August 10, 2008

"I'm intercontinental when I eat French Toast"

So here we are. We’re deep into the second half of the baseball season, in the midst of the 2008 Olympics and I’ve got next to nothing write about.

Or do I?!?

I mean, I don’t care about what Michael Phelps is going to do (or not do) in Beijing, I can’t name any of our gymnasts and unless Bird, Magic and Michael come back to take on the world…the “Redeem Team” isn’t really getting me excited.

However, all the hype about Summer Games has me thinking “international” and waxing nostalgic about conversations I’ve had, things I’ve seen and most importantly…other blogs I’ve read.

A number of weeks back…my man Nick Underhill wrote on HIS
SITE that Ichiro Suzuki wasn't worth the all hype.

I disagreed with him as I’ve had this conversation a number of times. Yes, what you’re thinking is correct and I’m exactly how you picture me…I’m one of those dorks who, when out with the “gang”, is talking baseball past rather than that particular night’s highlights.

I love the numbers…I love the stats. But unfortunately, Nick may have been right to an extent.

And I hate it.

The other night when Ichiro got career base knock number 1722 (he’s now at 1743)…very few media outlets made a big deal out of it. And why would they? At 1722…he was right between Cy Seymour and Cupid Childs on the all-time list.

Who?

Exactly.

Then why all the fuss? Why the Hall of Fame talk for a guy who TECHNICALLY isn’t even eligible for the National Baseball Hall of Fame?

Well, beside the fact that his numbers are sick (and yes, we’ll get to those later)...hit 1722 was number 3000 for his career. That’s right…add his career numbers with the Orix Blue Wave and the Seattle Mariners and you’ve got a guy who was SECOND fastest to three grand.

Ty Cobb did it in 2135…Ichiro got his in 2175. By comparison, it took Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente and Wade Boggs close to 300 more games to get their 3000.

Ichiro’s career already reads like that of a Hall of Famer and he’s two years shy of being eligible.

In 2001 (Ichiro’s first year in the majors), he became the first player in more than fifty years to lead the league in both batting average and stolen bases. His 242 hits is a rookie record and helped pace him to become only the second rookie to win both the MVP award and Rookie of the Year honors.

In 2004, he broke George Sisler’s 84 year old record of 257 in a season. Ichiro ended up with 262.

Ichiro set the American League record of 45 straight stolen bases without being caught in 2007. For his career, Ichiro is sitting at 307 stolen bases…506 if you count his games with Orix.

Ichiro has won the Gold Glove award in each of his seven years in the majors. He has also been selected to play in all eight All-Star games he’s been eligible for…starting all but one.

If Ichiro gets 200 hits this year, he’ll tie Wee Willie Keeler’s record of eight straight seasons with 200 or more hits in a season. When he accomplishes this…he’ll be the only player to ever do it in his first eight seasons. In his first seven seasons, he's led the league four times and finished second the other three. In two of those second place finishes, he was a combined four hits behind the league leader.

And speaking of streaks, he is also poised to have scored 100 runs for the eighth straight season.

The knock on Ichiro (if there is one) is that he is a singles hitter…and nothing more. He's led the league in singles each of his seven years in the majors and 81% of his hits have been just that...singles.
By comparison, 79% or Rod Carew's hits were singles...Pete Rose and Tony Gwynn hit singles 76% of the time.

So what’s the problem with hitting singles? Unlike the other three, it’s been said that Ichiro COULD be a power hitter if he chose to.

After that, a lot of people point at his 117 OPS+ as being unsatisfactory even though it bests Hall of Famers Robin Yount (115), Cal Ripken (112) and Ryne Sandberg (114). Rose, arguably of one of the best hitters of all-time, has a career OPS+ of 118. Future Hall members Roberto Alomar and Craig Biggio are at 116 and 111 respectively.

See what I am getting at?

But let’s say that Ichiro hangs it up after this season…he wouldn’t have the mandatory ten years at the Major League level. Should that be reason enough to keep him out?

I don’t think so.

Ichiro is primed to be the guy who opens the Hall doors to our neighbors from across the Pacific. He was the first Japanese player to become an every day player at the Major League level…the previous imports were all pitchers.

Combined, Ichiro carries a career .340 batting average. He is currently at .331 in the Majors (two league batting titles and two other top four finishes), and had a career .353 average overseas.

Similar to the recent Negro League players that have made their way to Cooperstown, it is time for the museum to recognize more players that never had the chance of playing in the Majors. This thing is, after all, the NATIONAL Baseball Hall of Fame…not the MAJOR LEAGUE Baseball Hall of Fame.

And while I realize that the word “national” would, by definition, NOT include international players, can’t we all agree that regardless of whether or not he hits any of the mythic Major League milestones…Ichiro belongs?


BallHype: hype it up!

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