Kurt Suzuki’s Long Autumn

Kula boy’s (possible) final big league season hasn’t gone according to plan—but he’s still a favorite Maui son...

Catcher Kurt Suzuki—a 2001 Baldwin High graduate and Maui’s only active major league baseball player—broke into the majors in 2007 with the Oakland Athletics. In his first 15 big league seasons he compiled a .257 batting average with 139 home runs and built a reputation for superb defense behind the plate.

Suzuki, 38, hinted at retirement after the 2021 season. But when the drawn-out MLB lockout lifted, he inked a one-year, $1.75 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels.

Photo by Brian Lalor

“Every day he’s upbeat. He’s laughing,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said of Suzuki during spring training, per The Athletic. “He can get the red ass at the right time in the dugout. That’s absolutely beautiful. He knows the game. He knows what he wants. He knows what’s supposed to happen.”

The season started off well for the Angels. With Suzuki serving as backup catcher and more-famous teammates such as two-way Japanese star Shohei Ohtani and three-time MVP center fielder Mike Trout leading the charge, Los Angeles jumped out to a 27-17 start and stood atop the American League West.

Then, the wheels wobbled off. Much of the lineup, outside Trout and Ohtani, slumped at once. The pitching–particularly in the bullpen–stopped missing bats. The Angels fired the eccentric, 68-year-old Maddon in June, in the midst of a 12-game losing streak, right after he shaved his head into a mohawk to inspire his club.

For his part, Suzuki has spent much of the season hitting below the Mendoza Line (a .200 batting average, named after light-hitting 1970s infielder Mario Mendoza). His power mostly evaporated. He missed time with COVID-19 and in May exited a game with a neck contusion after he was plunked with a warmup pitch. 

In an August game, Suzuki contributed one of seven solo home runs for the Halos and they still lost, 8-7, becoming just the second team in MLB history to “accomplish” that feat.

The Angels, who haven’t won a playoff game since 2009, are again watching the October action from home. Surely this isn’t how Suzuki wanted it to end, if indeed this is his final year in the majors. But it does nothing to tarnish the legacy of one of Maui’s favorite athletic sons. 

After starring at Baldwin, Suzuki went unselected in the MLB draft and opted to attend college at Cal State Fullerton. He hit .390 in three NCAA seasons and established his catching bona fides. Still, he slid to the Athletics in the second round of the 2004 draft.

Suzuki has caught more than 1,500 big league games, second-most among active players behind the St. Louis Cardinals’ Yadier Molina. Molina is likely bound for the Hall of Fame. While Suzuki almost surely isn’t, the Kula boy has quietly, humbly compiled an impressive MLB resume.

Before he reported to spring training this season, Suzuki was coaching a youth team in Southern California, where he lives with his wife and three children. Whenever retirement comes, he has good things waiting for him. 

Mayor Michael Victorino—father of former pro baseball player and 2008 World Series champion Shane Victorino—declared Jan. 17, 2020, “Kurt Suzuki Day” after Suzuki won a title with the Washington Nationals. 

“I’m so proud of Kurt and what he’s been able to accomplish,” said Victorino. “Kurt stands out in so many areas. … It’s a real testament to our community, to the village that we are.” 

Jacob Shafer

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