 season and part of the 1998 season in Tacoma before being promoted to Seattle where he remained until he was traded to the Mets on June 18, 1999. Four days later he was claimed off waivers by the Royals. He was with the Royals for the remainder of the 1999 season, the 2000 season, and part of 2001. On June 24, 2001, Suzuki was traded to the Rockies. He appeared in 3 games for the Rockies before being claimed off waivers by the Brewers on July 12. He appeared in 15 games with the Brewers before being released from the team on October 12, 2001. Two months later, Suzuki signed as a free agent with the Royals for $200,000. He played 30 games in the minors in 2002 at both the AA Wichita Wranglers and the AAA Omaha Royals, as well as appearing in 7 games for the Kansas City Royals.
The Royals released Suzuki in 2002 and he subsequently announced he would enter the Japanese leagues the next season. He was selected by the Orix BlueWave. After not pitching at all in 2005, he was cut from the team at the end of the season. In December, Suzuki signed a minor league contract with the Oakland A’s. However, he did not make the major league team out of Spring Training and later signed instead with the Tijuana Petroleros of the Mexican League. He also signed a minor league contract with the Chicago Cubs and spent some time with the AAA Iowa Cubs in 2006.
The following year found Suzuki in Tabasco, Mexico, playing for the Olmecas de Tabasco. He pitched in 16 games in 2007, achieving a 5-4 record and an ERA of 3.28. Suzuki spent 2008 with the Chihuahua Dorados of the Mexican League and the Calgary Vipers of the independent Golden League. In 2009, he played again with Calgary and also played for the independent Southern Maryland Blue Crabs of the Atlantic League. In 2010, he returned to both Calgary and Chihuahua. His final appearance was with the Chihuahua Dorados on July 25, 2010.
Today, Suzuki is a baseball analyst in Japan and also operates a fitness club and a sports bar. Hopefully he’ll make an appearance next year when the Mariners open the season against the A’s in Tokyo.
Happy birthday, Mac!