Imagine if Derek Jeter had played his first eight seasons in the U.S. and then jumped to Japan in the middle of the Yankees’ title run.
Ichiro Suzuki’s move to the Seattle Mariners created a similar tidal wave in both countries when he arrived in 2001. Card companies rushed to produce Ichiro rookie cards in time for the season and for the most part, they succeeded. He appears in a variety of products–from the Topps base set to Fleer (remember?), Donruss and Upper Deck products. Price points are all over the board, depending on scarcity and popularity, but it’s fairly clear in looking at what he’s done–and what he could do before his career is over– that Ichiro rookie cards might still be undervalued.
After collecting his 2000th career hit over the weekend, interest spiked a bit on eBay. A 2001 Upper Deck Ultimate Collection autographed rookie card, one of just 250 in existence, sold for $2247. Another seller, perhaps not expecting as much, let one go through a Buy it Now for $1200. But it seems as if Ichiro’s rookie cards haven’t stacked up alongside Albert Pujols’ best first year cards. A graded, autographed Bowman Chrome Pujols rookie in high grade usually brings $3,000 and up. In most cases, Pujols rookies seem to outpace Suzuki by a two or three to one value margin. A 2001 Bowman Chrome Japanese version of the Ichiro rookie, one of just 12 graded PSA 10, sold recently for $510.
The 2001 Ultimate Collection is the one card to which most collectors seem to gravitate, but other popular Ichiro rookies from his U.S. career include the 2001 SP Authentic Chirography autograph, the 2001 SPx jersey autograph, 2001 Leaf Limited jersey and the 2001 Topps Chrome Traded refractor. Ichiro was not included in the 01 Topps Chrome regular set.
For those looking to go the inexpensive route, a 2001 Topps base Ichiro rookie graded PSA 10 (gem mint) sold early Monday for $120 while an Upper Deck BGS 10 base card brought $96. Cards graded “9” sell for significantly less despite their ‘mint’ grade.
While MLB won’t recognize the hits accumulated while playing in his native country,, collectors have taken notice of Ichiro’s “true” rookie cards–those issued during his rookie season in Japan and another group from the 1993 Hawaiian winter league. Four cards were issued in the latter set, produced by Pacific Sports Promotions. They are the first cards of Ichiro produced on American soil and while they weren’t widely distributed, collectors like them. A set of four Ichiro cards from that issue, rarely offered together, brought $1325 in a recent eBay auction. A 1993 BBM Japan card, showing Ichiro as a member of the Orix Blue Wave in the Japanese Professional League, sold for $775 in PSA 10 grade. A BGS 9 brought $184 and a BGS 8.5 went for $96.
Ichiro got to 2,000 hits faster than any player except Hall of Famer Al Simmons, but he’s already passed 3,000 if you include the 1278 he got in Japan. He’s still just 36 and in remarkable shape. Suzuki will reach 200 hits for the ninth straight year and will likely reach 3,000 for his career not long after he turns 40 years of age. Had he come to the United States even five seasons earlier than he did, it’s possible he could now be on his way to breaking the all-time hits record set by Pete Rose.
So how long will he play? “I think he’s going to go until he can’t go,” Mariners’ manager Don Wakamatsu said after Sunday’s historic game. “I don’t think he puts a timetable on it. He told me he’ll go ’til he’s 50. He was serious.”
Hundreds of Ichiro rookie cards are currently available on eBay.