Some baseball purists, not to mention current and ex-big-leaguers, bristle at the suggestion that the biggest Mariners highlight of a wild, 11-10 loss to the Texas Rangers was on a par with the career accomplishments of Tony Gwynn, Paul Molitor, Carl Yastrzemski and others.
ARLINGTON, Texas — A flare into left-center field by Ichiro on the first pitch of Tuesday night’s game kicked the latest debate over him into full throttle.
As with most debates Ichiro, it’s rather unique to the sport of baseball. Whether his 1,722nd hit in the major leagues should be combined with the 1,278 he had in the Japanese League to create a 3,000-hit milestone now reached.
Some baseball purists, not to mention current and ex-big-leaguers, bristle at the suggestion that the biggest Mariners highlight of a wild, 11-10 loss to the Texas Rangers was on a par with the career accomplishments of Tony Gwynn, Paul Molitor, Carl Yastrzemski, George Brett and others. They say that Japanese baseball, while professional in money paid, is not played at the skill level of the major-league product and thus irrelevant to any milestone counting.
But Ichiro, speaking after the latest blown save by J.J. Putz, on a two-run, walkoff double in the ninth by Ramon Vazquez, suggested that baseball in Japan is not the cakewalk some make it out to be.
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“People that want to say things like that … all I’m going to say is that in Japanese professional baseball, they don’t use metal bats,” he said of the milestone’s critics, through an interpreter.
The caliber-of-league argument is one that Warren Moon, a Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback, has heard often. That the six years he spent getting drilled by tacklers, often in sub-zero temperatures, in the Canadian Football League should be ignored when it comes to calculating his career totals for milestone and Hall of Fame purposes.
“You can’t blame him for where he was born and where he played,” said Moon, the former Washington Huskies star who, spurned by the National Football League, led the CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos to five straight championships before beginning his NFL career with the Houston Oilers. “Just like me. You can’t blame me for the NFL not wanting me to play quarterback.”
Moon amassed 49,325 passing yards in 17 NFL seasons with Houston, Minnesota, Seattle and Kansas City. He also threw for 21,228 yards in the CFL and has wondered how much larger his NFL totals would be had he been given a chance to begin his pro career in the United States.
It wasn’t exactly a six-year party north of the border.
“I was running the football up there as a quarterback a lot,” Moon said by phone Tuesday night, soon after Ichiro’s hit attracted applause from the crowd of 17,618 at Rangers Ballpark. “All of that takes a toll and potentially shortens your career. It’s the same with Ichiro. You wonder what he could have done if he didn’t spend all the years he did playing over there in Japan. We see what he’s done each and every year he’s been here, if you take those totals and average them out for the years he played over there, he’d probably still be at 3,000 hits.”
Ichiro got the first 1,278 hits over nine seasons in Japan, where there were between 130 and 135 games played per year. He now has 1,723 — with two hits last night — in his first seven-plus seasons in the majors.
“If you look at it, my pace at getting hits in the U.S. is quicker than in Japan,” Ichiro said. “So, if people are going to say those kinds of things, I’d like them to take a look at that stat.”
That logic makes sense to Nolan Ryan, the Hall of Fame pitcher who logged a major-league-record 5,714 career strikeouts and seven no-hitters.
“I think 3,000 hits are 3,000 hits,” Ryan, the current Rangers president, said moments after Ichiro’s big hit. “It doesn’t matter what league he did it in. For him to come out here and do what he did right away is a remarkable accomplishment. It’s a tribute to him as a player that he’s been able to do it for so long. When you get to the stage of 3,000 hits, that’s an accomplishment and I don’t care where he did it.”
Ichiro got his hit, then watched Carlos Silva fall behind 6-0 after just 2-1/3 innings. The Mariners trailed 9-3 in the sixth when they scored three runs off reliever Jamey Wright. Jose Lopez and Bryan LaHair then opened with back-to-back homers off Wright in the seventh to make it a one-run game.
Seattle went ahead 10-9 in the ninth as a two-base throwing error by third baseman Vazquez allowed two runs to score. But Putz yielded consecutive singles to start the ninth and then, one out later, Vazquez cleared the bases on a ball hit just beyond Ichiro’s reach.
Some critics of Ichiro’s “milestone” will point to onetime major leaguer Tuffy Rhodes, who hit 415 career homers — with 403 of them coming in Japan — and suggest it would be a mockery to include him in MLB’s 400-club. They will ask, in all seriousness, whether Ichiro’s feat means winter ball or Mexican League totals should count toward players’ career stats.
Moon’s totals in the CFL weren’t counted in Hall of Fame balloting.
“I always felt like I belonged regardless,” Moon said. “That my numbers in the NFL were good enough on their own.”
In the end, he feels Ichiro’s will be as well.
“If he keeps going this way, he’s going to get it in any case,” he said. “If you look at Ichiro, it doesn’t matter where he plays. He was successful. Whether you combine his numbers or not.”
• Mariners interim general manager Lee Pelekoudas told reporters before game time that he has fielded numerous inquiries about trades ahead of Thursday’s deadline and is still talking to clubs. But Pelekoudas insisted the Mariners will not make any “salary dumps” and must receive value that will “make the club better” in return.
“We’re not in any time crunch,” he said. “There’s no deadline to get this club turned around in the next two days, the next week, or the next two weeks or three weeks.”
• Kenji Johjima was feeling too sore to continue after being drilled on the left knee by a C.J. Wilson pitch in the ninth. With the Mariners’ bench depleted — Jeff Clement is hurt and Jose Vidro has a bad neck — pitcher Jarrod Washburn was called on to pinch-run and was so caught off-guard that he had to race back to the clubhouse to put on his game jersey and spikes.
Washburn forgot his belt, then was given the one belonging to manager Jim Riggleman, who took it off his pants. Washburn wound up scoring from second on the Vazquez throwing error, but only after first freezing between second and third on the grounder hit to his right.
• Lopez extended his hitting streak to a career-high 15 games with three hits, including a homer and two singles, one of them to lead off Seattle’s two-run rally in the ninth.
• The home runs by Lopez and LaHair in the seventh were the first consecutive long balls all season by Seattle.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read his daily blog at www.seattletimes.com/Mariners
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