International baseball star Ichiro Suzuki has turned down the nation’s prestigious People’s Honor Award for the third time, a government spokesperson said Friday.
Ichiro, who retired from professional baseball last month, instructed his agent to notify the government of his intention to decline the award, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press briefing in Tokyo.
The 45-year-old former major leaguer said he wishes to “devote himself so he can receive it when he draws a curtain on his life,” according to Suga.
“We will respect his thoughts and we will not go forward with (offering him the award) following his retirement,” the top government spokesman said. “He is a superstar who has given many people hopes and dreams, and I look forward to his future endeavors together with the Japanese people.”
The government has attempted multiple times to present him with the award for the numerous records he established during his career in Japan and the United States.
Ichiro announced his retirement last month following the Seattle Mariners’ season-opening series against the Oakland Athletics at Tokyo Dome. Playing in his 28th professional season, and 19th in the majors, he started in the outfield for the Mariners but was hitless in the two games.
Japan’s government first offered the award to the outfielder for his impressive debut season in the United States in 2001, before asking again in 2004 after he set Major League Baseball’s single-season hit record with 262.
Ichiro joined the Seattle Mariners in 2001, becoming a fan favorite across two countries with his unique batting style, speed and defense. That year, he won the American League’s Rookie of the Year and MVP awards as he helped lead the Mariners to a record-tying 116-win season.
Ichiro, who started his career in 1992 with the Orix BlueWave, now known as the Orix Buffaloes, had more hits in professional baseball than any other player — numbering 4,367 combined across Japan and the major leagues.
He signed with the New York Yankees in 2012 before joining the Miami Marlins in 2015. After returning to the Mariners last year, he was cut last May and given a front office role for the rest of the season.
Established in 1977, the People’s Honor Award has been bestowed upon individuals and one team for achievements in sports, entertainment and culture, including securing Olympic gold medals.
The most recent recipient was two-time Olympic figure skating gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu, who was handed the award by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in July 2018.