MLB Rookie Monsters: The year is 2001. Both the AL and the NL have been introduced to a new star. Albert Pujols and Ichiro Suzuki did something that few players do during their rookie seasons.
The first is that they were on the Opening Day rosters. And the second, is that they both had MVP-type years.
Albert and Ichiro were both rookie monsters. There is no other way to look at it. Let’s look back at their opening campaigns.
Albert Pujols Wasted No Time
Very few rookies play 161 games in baseball. And only the best of the best can get the call-up at age 21, with just two years in the minor leagues. Then again, Albert Pujols was no ordinary man.
He was a talented baseball player, and let the world know pretty much right away. He batted .329 over 590 at-bats during his first year. He finished with an on-base percentage over .400, at .403.
Pujols took home the Silver Slugger award, meaning he was the best offensive first baseman in the entire National League. He was fourth in MVP voting, and helped guide the Cardinals to a playoff spot. And of course, he found his way into the All-Star Game.
The only thing he wasn’t doing was stealing bases, as he managed to nab just one single one. He struck out just 93 times, another incredibly low figure given that this was his rookie year.
Overall, Pujols stats are pretty wild. He had 37 HR’s with 130 RBI’s. He picked up 194 base hits, including 47 doubles and four triples. He actually faced some competition in the Rookie of the Year voting, as Roy Oswalt went 14-3 with a 2.42 ERA, and Jimmy Rollins picked up 180 hits, scored 97 runs, stole 46 bases, and had a .323 on-base percentage.
But Pujols was obviously a different breed. After oddly being left off the 2002 All-Star roster, he would make the next eight All-Star games, also winning three MVP’s in this stretch.
What more could you have asked for? Albert was a monster as a rookie. And it propelled him to an incredible career. One that will sadly be ending after this season.
Ichiro Went Crazy in Seattle
In their 44-year existence, the Mariners have 100+ games one time. During Ichiro’s rookie year with the team, they went an incredible 116-46, making it to the ALCS.
Not only was this the best year in franchise history, it marks the last time they made the playoffs. A two-decades long drought. And yet in the movie Little Big League, it’s the Mariners that play spoiler.
Before anything, it’s important to note that Ichiro was a 10X All-Star. 10 years of 200+ hits. He had over 3,000 hits, and drove in over 700 runs. And yet, he set career-highs across the board in his opening campaign.
He scored 127 runs, drove in 69, stole 56 bases, and had 34 doubles. All of those were career bests, over what turned out to be a 19-year career for Ichiro.
He had 242 hits, and a .350 batting average. More impressive, is that he did this while playing in 157 games, walking only 30 times. He was not one to go back to the dugout.
They couldn’t strike him out (just 53 K’s at the plate), and they couldn’t walk him. He almost always put it in play.
Not only was Ichiro an All-Star, but believe or not, he was the MVP. The 27-year-old Japanese superstar made waves from his first days in Seattle.
Ichiro joined Fred Lynn (1975) as the only players to be named Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same season. And when the team defeated Cleveland in the 2001 ALDS, he had 12 hits in 20 at-bats (.600).
The unfortunate part of Ichiro’s career is that his next 9+ years in Seattle saw him make the playoffs exactly zero times. He was on the Yankees during their worst stretch of baseball in a long time, making just one playoff trip. And the Marlins didn’t even sniff the postseason.
There are some serious what-ifs in Ichiro’s career, but one thing is for sure: His rookie season was one for the record books. He was as dominant as somebody can be during their first season in any league.
Thank you for Reading
I’ve always been enamored by Albert Pujols and Ichiro, and the way they took the league by storm as rookies. This piece has been a long-time coming, but lacked the platform.
Thank you for reading. These two guys were incredible right off the bat, and I thought it was important to remind you all about it.