With his 10th consecutive season of 200 or more hits, the iconic Mariners bat magician extended his major-league record.
In this most brutal of Mariners seasons, Ichiro is that rarest of commodities — a player actually doing his job.
While the team crashes and burns around him, he just keeps pounding out his hits, the usual mixture of exquisitely placed line drives and maddeningly slow rollers that can’t quite be converted into outs.
For the 10th straight year, Ichiro has reached 200 hits, a standard of excellence that can be written down in ink each February. Heck, you can etch it on a plaque and send it to Cooperstown.
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His metronome-steady output has reached the iconic status of a Seattle archetype — the rain, the coffee, the flying fish at the Pike Place Market, and Ichiro’s 200 hits.
With his fifth-inning single Thursday in Toronto off Blue Jays starter Shawn Hill, Ichiro matched Pete Rose, the all-time hits leader, with 10 seasons of 200 safeties. No one in baseball history had ever had 10 in a row, until now. No one, in fact, had gone nine straight until Ichiro. No American League player has ever had more than nine 200-hit seasons in their career, with Ichiro leaving no less than Ty Cobb in his wake.
Furthermore, Cobb needed 24 seasons to record his nine years of 200 hits, and book-ended them in an 18-year span (1907-24). Rose also played for 24 years, and achieved his 10 years of 200 hits in a 15-season stretch (1965-79).
Ichiro has done it with dogged precision — 10 for 10 … and is there anyone who doubts he will make it 11, and 12, and who knows how many more? If there are signs that he is slowing down at age 36 (he turns 37 next month), or losing any of his legendary focus, they are subtle and nearly imperceptible.
Beyond that, who knows what the number would be if Ichiro had joined the major leagues at the beginning of his natural prime? For seven magnificent seasons, from age 20 to 26, he torched Japanese pitchers for averages of .385, .342, .356, .345, .358, .343 and .387.
One thing we have already learned is that Ichiro’s game was not lost in translation. We can only assume that had he started his major-league career at, say, age 22, as Rose did, he would have raked at a similar clip over here and put fear into Rose’s competitive heart on the safety of his career-hits record.
Those are imponderables. The beauty of Ichiro’s decade with the Mariners is that we can deal with reality. Even with his late start, he is creeping up MLB’s all-time hits list, reaching 162nd (tied with Todd Helton) and rising with his current total of 2,230.
If Ichiro racks up another 200 next year, he could crack the career top 100, depending on how many more he adds to the list this year (and among his next targets is former teammate and all-time Mariners great Edgar Martinez, in 157th place at 2,247).
If Ichiro can match the 1,290 hits that Rose had after age 36 — and with his conditioning and durability, I don’t see why he can’t be a productive hitter into his 40s, as Rose was — he would reach 3,500 hits. That’s a rarefied level achieved only by legends Tris Speaker (3,514), Stan Musial (3,630), Hank Aaron (3,771), Cobb (4,189) and Rose (4,256).
Ichiro’s decade with the Mariners has given us a body of work, in the realm of pure, unadulterated hitting artistry — manifested in the tangible result of bashing (or dribbling) out base hits — that stacks up with any hitter in any era.
Yes, there are various quibbles that can (and have, and no doubt will continue to be) brought to bear on Ichiro’s modus operandi.
But it never fails to baffle me when he is called a selfish player “because all he cares about is getting his hits.”
I understand the complaints are more complicated, and nuanced, than that. But the bottom line is that Ichiro does his prime task — one that is sadly being marginalized on a team as offensively weak as this as one — exceedingly well. Historically well.
Savor every swing.
|Ichiro extended his record for consecutive seasons with at least 200 hits.|