By In Stuff

The Gift of Ichiro


We have not shared many baseball memories. It’s no big deal. Elizabeth and I, we’ve had plenty of those father-daughter moments like when we went to see Hamilton, or when we watched the Godfather movies, or the countless times that we mumble Milton lines at each other from “Office Space.”

“Thats’s not, no, not, notinmyjobdescription …”

Baseball … well, Elizabeth likes baseball fine. Well, she likes the aesthetics of baseball, you know, the greenness of the field, she loves ballpark food (it’s really her best chance to eat cotton candy), she appreciates the atmosphere. She has been bringing books to baseball games since she was 4 or 5, and I would say that ballparks might be her favorite place to read. She has read everything from the classics to Hunger Games at ballparks across this great land.

It’s a funny thing to watch. Every now and again, the crowd will roar and she will look up from her book to ask, “What happened?” When told that someone homered or there was a double play or that an outfielder had just made a dazzling catch, she will nod knowingly and — not unlike the bank examiner from “It’s A Wonderful Life” when told about George’s brother getting the Congressional Medal of Honor — she will say: “Well, I guess they do those things.”

Elizabeth does know the rules of baseball; she picked them up innately, I suppose. When she was very young, 3 or 4, she was having a conversation with a boy she grew up with who lived for baseball.

“What position do you play?” she asked him. He told her he was a pitcher.

“Are you a starter or a closer?” she asked, at which point she gave an advanced explanation of the different pitching roles, an explanation which baffled the boy … and us. We still do not know where it came from. Elizabeth is now a few days from her 16th birthday, and I’m almost entirely certain that she could not explain the difference between a starter and a closer. But it’s in there, somewhere.

Wednesday night, we joined some great friends at the Washington Nationals game. They have world-class seats next to the Nationals dugout, the best seats Elizabeth has ever had for a game. She prepared for this bounty by reading up on the Nationals and Marlins, looking at a few old box scores, doing a quick excel spreadsheet on the quirky season of Ryan Zimmerman … no, ha ha, she packed her jacket and the book she is reading on Mata Hari.

The game wasn’t much. The Nationals scored 10 runs for the nineteenth time this season, most in baseball, and Ryan Zimmerman crunched the ball (two homers, a double and a single — good thing SOMEONE in this family did an excel spreadsheet on him before the game), and Elizabeth mostly read her book, though she did find time to wolf down an entire cone of cotton candy in about 14 seconds.

“Are my lips blue?” she asked after that, and of course they were, and she giggled happily because even though she is just about 16 and is driving a car provisionally and taking complex classes and reading advanced stuff, cotton candy still turns her into a 4-year-old.

I try to think now of a real baseball memory we have shared. I once got to introduce her to Dale Murphy, which was fun, and she asked him if he thought there would be a woman in the Major Leagues anytime soon. We once saw a minor-league game in Toledo and spent quite a bit of time talking about the players’ “interests” that were listed in the program. We once went to a batting cage during a brief spell when Elizabeth decided (after a successful gym class hitting display) that she was a naturally gifted hitter. She probably is a naturally gifted hitter in that she has pretty good hand-eye coordination but let’s just say she might lack the George Brett “hit until your hands bleed” commitment.  For her it was more like, “Hit until the miniature golf course opened up.”

So this was going to be another Elizabeth night at the ballpark except that at some point during Wednesday’s game, Ichiro Suzuki came up.

“Oh, you should watch this Elizabeth,” I said. “This is Ichiro.”

She looked up blurrily and said, “Ichiro?” She had never heard of him. It’s strange what does and does not get into the stratosphere of a teenage daughter. I suppose it depends on what YouTube stars Smosh mention. I guess Smosh does not talk much about baseball. Elizabeth was aware of Max Scherzer (“the guy with two different colored eyes, right?”) and Giancarlo Stanton and she might or might not have heard of Bryce Harper. She definitely knows Babe Ruth. Ichiro drew a complete blank.

So I told her a little bit about Ichiro. I told her that when he came over from Japan in 2001, the overriding American view of Japanese ballplayers could probably be summed up as “generally unimpressed.” Before Ichiro, the greatest Japanese hitter in the Major Leagues had been NOBODY … or it was Dave Roberts, who was born in Japan because his father was in the Marines.

So even though Ichiro had been this enormous star in Japan, a godlike figure there, the sense most seemed to have is that it would be different when he faced Major Leaguers. And it was different. He was BETTER.

That first year, right from the start, Ichiro was unlike anyone we had ever seen. He hit .350. He stole 56 bases. He scored 127 runs. He played impossibly awesome defense, He had this right field arm like Clemente. And he did it all in ways that were new to us — the way he danced around in the box, the way he could poke the ball the other way while running to first, all of it. The bat in his hand was a magic wand. He was a little bit of Carew, a little bit of Cobb, a little bit of Rose, and a little bit of Japanese samurai.

Funny, when thinking back to the 2001 Mariners team that won 116 games — the Hall of Fame type Mariners of the 1990s were almost all gone. Griffey was gone,. A-Rod was gone. Big Unit was gone. The only one left was Edgar Martinez, the rest were good but not great players. That team won 116 games behind the sheer energy and blinding brilliance of a 27-year-old Ichiro Suzuki, who had just come over from Japan. It was remarkable.

And he never stopped being remarkable. The thing with Ichiro is that he is what he is. He was never a home run hitter. He never walked enough to push his on-base percentage into the stratosphere. But at the heart of the game — one batter against one pitcher and eight fielders — no one was more fun or more brilliant. He lashed out hit after hit after hit after hit, pulling the ball, pushing the ball, blooping the ball, lining the ball, whatever it took.

Elizabeth seemed surprisingly interested.

And then I told her the Buck O’Neil story.

Elizabeth met Buck many times when she was little. He died when she was 6, but she still remembers him, remembers his embrace, remembers how he would tell her, “You are so special.” It’s something she holds pretty deeply, I think.

When Buck died, Negro Leagues president Bob Kendrick came to the office the next day. And there was a huge wreath there. It was sent by Ichiro. Bob did not even know that Ichiro and Buck had ever met. The next year, Ichiro came to the museum and he explained that he had been around Buck a few times at the ballpark, and that he saw that Buck was a man of honor. Ichiro deeply admired and loved Buck simply from being around him and sensing his greatness. Ichiro then wrote a giant check to the museum, the largest check any player had ever written.

Elizabeth was engrossed. She turned to the field to watch Ichiro hit. He’s 43 now, almost 44, and it has been years since he was a great player. He continues to play as a part-timer because he so dearly loves the game, the way Buck loved the game.  He stepped in and did his familiar winding of the bat, the artful stretching he does before every pitch. He stepped away as the first two pitches came to the plate; it’s staggering how much he moves in the batter’s box while the pitch is in motion.

On the third pitch of Gio Gonzalez, Ichiro again fell back but he slashed at the ball and lined a beautiful single to left, scoring a run. Elizabeth and her mother had spent the day in a couple of Washington art galleries.

“That,” I told her, “is art.”

The next time he came up, Elizabeth didn’t even need to be told. She jumped out of her book, and watched as he led off the seventh inning. She watched nervously, hoping he had another hit in him. The score was 8-1 Nationals at the time, the at-bat meant nothing, the Washington crowd was drunk and happy. But Elizabeth watched nervously as Ichiro watched five pitches go by; he jumped away from each of them.

The sixth pitch was a 90-mph fastball that caught too much of the plate; Ichiro turned on it and rifled it to right for another single. And Elizabeth applauded happily to the curiosity of the people around us.

He came up once more, ninth inning, game all but over, and he chopped a little ground ball toward first, easily beat it out, his third hit of the night, the 3,064th hit of his Major League career, the 4,342nd hit of his professional baseball career.

“Ichiro is my favorite player,” Elizabeth announced. “How much longer do you think he will play?”

This was thrilling. Elizabeth had only had one other favorite player, Mike Sweeney, who she got to meet when she was young. For years, she would say, “Mike Sweeney is my favorite player,” and I would have to tell her that Mike retired. She kept forgetting.

In any case, I told her I didn’t know how much longer the Ichiro baseball story goes on. That’s what made Wednesday so great. Part of me thinks he will go on forever. And part of me thinks that one day he will just disappear. Either way, Elizabeth got to see Ichiro hit. We got to see it together. It’s a baseball memory for us to share.

“How about that Ichiro?” I asked her this morning, the day after.

“He was cool,” Elizabeth said. “Are my lips still blue?”

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38 Responses to The Gift of Ichiro

  1. MCD says:


    Obviously this line refers to Milton from the movie “Office Space”.

  2. Rob Smith says:

    Ichiro is amazing. Last year the question was whether he’d make the team, and if so, would he get enough ABs to get to 3,000 hits. There were a lot of naysayers. But he just keep doing it.

    BTW: I was sure that Hideki Matsui was in the league before Ichiro & I was going to call you on that in terms of there being no good Japanese players before Ichiro. When I looked it up, I found that Matsui appeared two years AFTER Ichiro and had retired 7 years ago!!! That kind of puts the whole Ichiro thing in perspective. He’s been around a LONG time and this is his second career. He is amazing, it’s sometimes easy to forget that now that he’s in the twilight of his career.

  3. Mac says:

    It’seems great baseball when watching (an oldtimer) Ichiro.

  4. Zach says:

    As a lifelong Mariners fan, I’ve been blessed with being able to watch some singularly-amazing baseball players (if not a whole lot of winning baseball), and while Junior, Randy, Edgar, Felix, and others have all been thrilling to watch, they’ve had nothing on Ichiro, because it always felt as if he was playing a slightly different game from everyone else on the field, and that while he was great at baseball, he was even better at that other, occluded sport.

  5. David Everett says:

    I think you write like Ichiro hits. I hope you have a long career. Thanks!

  6. Jonny Scrum-half says:

    Joe, I don’t want at all to take away from the pleasure and meaning I get from your blog posts, especially ones involving your daughters. But it just occurred to me how great it will be for your daughters decades from now to re-read these posts that are public yet very intimate, and to share them with their children.

    Thanks for sharing all this with us.

  7. John Autin says:

    Another great essay. But it’s still horribly wrong to say that Ichiro was “better” in the U.S. than in Japan.

    His career stats in Japan include a .423 OBP, .522 SLG and .943 OPS. He never had one year in MLB at any of those levels. In Japan, he was always among the OPS leaders. Here, he never was even close to that leader board.

    His last year in Japan, Ichiro slashed .387/.460/.539. His first year in MLB, .350/.381/.457. Where on earth did you get “better” from?

    He’s been such a great player, and a true trailblazer, that it’s a shame some people feel the need for embellishment. Ichiro in MLB was a legit Hall of Famer, but not a superstar in terms of on-field value; he was never really a candidate for “best player in the game,” as he was in Japan.

    • Rob Smith says:

      In the smaller Japanese ballparks, he showed some pop. He had as many as 25 HRs in a year and averaged in the mid teens. Over here, with larger parks (especially on most of the teams he played for) that part of his game suffered.

      • John Autin says:

        It wasn’t just his HRs that declined here. Every aspect of his batting line suffered.

        I’m not railing against Ichiro, who was a truly great all-around player. I’m just saying that in MLB, as a *batter*, he was a singles hitter. Of all the 3,000-hit men, he has the lowest extra-base hit rate (by far), the 2nd-lowest walk rate, and thus the lowest OPS+.

        He was never a great batting force in MLB. But he was a great defender and great baserunner, and a good batter, thus a great player.

  8. Bryan says:

    Q: We’re talking about MLB hitters, but there is of course wonderful JPCL players. Let’s talk about Sadaharu Oh.
    Joe Posnanski: Best Japanese hitter before Ichiro — no question.
    Q: Why qualify it?
    Posnanski: Oh! Uh, he’s not, um, you mean the best hitter in the world before Ichiro, period?
    Q: Yeah, the best hitter in the world before Ichiro. You know, why say Japanese hitter?
    Posnanski: Well, because if he … played in Major League Baseball he’d be like 700 in the world, I don’t know that Sadaharu Oh was a better hitter than Joe Pepitone.

    • Mr Fresh says:

      I think Joe had Sadaharu Oh in his Baseball 100… so I’m not sure I follow the Joe Pepitone comment.

    • Scott says:

      I’m fairly certain Joe was qualifying it because in this case it was a part of the story. Ichiro came to the US and people didn’t expect the kind of career he’s had because no Japanese player had done so. Prior to Ichiro you could say “Oh, his home runs don’t mean too much, he never played against the best compeition.” And after Ichiro you have a much harder time making the argument that a seminal hitter like Oh wouldn’t have had some success in MLB.

      • Bryan says:

        Oh hitting more HR in JPCL play than any player had ever or still to this day hit in MLB play was probably the most American attention ever given to the JPCL up until that point. The feat was largely ignored, Sadaharu Oh was the listed answer to a Trivial Pursuit question “Who is known as the Babe Ruth of Japan?” and not the listed answer for “Who holds the record for most home runs hit in a career?”
        Then in 1987 platoon DH Cecil Fielder had .925 OPS against LHP, in 1988 .756 OPS against LHP and then in 1989 went over to Japan and hit 38 HR in 106 games. This “proved” the lack of quality of the JPCL for about a year because in 1990 Prince’s Dad hits 51 MLB HR in 159 games.
        2001 and young people and those with poor memories might have been surprised that an elite hitter in the JPCL was an effective MLB hitter. The focus on .350 BA and 242 Hits began a legend that exceeded the player’s hitting ability. Doug Mientkiewicz, Ichiro Suzuki, Scott Rolen and Trot Nixon all reach base about 3 out of every 8 times they bat and are roughly equal quality hitters in 2001.
        Ichiro Age 27-40 as a batter is just a far more high profile version of Jeff Conine or Brett Butler. Ichiro Age 41+ is just a far more high profile version of Graig Nettles batting and if Ichiro continues on his current batting arc will become a higher profile version of Omar Vizquel as a 41+ batter.
        Base running and defense also matter and Ichiro is an excellent player but the sum total of his career is largely an amusing confluence of stat heads like Murray Chass who will point to BA and Hits and place a great deal of emphasis on those two numbers and old school voters like Joe Posnanski who will talk about taking his daughter to a 3 hit Ichiro game who will both place a check mark next to Ichiro’s name on a ballot if he ever retires.
        The parallels of McEnroe’s comments about Serena Williams to Joe explaining things to Elizabeth and skipping over Sadaharu Oh amused me. 700 is a copy/paste of McEnroe’s comments, Joe Pepitone is simply one of the most recognizable names who could credibly be around the 700th best hitter in MLB history. Frank Thomas but not that one and Tito Francona the father of the Indians’ manager were other options for 700th best with name recognition.
        Number of hits as a proxy for batting ability is good enough for many members of the BBWAA even in 2017 and is certainly sufficient explanation for Elizabeth. It’s great writing and parenting, it’s just woefully lacking in accuracy and very disappointing if even with a career in sports journalism you made it all the way to 2001 thinking a nation of over 100 million people couldn’t produce ONE above average MLB hitter.

  9. Natalie Byrnes says:

    How can Elizabeth be 16?? Nice to know that like Anna, Sweeney was her favorite player. We still love your stories and miss you when reading The Star.

  10. Steve Sipos says:

    As usual, great writing. Reading The Machine right now. I didn’t think I could respect Ichiro more. Thanks Joe.

  11. Tim says:

    Oh, Ichiro’s been to the Negro League Museum? That must explain how he knows how hot it can get in Kansas City in August.

  12. Rower41 says:

    Fantastic. A slow Friday, I read this and was mentally transported to my youngest daughter’s first big league game. She was 16. It was at Nats Park and my team(Cincy) was in town. After thousands of previous attempts, I caught my first foul ball that night, and presented it to her. Some day I am going to have Brandon Phillips autograph it for her. Thanks Joe…

  13. Matt says:

    Great article, but you’re needlessly overstating the case of how awesome Ichiro was by overly lionizing his role on the 2001 Mariners. That team was more than Ichiro, Edgar, and a bunch of JAGs. Most egregiously, how can you not mention Bret Boone’s ridiculous season? .331./.372./.578 hitter in the lineup certainly helped. Yes, it was the height of the juicing era, but still: 206 hits, 118 runs, 37 homers, and a league leading 141 RBI is, to put it mildly, more than the contribution of a “good but not great” player.

  14. shagster says:

    Ichiro has moved past great player, and into that category of, ‘we won’t see his like again.’ E Coast bias, cultural bias, traditional baseball bias. He’s now past all. Out front, ahead, leaving baggage and limited vision behind. Go Ichiro …

    • invitro says:

      Traditional baseball bias? He’s the most traditional player since Pete Rose in terms of stats. Tons of singles, no power, no walks, excellent fielding and running. You couldn’t dream of a more traditional player.

      And on cultural bias… well, being Japanese is the main reason he’s so famous. If Ichiro were named Joe Williams, he wouldn’t have a fraction of the fame.

  15. EnzoHernandez11 says:

    I always assumed that Ichiro was a slam-dunk first-ballot Hall of Famer, and that he deserved to be one. But after reading this discussion, I went over to Baseball Reference to see how Ichiro compares to Tony Gwynn, our most recent archetype of the superstar who primarily hits singles. It turns out that Ichiro’s best single-season OPS+ (130) is lower than Tony’s *20-year career average* (132). So as a hitter, at least in the US major leagues, Ichiro falls a mile short of Gwynn. Now, OPS isn’t everything, and Ichiro was a better defensive outfielder for longer than Tony was, but, still, the assumption (and maybe it was only mine) that the two have similar H of F credentials couldn’t be further from the truth. Ignore the years in Japan, and Ichiro looks a lot more like Lou Brock than Tony Gwynn.

    Obviously, we shouldn’t ignore Ichiro’s Japanese seasons, and I do support his election to Cooperstown, but it turns out he’s probably more than a bit overrated. Many of you obviously already realized that, but it caught me by surprise.

    • Pat says:

      OPS+ really concentrates value of power hitters (Derek Jeter and Bobby Doerr are tied at #510, e.g.), and B-Ref comparisons of accumulation stats will make him look like American players with lower peaks who played their pre-27 seasons in the Major Leagues. They’re not ideal measures for his career.
      But take a look at his black ink (times he led the league in a stat): 43, compared to 27 for an average HOFer. That tends to show you the dominance aspect of a player’s career without taking into account length of career. By contrast, Robinson Cano, already guaranteed a Hall spot, has a black ink score of 1.
      Look at what Ichiro was good at and compare him to the rest of the Hall:
      Hits, #22. The top #42 are all in the Hall except Rose, Palmeiro & Bonds and a couple of ineligible guys named Jeter, A-Rod, and Pujols. You can get to 50+ Hall guys if you ignore Harold Baines (and add Omair Vizquel to the waiting list).
      Batting average, #90 behind a lot of deadball guys, but ahead of Hank Aaron and Willie Mays.
      Stolen bases, #36—same deadball problem, but he’s ahead of Carl Crawford, Jose Reyes, and Johnny Damon.
      Fielding: A lot of measures, but he’s #6 among RF, behind Clemente but ahead of Hank Aaron and Bobby Bonds, in Zone Runs, which tries to combine all aspects of fielding. He has the 20th-highest fielding percentage among all OF, ahead of Mike Trout.
      Bottom line, Ichiro’s career is always going to look weird under the lens of WAR. Imagine Ted Williams or Bob Feller’s career, but instead of a few years lost to the war (no pun), they lost all of them before age 27. That’s what Ichiro’s career looks like, but he still has 3,000 hits and 60 WAR, which are both basically ticket punchers on their own.
      He’s a no-doubter first-ballot HOFer, his B-Ref page notwithstanding.

      • invitro says:

        “60 WAR, which are both basically ticket punchers on their own.” — Bullshit. Of the six RF’s between 60 and 68 WAR, only one (Winfield) is in the HoF. 73 WAR may be a ticket-puncher. 60 WAR is most definitely not.

        • Pat says:

          This comment is correct. 60 WAR is enough to qualify a player for serious consideration for the Hall, not enough to ensure election. Consider the original claim withdrawn.

      • Bryan says:

        Black Ink is trying to guess who gets into the HoF based on prior BBWAA voting. Ichiro leads the league in batting average twice for 8 points, leads in hits seven times for 21 points, leads once in stolen bases for 2 points, leads in games four times for 4 points and in at bats eight times for 8 points.
        The best way to lead the league in at bats is to avoid walks, avoiding walks will also help you lead the league in hits. Imagine the BBWAA had actually learned anything about the game in the last 140 years.
        Leading the league in On Base Percentage instead of BA: Zero
        Leading the league in Times on Base instead of Hits: Once
        Leading the league in Plate Appearances instead of AB: Four
        Leaving Games which is largely double counting PA alone as well as his Stolen Bases that gives him a Black Ink score of 13.
        Ichiro is a first ballot Hall of Fame lock and that’s what his Black Ink score is meant to reflect. No, it does not reflect dominance or anything of the sort, it’s just that the BBWAA is filled with stat heads who predictably rely on specific numbers like BA, Hits, RBI and HR which allowed Bill James to develop the Black Ink metric.
        For maximum hilarity find a ballot explanation where someone goes something like “2247 Hits for Edgar, if I voted for him I would have to vote for Tony Fernandez and Willie McGee” and then will write, “I know people in the comments are going to tell me about 68.3 WAR but it’s about evaluating Edgar as a player, not about focusing on a number”.

        • Pat says:

          You are correct, and perhaps I should have written “factors that the BBWAA voters will interpret as ‘dominance'” rather than shorten it.
          Have you read Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame? The first (iirc) chapter is basically James going through all those hilarious explanations of “if I vote for him, I gotta vote for that guy.” From your comment I suspect I know the answer, but still curious.

    • Patrick says:

      “Ignore the years in Japan, and Ichiro looks a lot more like Lou Brock than Tony Gwynn.”

      As a hitter, sure. But defensively, he was light years ahead of Brock, who posted -51 rfield to Ichiro’s +117

  16. Bryan says:

    Age 27+ (based on age on June 30th) batting since 1958 to include Willie Mays. This requires dumping to a spreadsheet for the calculations so only the 200th Brian Jordan 2154 Total Bases and higher are included. Tim Salmon: 2144 Total Bases, 732 Walks, 50 Hit by Pitch = 2926 would be 162nd and Salmon along with everyone else below 200th in Total Bases is excluded from all lists. First list is leaders for Total Bases + Walks + Hit By Pitch or the long version: Singles + (2x Doubles) + (3x Triples) + (4x HR) + Walks + Hit By Pitch:
    Barry Bonds 6632, Pete Rose 5894, Hank Aaron 5629, Willie Mays 5483, Carl Yastrzemski 5391, Rafael Palmeiro 5346, David Ortiz 5246, Craig Biggio 5038, Edgar Martinez 4973, Dave Winfield 4885, Jim Thome 4872, Chipper Jones 4780, Rickey Henderson 4762, Gary Sheffield 4726, Eddie Murray 4692, Luis Gonzalez 4691, Ichiro Suzuki 4657, Darrell Evans 4595, Wade Boggs 4590, Tony Perez 4569, Jason Giambi 4566, Reggie Jackson 4551, Mike Schmidt 4530, Jeff Kent 4518, Steve Finley 4497
    A bunch of Hall of Famers, some guys who would be Hall of Famers if not for PED (suspicions) or gambling along with Edgar Martinez, Darrell Evans and Steve Finley who are lacking HoF support from the BBWAA and I don’t think have PED or gambling issues, Tony Perez who is often considered to have gotten into the Hall of Fame because Bench and Morgan slipped him in the side door and Ichiro, this is fundamentally how the BBWAA tends to vote, volume being the most important thing and occasionally deciding to “fill in what should have happened” for the rest of Kirby Puckett’s career or what if Ichiro came to America sooner. Obviously most players debut before Age 27 but that cut-off is used to level the playing field for Ichiro.
    Next up “composite average” takes those bases earned and divide by Plate Appearances, essentially Slugging Percentage with Walks and Hit by Pitch included: Barry Bonds .740, Mark McGwire .699, Larry Walker .657, Manny Ramirez .654, Albert Belle .634, Jim Thome .633, David Ortiz .625, Jeff Bagwell .621, Mickey Mantle .619, Miguel Cabrera .618. Top 10 points out the best way to make the list is some combination of PEDs and/or retiring relatively young.
    Ichiro Suzuki .438 is 189th out of 200. Aging is generally a bad thing for a rate stat so sticking only with the same 200 players and only Age 27-36, which by OPS+ and/or MVP votes this is the best case for Ichiro, first Total Bases + Walks + Hit By Pitch:
    Barry Bonds 4420, Jeff Bagwell 4289, Willie Mays 4044, Manny Ramirez 4043, Carlos Delgado 4023, Rafael Palmeiro 4008, Hank Aaron 4003, Sammy Sosa 3944, Gary Sheffield 3930, Mike Schmidt 3870, Bobby Abreu 3833, Albert Pujols 3812, Chipper Jones 3773, Jim Thome 3773, Todd Helton 3764, David Ortiz 3747, Brian Giles 3743, Alex Rodriguez 3734, Billy Williams 3732, Pete Rose 3697, Jason Giambi 3681, Harmon Killebrew 3629, Carl Yastrzemski 3587, Dwight Evans 3557, Luis Gonzalez 3557, Fred McGriff 3540, Frank Thomas 3530, Eddie Murray 3523, Craig Biggio 3510, Wade Boggs 3504, Derek Jeter 3464, Bernie Williams 3462, Vladimir Guerrero 3458, Miguel Tejada 3437, Frank Robinson 3433, Dave Winfield 3431, Ichiro Suzuki 3418, Lance Berkman 3411, Paul Konerko 3407, Larry Walker 3388
    The Top 40 with Ichiro in 37th place even with his skill of avoiding injuries and strikes. Larry Walker only has 5109 Plate Appearances in 10 years and Ichiro has 7339. In those extra 2230 PA, Ichiro gets 30 more bases than Walker. There is a reason adjusting for era is important, Carlos Delgado does benefit from that being 1999-2008 and Larry Walker does benefit from 1994-2003 and Coors while Ichiro is 2001-2010 and Hank Aaron is 1961-1970 but it’s still 30 bases in 2230 PA and Delgado had a great 10 year run. Composite Average for 27-36:
    Barry Bonds .717, Mark McGwire .709, Manny Ramirez .665, Larry Walker .663, Jim Thome .649, Albert Belle .634, Jason Giambi .633, Chipper Jones .630, David Ortiz .629, Frank Thomas .627, Sammy Sosa .626, Jeff Bagwell .624, Willie McCovey .624, Gary Sheffield .622, Willie Mays .621, Mickey Mantle .619, Carlos Delgado .618, Miguel Cabrera .618 (36 in 2019), Mike Schmidt .616, Ken Griffey Jr .614, Jim Edmonds .609, Todd Helton .608, Lance Berkman .607, Hank Aaron .607, Edgar Martinez .603, Alex Rodriguez .603, Harmon Killebrew .602, Mike Piazza .601
    17 of the Age 27 seasons are in the 90s: Edgar 1990, McGwire 1991, Bonds 1992…Thome 1998, Giambi 1998, Manny 1999, Chipper 1999, Delgado 1999. 11 are not: Mays 1958, Mantle 1959, Aaron 1961, Killebrew 1963, McCovey 1965, Schmidt 1977, Helton 2001, A-Rod 2003, Ortiz 2003, Berkman 2003, Miggy 2010. Adjusting for era is important but 177th and 178th are both 2001-2010:
    Randy Winn: 2291 TB, 454 BB, 49 HBP, 5985 PA, .467 Composite Average
    Ichiro Suzuki: 2914 TB, 457 BB, 47 HBP, 7339 PA, .466 Composite Average
    But wait, for starters Ichiro steals 383 bases the 9th most of the 200 and gets caught 88 times. Sticking with basic numbers as opposed to asking people to place faith in Rbaser a simple and reasonable calculation is add stolen bases and subtract caught stealing twice. Brett Butler 407 SB and 196 CS has a net value of 15 stolen bases because he tries a lot but wasn’t really all that good while Kenny Lofton 400 SB and 115 CS has a net value of 170 because he’s a great base stealer. Lou Brock net 297 bases and Rickey 342 while without considering CS it would be Lou 663 and Rickey 576.
    The largest gains: Rickey Henderson .061, Davey Lopes .047, Joe Morgan .044, Lou Brock .043, Tim Raines .035, Ozzie Smith .033, Barry Larkin .029, Jimmy Rollins .029, Ichiro Suzuki .028, Kenny Lofton .028, Kirk Gibson .028. That’s right, Kirk “Wheels” Gibson has 224 SB and 46 CS at Age 27-36. Tim Wallach 41 SB and 50 CS and Ben Oglivie 61 SB and 55 CS are the worst but still only lose .001, if you’re not fast just don’t try to steal bases.
    Rickey goes from 72nd (.544) between Matt Williams and Shawn Green to 25th (.605) between Lance Berkman and Jim Edmonds. Randy Winn 175th and Ichiro 157th, there is no longer an exact match for years with a really similar average but:
    Ichiro Suzuki 2001-2010: 2914 TB, 457 BB, 47 HBP, 383 SB, 88 CS, .494 Composite Average
    Melvin Mora 1999-2008: 2008 TB, 453 BB, 102 HBP, 88 SB, 50 CS, .493 Composite Average
    Ichiro has the skills of health and defense, you would have an amazing outfield if Ichiro wasn’t one of your three best OF in any year 2001-2010 and you would probably juggle 1B and DH to keep Ichiro in the outfield even if he was your 4th best overall OF. But batting alone Ichiro is a higher volume Randy Winn or Melvin Mora who became a legend because 27-36 he gets 2244 Hits, the most all-time (Pete Rose 2067, Stan Musial 1962) and has a .331 BA at that age.
    2001-2010 and Age 27-36, same years, same age, Road listed because of Helton:
    Todd Helton: .428 OBP, .539 SLG; Road: .400 OBP, .470 SLG
    Bobby Abreu: .396 OBP, .480 SLG; Road: .382 OBP, .464 SLG
    Magglio Ordonez: .380 OBP, .516 SLG; Road: .375 OBP, .497 SLG
    Derek Jeter: .380 OBP, .445 SLG; Road: .362 OBP, .419 SLG
    Ichiro Suzuki: .376 OBP, .430 SLG; Road: .373 OBP, .428 SLG
    Casey Blake: .336 OBP, .446 SLG; Road: .342 OBP, .485 SLG
    Casey Blake (1122) has exactly half as many hits as Ichiro (2244) from 2001-2010. They are both born in 1973. Through 2002 Blake has 49 games in MLB and misses about 1/3 of the 2006 season to injury. Casey doesn’t seem suited to Jacobs Field and few hit well in Dodger Stadium, his road stats might be a more accurate way to evaluate his hitting talent.
    In the 1860s Henry Chadwick developed “Total Bases Average” which is fundamentally SLG. It wasn’t until 1879 that “Reached First Base” appears which is fundamentally OBP. The BBWAA hasn’t even had 140 years to consider this bizarre concept that the goal of the batter is to reach first base so even in 2017 some people will never consider that Casey Blake and his .264 BA and .273 Road BA could have similar batting effectiveness to Ichiro with .331 BA and .330 Road BA.
    Information provided by Play Index.

  17. Richard says:

    To all of you crunching numbers to determine whether or not Ichiro belongs in the Hall of Fame:

    Do any of these people belong in the HoF? Why or why not?

    Bill James
    Marvin Miller
    Vin Scully
    Roger Angell
    Branch Rickey
    Bill Klem
    Bill Veeck

    You’ll have a heck of a time using statistics to make your case, since not a single one of them ever wore a baseball uniform. There’s much, much more to a Hall of Famer than just numbers.

    • EnzoHernandez11 says:

      I agree, though I don’t think your examples (Scully, Rickey, etc.) are particularly relevant. A large part of Ichiro’s HoF case *will* be based on statistics, including 3,000+ hits, .300+ lifetime average, etc. Had Ichiro come to the US and hit like, say, Duane Kuiper, he would not have come within a thousand miles of Cooperstown regardless of his charisma.
      That said, I do think there’s a place for marginal Hall of Famers who make it over the hump on the basis of their actual fame and/or their role in the folklore of baseball, so long as their stats get them 90% of the way. Catfish Hunter and Jim Rice would fall into this category. FWIW, I think Ichiro makes it on his own without the need for any “tiebreakers”. But he is overrated.

    • Bryan says:

      Being the top x% of your profession is the why or why not. Vin Scully is “in the Hall of Fame” the same as Tim McCarver. Johnny Bench is in the Hall of Fame and if Catcher inductions were the same as the Ford C. Frick Award most likely Tim McCarver would be inducted as a Catcher.
      One per year doesn’t necessarily mean 10 born in the 1940s but to shorten the list pick 8 Catchers born in the 1940s to go with Carlton Fisk and Johnny Bench among: Bob Boone, Rick Dempsey, Ted Simmons, Bill Freehan, Jerry Grote, Steve Yeager, Andy Etchebarren, Thurman Munson, Buck Martinez, Manny Sanguillen, George Mitterwald, Dave Duncan, Tim McCarver, John Bateman, Joe Torre, Gene Tenace, Ray Fosse, Randy Hundley and Phil Roof.
      The 10 nominees for the 2011 Ford C Frick award included 5 deceased: Dizzy Dean, Tom Cheek, Graham McNamee, Bill King and Ned Martin; 2 retired: Rene Cardenas and Jacques Doucet; and 3 active: Tim McCarver, Eric Nadel and Dave Van Horne. The winners are: 2011 Dave Van Horne, 2012 Tim McCarver, 2013 Tom Cheek, 2014 Eric Nadel, 2015 Dick Enberg, 2016 Graham McNamee and 2017 Bill King.
      6 of the 10 inducted so far along with Dick Enberg the “controversial” pick since it’s the Baseball Hall of Fame and he only did 6 years of baseball play-by-play and 7 years as a studio host so he’s clearly being inducted in part because of his career covering other sports. Annual induction from a fairly small pool of candidates and eventually Johnny Bench and Vin Scully aren’t really being honored, they are just being told they were as good at their job as Tim McCarver.
      Ichiro is an excellent baseball player for 17 seasons, unfortunately unlike the Basketball Hall of Fame which celebrates the sport and has inducted Oscar Schmidt for his play in Brazil, Italy and the massive upset of the US at the 1987 Pan Am games, the “Baseball” Hall of Fame is actually just the “Male^ Baseball in the United States, Toronto and Montreal” Hall of Fame so Ichiro’s first 7 years of baseball excellence are to be ignored by voters as the only “World” they consider is the Series. ^Effa Manley was inducted as a Negro League owner, this year Claire Smith became the first female Frick or Spink winner for covering Male US Baseball.
      On the strength of being an excellent player 2001-2010 and continuing to play in MLB for another 7+ years after that Ichiro is certainly a viable candidate. But so were Robin Ventura, Jim Edmonds, Kenny Lofton and John Olerud who failed to even get 5% support. Andruw Jones (.346 OBP, .506 SLG) and Ichiro (.376 OBP, .430 SLG) have a 10 year run of being an above average hitter, excellent runner and excellent fielder and then played more years in MLB but Hall of Fame election on merit would focus on 10 years. It’s entirely possible Andruw gets under 5% and quite likely Ichiro gets over 75%.
      Ichiro is a focal point for criticism of the BBWAA. Some people think the moon landings were faked and some people will think Ichiro isn’t even close to being qualified for the HoF but most people think man landed on the moon and even if they think Ichiro is less qualified than Kenny Lofton or Andruw Jones they still consider Ichiro a viable HoF candidate.
      Sandy Koufax being picked as one of the four greatest living players in 2015. I was really sad to hear that Mike Schmidt, Rickey Henderson, Tom Seaver and others had passed away. Koufax being inducted into the Hall of Fame, 52 BBWAA voters and some other people felt he didn’t belong in the HoF but he was elected and it’s a pretty unusual position to think that he doesn’t belong. Electing Ichiro, not a problem. The hagiography of Ichiro and how he highlights the painful level of ignorance of the BBWAA does get irritating.

  18. Trent says:

    Hey Joe, Enjoyed the article. Made me think back to the article your wrote about Jay and his dad at the Augusta Green Jackets. I also thought about you last month at Opening Night at the NEW Augusta Green Jackets Stadium – SRP Park which is actually in North Augusta. You must visit this ballpark and bring Elizabeth!

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