By In Stuff

Ichiro and Moon and Amazing Stories

First of all, the Ichiro getting to 4,000 total hits thing is awesome. No qualifier. It’s awesome. Ichiro is a singular player, absolutely one-of-a-kind. No player in Major League Baseball history has stockpiled hits as quickly as Ichiro Suzuki. He has 2,722 hits in his first 13 seasons — that’s 175 more than Pete Rose. The fact that he now has 4,000 hits between his time in Japan and his time in the Major Leagues is a wonderful achievement and I’m glad it’s being celebrated. No qualifier. It’s awesome.

The other day on Twitter, I wrote that his 4,000 hits was similar to the 70,000 yards that Warren Moon garnered between the NFL and the Canadian Football League. Many people seemed to dislike this comparison. They seemed to think that it was an insult to Japanese baseball to compare it to the CFL. And, look, I have no idea about the quality comparison — I was never much good at those logic puzzles, you know, “Japanese baseball is to Major League Baseball as the Canadian Football League is to the National Football League,” true-false statements you see on the SAT.

People seemed to think that I was diminishing Ichiro by making the Moon comparison. But, in fact, I think I was lifting Ichiro up by making the Moon comparison.

Here’s why: Both statistics tell amazing stories.

Warren Moon was good enough to be an NFL quarterback when he came out of Washington in 1977. There is absolutely no doubt about this. He was a dazzling high school quarterback who was given few looks by colleges. Washington did offer him a chance. And at Washington, he was MVP of the Rose Bowl his senior season.

He had a bazooka of an arm — has anyone since Joe Namath thrown such a smooth ball with such ease? He was also 6-foot-3, had a bit of mobility, he was really the ideal quarterback prospect. Not a single team drafted him, and this was in the days when the NFL Draft was 12 stinking rounds. Fourteen quarterbacks were drafted. But not Warren Moon. It’s obvious why, just as it’s obvious why few colleges gave him a look. He was a black quarterback, and this was the time when football people simply did not believe in the leadership or the decision-making of black quarterbacks. That simple. Before the 1978 draft, Warren Moon’s draft, only eight black quarterbacks had EVER been drafted by NFL teams, none higher than the sixth round.

That year, a little sports history was made: Doug Williams became the first black quarterback taken in the first round of the NFL draft. That bit of history was heady stuff for the NFL though — no black quarterback would be drafted for the next five years. This gap included Warren Moon.

So heres what he did: He went to play football in Canada. And he was a superstar. He was a crazy, fantastic, one-of-a-kind superstar. He led the Edmonton Eskimos to five straight Grey Cup championships. There are those who believe the Eskimos could have competed with NFL teams. Moon became the first quarterback at any professional level to throw for more than 5,000 yards in a season, and the next season was closer to 6,000. He led the team back in a crazy, legendary Grey Cup comeback in 1981. He was MVP of the Grey Cup again in 1983.

Then, finally, at age 28, he went to the NFL, to play for some terrible Houston Oilers teams. He threw for a lot of yards and a lot of interceptions and lost a lot of games until Jerry Glanville became his coach, and things began to shift. Then Jack Pardee came along, and his assistant Kevin Gilbride installed the run-and-shoot offense, and Moon went wild, streaming perfect and beautiful spirals all over the field, four times throwing for more than 4,000 yards, playing in nine Pro Bowls, passing his way into the Hall of Fame.

We talk a lot about statistics here, argue a lot about them. That’s fun, I think, and I’ll keep doing it forever probably. In the end, though, when you boil it down to the essence, I like the statistics that tell something like a true story. That is why I don’t like when an announcer says something like, “Bobby Wallflower is hitting .429 with runners in scoring position, so this is the guy you want up there,” only to find that Bobby Wallflower is three-for-seven with runners in scoring position. That’s not a true story. I don’t like when someone makes a big deal out of Todd Helton passing Joe DiMaggio in home runs. DiMaggio missed three prime years while serving his country in World War II and played his career at Yankee Stadium when it was a graveyard for right-handed hitters. Todd Helton is a great player, absolutely great. But use other ways of demonstrating that. The DiMaggio home run comparison does not tell a true story.

Tom Tango makes the excellent point that before we start counting Japanese statistics, we should probably count postseason Major League statistics — so Hank Aaron would actually have 761 home runs, and Derek Jeter would actually have 3,508 hits, and David Cone would actually have 202 career victories, rather than the thinner-looking 194 wins that earned him just 3.9% of the vote his one year on the Hall of Fame ballot.

I agree: I think counting postseason statistics would tell a truer story. But what about counting Japanese stats and Canadian Football League stats? Well, I have two thoughts on that. I don’t think it’s of much use as a point of comparison. I mean, Ichiro’s 4,000 hits do not really compare with Rose’s. Moon’s combined passing yards do not really compare with Marino’s or Manning’s or Favre’s. So, if you trying to make comparisons, no, I don’t think that’s dependable. And it leads to people griping that Stan Musial doesn’t get to count his minor league hits, which I don’t think is particularly helpful.

But if you are trying to tell a story? Ichiro’s 4,000 hits … Moon’s 70,000 yards … Satchel Paige’s 1,000-plus worldwide victories … Sadaharu Oh’s 868 home runs … Lynette Woodard’s 3,649 points … Bill Tilden’s six year stretch when he did not lose a single meaningful tennis match … these tell incomparable stories. And so, for get comparisons, forget what it means for the record books. They’re wonderful on their own.

Would Ichiro have 4,000 hits had he started in the Major Leagues instead of Japan? I’ll go one-step further: I think he’d have MORE than 4,000 hits. But that’s not how history played out. Would Warren Moon have 70,000 passing yards had he started in the NFL instead of Canada? Probably not, but I’ll go one step further. I think he would have been the first black quarterback to star in the NFL and might have helped create opportunities for black quarterbacks a lot earlier.Unfortunately, that’s not how history worked out either.

39 Responses to Ichiro and Moon and Amazing Stories

  1. KHAZAD says:

    Warren Moon is fifth all time in NFL passing yards NOW, despite spending his first six years playing elsewhere. I think that tells a story by itself.

    Whether or not he would have reached the round number of 70,000 or had more yards than Favre can be debated, but there is little doubt that Favre would have been working to pass him as #1 on the all time list instead of Dan Marino.

  2. Marty McKee says:

    Ichiro would have had to have started collecting 210 hits per year against major league pitching beginning at age 19 (if my math is right) to get to 4000 hits, which seems unlikely.

    • Flax says:

      He only got 210 hits once against Japanese pitching during his career there and still made it to 4000. He did start at 18, which almost certainly wouldn’t have happened in this country, but he only had 36 Japanese major league hits before age 20, his breakout season, which is hardly impossible in the United States, so even if you assume he doesn’t crack an MLB roster until 20, that doesn’t leave too many to make up. Over here he also would have had an additional 100+ plate appearances per year assuming no injuries. I don’t think it’s impossible to think he could have piled up at least as many hits, given what he did when he actually came over.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Bryce Harper and Jason Heyward started at 19. While they may prove to be HOFers in a few years, neither has had Ichiro like success. But that’s a quibble since you note that you’d assume he’d be in the league by 20. With his average of 210 hits/year, he might have in the neighborhood of 1400 additional MLB hits. That would put him within 200-300 hits of 4,000. I think that’s realistic to say.

    • Dinky says:

      Japanese leagues play 144 games per season, not 162. I was not able to easily determine how many games Ichiro actually played there. Ignoring the first two part time seasons, and assuming he played all 144 games (which I doubt) he averaged 1.23 hits per game; if he played in fewer, his average hits per game would be higher, of course. He hit .385, his best season over there, as a 20 year old, so he had to be considered big league ready. Since his averages in Japan roughly overlap his averages in the USA, I think he would have done comparably well over here. I’ll reduce his hits per game from 1.23 to 1.15 to try and be reasonable. If he’d played those seven seasons in the USA, that comes out to 1,304 hits. That puts him over 4,000 hits right now. I’m sure there is a higher level of competition over here, but in the USA he has averaged 1.34 hits per game, a higher level than in Japan. If you take that number of average hits/game (which includes his declining years) he would have had 1520 hits or so. It’s not his fault he was born in Japan.

    • Marty McKee says:

      Not sure it’s reasonable to reduce his theoretical hits by a mere .07/game. MLB pitching has to be a lot harder to hit than that. If Tuffy Rhodes is one of the biggest sluggers in Japanese baseball history, then the pitching there can’t be all that great.

      I’m not convinced Ishiro could have cracked a MLB lineup at 19, and I’m not sure he would have averaged more than a hit per game at that age. Possibly, but I don’t think so.

      Look, 4000 hits is pretty cool, but let’s not pretend Ichiro would have made it so easily on MLB pitching alone. Perspective, guys.

    • Apparently the Japanese leagues only extended their seasons in 2001, the year Ichiro cam over. Until then they were 130 games per season, which (making the same assumptions Dinky used) would have given him a pace of more than 1.40 hits per game. 0.25 hits/game fewer would translate to 40 less hits per season, which is pretty substantial. So I think a rate of 1.15 is pretty fair as a baseline approximation…the difference in the leagues isn’t THAT great.

    • John Gale says:

      I agree that the Japanese leagues aren’t quite as good as MLB. And 4000 is a *lot* of hits. There’s a reason why only two guys have done it in major-league history. That said, it’s not like Ichiro really struggled when he first faced Major-League pitching, as he racked up 242 hits in his first season with the Mariners and at least 200 (including a record 262 in 2004) in each of his first 10 seasons. If Ichiro had played his entire career in the Majors, I think he ends up with a minimum of 3500 hits. That would rank him with only Cobb, Rose, Aaron, Musial and Speaker in the 3500 hits club. And that’s really being pretty conservative. 3800 hits (passing all but Cobb and Rose) seems like a more realistic final total. And 4000 hits would have been possible.

    • invitro says:

      If Suzuki would’ve played in MLB when he was 20, that would’ve been the 1994 season. In 1994, the players who did play in MLB were:

      – Alex Rodriguez (59 PA), and
      – Ismael Valdez (28.1 IP).

      I feel safe in concluding that there is no way he would’ve played at age 20, let alone have 150+ hits.

      In 1995, there are several players who played at age 21 or below. The most PA were had by Edgardo Alfonzo with 356, followed by Johnny Damon with 206. I conclude that it’s possible that he could’ve had about 100 hits at age 21.

      In 1996, several players ages 22 or below had full seasons: the above players, Jeter, Kendall, and Renteria.

      Let’s suppose he had 100 hits at age 21, 150 at age 22, and 217 (his MLB average per season) at ages 23-26. That would give him 3840.

      To argue that he’d have >4000 hits by now, you’ve gotta make up the missing 160 hits. Maybe you’d argue that he’d have gotten 240 hits/year from ages 23-26; that’d give him 3932. Then assume 218 hits at age 22, and you’ve got 4000.

      I suppose it’s possible, but keep in mind that you’re assuming he’d have been a first-ballot, first-circle Hall of Famer, one of the top 50 players of all time. That’s a heavy assumption (I think he’s a borderline HoFer right now for a HoF with 250 players).

    • invitro: I think your reasoning sounds pretty fair, although perhaps a bit conservative. But I disagree about Ichiro being borderline; he’s an absolute first-ballot HOFer.

    • invitro says:

      Well… borderline was a mistake. Certainly a HoFer. I hope Joe will put him in the polls.

      Do you believe he is the best RFer not in the Hall of Fame? In particular, how do you rank him among LWalker, VGuerrero, DwEvans, Sosa, and Sheffield? (And maybe Abreu, Bobby Bonds, and Reggie Smith?)

      How about among HoFers Winfield, Gwynn, Crawford, and Reggie Jackson?

    • Wow, that’s a lot of names. Again, it’s hard to say given that he miss what might have been some peak seasons while playing in Japan. But probably above Winfield, Reggie Smith, Bobby Bonds, Bobby Abreu. Better than Sosa straight up, even taking his performance at face value. Sheffield was definitely a better bat, but was brutal defensively, so I’d rank Ichiro above him too (again taking performance at face value). Probably around the same level as Gwynn, who had a pretty similar skill set with a bit more power. Vlad is tough…I’d say Vlad definately had a higher peak, but not quite the longevity; I’d probably give it to Vlad. Even or just below Evans. Probably below Sam Crawford and Reggie J, below Walker.

    • Invitro, with respect to hits at age 20, look at the list of those with 299 or more: Robin Yount, Ty Cobb, Mel Ott, Al Kaline, Griffey Jr., George Davis, but also Phil Cavaretta, Buddy Lewis, Edgar Rentaria, Sibby Sisti, Ed Kranepool. Available to any ML team at age 20, Ichiro could have had at least 200.

      Ted Williams, 185 and 107 walks; Mickey Mantle, 262; A-Rod, 259; Mike Trout, 209; Bryce Harper 229 and counting. . . .

      Ichiro averaged 227 hits in MLB during his age 27-33 seasons. His line in Japan at age 26 was 105 games, 153 hits (1.46/game). At age 27 in MLB with Seattle, 157 games, 242 hits (1.54/game). Why is it hard to believe he would have averaged 200 hits/year at ages 20-26 for Seattle? That would put him at 4123 (I think). Not counting the 156 Ichiro hits in the Japanese minor leagues.

      Ichiro is not great at drawing walks or hitting for extra bases. He is a great fielder and he is great at getting hits.

    • invitro says:

      I believe it’s -possible- that Ichiro could’ve had 150 hits at age 20 and 200 hits at age 21. I don’t think it’s -probable-. My argument above is my main reason.

      I forgot to note that 1994 and 1995 were both strike-shortened seasons. The 1994 hit leader was Tony Gwynn, with 165 hits for his famous .394 BA that season. It just does not seem possible, by any stretch of the imagination, that Ichiro would’ve had 200 hits in 1994.

      In 1995, the hit leaders were Gwynn and Bichette with 197. So it does seem possible that Ichiro could’ve had 200 that season… but still not probable.

  3. Flax says:

    Ichiro only had one 200-hit season in Japan, so while it’s impossible to know how starting in the majors at age 20 or so would have affected his career trajectory, assuming he still developed the same way, I think more hits than he had in Japan is moderately likely. Rose should be grateful he didn’t come over until he was 27.

  4. rytach says:

    Keep in mind that there were only 130 games played in Japan when Ichiro hit 210 hits.And he is still the only hitter that ever hit more than 200 hits in 130 games.(forgot how many games are played in Japan nowadays)

    • Rob Smith says:

      Exactly. 32 fewer games for a guy who’s averaging about 210 hits/season. That’s 1.29 hits per game. So, about 41 hits per season he would have gotten in Japan had they played 162 games.

    • Rob Smith says:

      That’s per season MORE he would have gotten.

    • Devon Young says:

      I got something to add to that… Ichiro pulled off that pace against MLB pitchers/defenses in 2004 (212 hits in the first 130 games). So that pace he was hitting in Japan, wasn’t the result of a weaker talent pool.

    • Which Hunt says:

      Right. Just because its easier for American power hitters to dominate in Japan, does not necessarily mean it’s easier for a contact hitter there. In fact based on WBC play I would say Japan produces the world’s best contact hitters. Japan has a different style of play, but is it clearly inferior in every way to MLB competetion?

    • Daigo Koyasu says:

      A season in Japan has now 144 games.

  5. djangoz says:

    I thought the Japanese hits being rolled in was kind of strange too. But Ichiro seems like a classy player and beloved by many and that’s why it’s become the story this week.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Well, and I think because with Japan’s success internationally … beating all comers in the WBC, and with the success of some other Japanese player is MLB, I don’t think we can equate their league to a kind of minor league. With Ichiro’s success in MLB, it would be pretty hard to say that he wouldn’t have had similar success had he arrived at MLB as a 20 or 21 year old. With the extra 32 games/year in MLB, he might well be approaching 4,000 hits had he come over at a young age.

  6. ceolaf says:

    sign that you are old: you mention the analogies on the SATs.

    They’ve been gone for a while.

  7. Frank says:

    I cannot disagree more on the concept of adding in “post-season” stats. MLB “post-season” has grown from the concept of one best of seven series (with the possibility of having only four such games), to three full rounds and a coin-flip game (with the possibility of having as many as 20 such games).

    Hank Aaron played in 17 “post-season” games; Derek Jeter: 158 – basically an extra season. Part of this is due to the fact that Jeter’s Yankees made the playoffs every year (save one) in his entire career. But then, again, when 8 to 10 teams make the playoffs, that creates many more chances than Aaron had for most of his career when only 2 teams made the “post-season.” And then when you get to the post-season there are so many more games.

    I absolutely hate it when some goofball announcer claims that Chris Carpenter sets a Cardinals post-season record for whatever (e.g. strikeouts), just passing Bob Gibson, as if Carpenter is so much better than Gibson. Carpenter has pitched in 18 post-season games in 5 years; Gibson 9 in 3.

    So, no, Joe, yield not to the temptation to add post-season stats or Japanese stats or CFL stats or AAA stats. Let those things speak for themselves in their own context.

    • Hot Cousin says:

      Not that they would ever change it. There’s too many sacred numbers out there, 714, 755 etc. But it seems to make more sense to count them.

      Obviously they shouldn’t count as season stats, because they’re not. But they did really happen in games that count, and you know count a lot.

      Your point about comparing Gibson to Carpenter in the “post-season” is spot on because you are comparing entirely different animals. You couldn’t compare seasons stats if we suddenly went to 439 games.

      But adding hits that a player actually hit to his hits is at the very least not crazy.

      Yes, a Jeter would have an advantage over any old timer or an Ichiro with his 19 post-season games played. But we count lots of things that players on good teams have an advantage at, runs, rbi, etc. Even hits are a product of getting more plate appearances, which having a good team gives you. And to some degree the advantage is earned. The Yankees don’t go to the post-season, or as deep into it as they have without Jeter.

      Also a player that reaches the post-season has to play more games, which really is a disadvantage for the next season. A pitcher that makes 5 or so starts in the post-season and can’t rest his arm to November is definitely at a disadvantage. Jeter broke his ankle in the post-season and that has had some roll over effect into 2013!

      Really if these stats had always been counted and someone suggested taking them away I can only imagine the outcry.

    • Tangotiger says:

      “Really if these stats had always been counted and someone suggested taking them away I can only imagine the outcry. “


      Check out Pele’s goals are counted.

  8. Wilbur says:

    While I was vaguely aware that Warren Moon was a good qurterback at Washington, I never saw him play until they played in the Rose Bowl. I was astonished – to my eye, he was the best college quarterback I had ever seen, not even close. That’s no exaggeration.

    Then when he went undrafted, I didn’t think that much of it; the draft was not that much on the public’s radar back then. I just thoughtlessly assumed the pros knew something I didn’t and didn’t give it a second thought.

    A lot of NFL franchises would’ve had much different histories had they spent a late round pick on him. Amazing to think about.

  9. The thing about a hit total, is it really only counts how good you are at getting hits, so it’s meaningless, like RBIs and runs scored.

    • Which Hunt says:

      Hits are not meaningless. They are not the sum total of offensive value, but there is nothing meaningless about a hit or using hits as a counting statistic. RBIs and runs scored are context based and (more or less) out of the players control.

  10. Jason Dennis says:

    I don’t want to be a jerk, but if you didn’t see Warren Moon play, his statistics at Washington were not impressive. He had more picks than TDs, and his completion percentage was low. I know that back in the late 70’s QB stats were not as good in general, and anything over 55% was amazing, and any positive TD/INT ratio was elite, but nothing jumps out at you about Warren Moon’s stats at Washington. So it’s completely plausible that he didn’t get drafted.

  11. Wilbur says:

    In the Rose Bowl game I watched, he was head and shoulders above any other player on the field. It’s obviously dangerous to form a judgment from one game, but I was that impressed.

    You’re not being a jerk. At all.

  12. I think Warren Moon was Grey Cup MVP in 1982, not 1983.

    P.S. I hate pointing out a minor correction because it implies I have nothing good to say about the article. Which is true. It’s an awesome piece, but I have nothing worthy to add. 🙂

  13. sourcreamus says:

    I looked at all the stats of the Quarterbacks drafted ahead of Moon and for the most part they are better than Moon’s. Moon started for 3 years at Washington and had a career completion percentage of 48.8 and averaged 105.7 yards per game. His senior season was by far his best and his stats were not great. He was not amoung the 10 ten quarterbacks in any statistical category. In contrast Doug Williams had twice as many yards and 27 more touchdowns that same year. In the Rose Bowl Moon was 12-23 for 188 yards, one TD passing, two running, and two interceptions.
    His rookie year in Canada was nothing to write home about either. 74.1 yards per game, seven interceptions versus 5 touchdowns. He didn’t lead the league in yards until his fifth year in the CFL and it was not particularly close before then. Dieter Brock threw for 800 more yards than Moon in 1981.
    Moon matured late and was still having great seasons at an age where most quarterbacks are retired.

    • aweb says:

      Moon was a platoon QB in Edmonton for several years, which is why his early CFL career numbers don’t look all that impressive. From 78-81 he split time with another QB (Tom Wilkinson), who was considered the starter for the early years of the job sharing. Wilkinson was a good QB and had a number of solid years before and during Moon’s tenure. Aside from a lackluster rookie year, Moon’s numbers per attempt are good starting in 1979, great by 1981, and by 1982 he got the full time job.

      Those Eskimo teams are legendary in the CFL, winning 5 straight titles. With a lesser incimbent QB to displace, Moon is racking up the yards even sooner. Although a job share at QB for his early years may have helped his later longevity, so I won’t argue it kept him from 80,000 yards.

  14. Actually Warren Moon signed with the CFL before the 1978 NFL Draft. Which is kind of why he wasn’t drafted. And trivia fans can answer this one, who was the only quarterback drafted in the first round of the 1978 NFL Draft?

    Doug Williams.

  15. Warren Moon signed with the CFL before the 1978 NFL Draft. That is why he was not drafted.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *