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September 7, 2009

The hits keep coming for Ichiro

Last August, after Ichiro Suzuki got his 1722nd career hit (number 3000 for his PRO career), I asked the Ichiro a Hall of Famer.

Now that he's reached the 2000 hit milestone here in the states (he did so in a loss against the A's Sunday night)...I'm asking again. Is this guy a lock for Cooperstown?

Sure, such Hall of Fame also-rans as Brian Downing (2 votes in 1998), Tim Wallach (1 vote in 2002) and Wally Joyner (0 votes in 2007) have more hits, but consider this...Ichiro reached 2000 hits in fewer games than all but one (Al Simmons was the other) of the 258 other cats that have gotten to the milestone.

And of the 259 players with 2000 or more one but Ichiro has done it in less than ten seasons!

I know, I know...I've gotta bring more to the table than 2000 hits, right? I mean, last season both Mark Grudzielanek and Ray Durham got theirs and I wasn't compelled to write about them.

Well, outside of his most recent milestone, Ichiro's accomplishments over his career are incredible. Let's break down the Mariners outfielder's nine year tally so far.

In terms of streaks, he is five base hits away from notching 200 or more in each of his nine seasons. By doing do...he'll top Wee Willie Keeler’s record of eight straight seasons with 200 or more hits in a season.

And assuming he doesn't flop (and he'd have to go hitless in his next 113 at bats to dip to .299), he is poised to top .300 for the ninth straight season as well.

With only four errors this season, it's likely Ichiro will bring home his ninth straight Gold Glove. His 24 career miscues in nine years is pretty spectacular given Orlando Cabrera (and yes, I know he is a shortstop, whereas Ichiro is an outfielder) has 21 this season alone.

And if you want to continue talking awards, Ichiro has been selected to the All-Star Game in each of his nine seasons. In 2001, he took home both the American Rookie of the Year Award AND MVP...the first time the double dip had been accomplished since Fred Lynn did it in 1975.

Four years into his career, in 2004, he broke George Sisler’s 84 year old record of 257 in a season when he ended up with 262.

This year, at 35 years old, you would think that Ichiro might be slowing down, right? Well, nothing could be further from the truth.

With a .362 batting average, he is the fourth oldest player (Tony Gwynn, Barry Bonds and Chipper Jones are the other three) since 1931 to have a batting average higher than .360.

In his first game of the season, with an uncharacteristic grand slam, he tied Isao Harimoto as the all-time hits leader among Japanese born players. The next night
he secured the title all for himself.

In June, Ichiro set a Mariners team record and personal best by hitting in 27 straight games.

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 eight years in the majors and is on pace to do so for a ninth straight season.

For his career, 81% of his hits have been singles and 452 of them never left the infield. By comparison, 79% or Rod Carew's hits were singles...Pete Rose and Tony Gwynn hit singles 76% of the time.

Factor in Ichiro's .331 batting average and 30 home runs as a lead off man and you could say that he and Rickey Henderson are two of the game's greatest to start a ballgame.

So where does that leave us?

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.

And if he manages to stay on his blistering pace for five more seasons, Ichiro will top 3000 hits for his Major League career. Should he fall short and end up with 2978 here in the states...he'll be tied with Rose at 4256 overall.

Should that happen, I guess we'll need to start wondering aloud if who the "hit king" really is.

BallHype: hype it up!

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