All About Ichiro and Another 200-Hit Season

It was appropriate on a day that Ichiro Suzuki reached the 200-hit plateau for a record-tying 10th straight year that his teammate, Felix Hernandez, would be a hard-luck loser of a 1-0 game.

Ichiro gets two hits and gets a standing ovation and more adulation. Felix gives up two hits and gets another loss.

Sure, Ichiro’s an incredible hitting machine. His bat control is amazing, and he’s so consistent that we sometimes take him from granted. But as the M’s speed toward another 100-loss season, you wonder if the team wouldn’t be better without him.

Is his style of play selfish?

That’s a question posed by Evan Bruschini in this column in the Bleacher Report. He breaks Ichiro’s statistics down and points out that with the Mariners trailing late in one game, he did bunt with two outs and a runner on first in 2004 while chasing George Sisler’s single-season hit record. Ichiro’s bunt was good for a hit, but the runner didn’t score.

Bruschini, however, defends Ichiro. He suggests that management might have encouraged him to sacrifice wins for a hitting record.

“Ichiro is a revolutionary,” writes Bruschini. “Like most revolutionaries, he will not be fully appreciated until his war on slugging is won.”

Bruschini makes some interesting points, but I’m of the belief that wins are the only stats that really matter. I’d prefer Ichiro sacrifice some of his slap-hits for extra-base hits. Of course, he’s now 36 and his best years might be behind him, but I always wonder what would have happened if Ichiro had tried to turn on more pitches or drive balls to the gaps. He might not have reached 200 hits every year, he might not have hit  .300 some seasons, but I think the M’s might have won more games with him hitting .290 average with 18 home runs and 80 RBI.

That said, Ichiro remains perhaps one of the most interesting personalities in all of sport, certainly the most unique to ever pass through Seattle. We’ve had the pleasure of watching him play for 10 years, and we still don’t know him. He’s managed to remain aloof, never letting anybody into his world.  The way he’s handled the media (avoided the media?) is almost as admirable as the way he can put a bat on ball.

Here’s a few links to stories about No. 51 that you might enjoy:

Frank Deford, writing for NPR, wrote about Ichiro’s style in this story: “What he does is like singing Gilbert and Sullivan when everybody is listening to rock.”

Teammate Chone Figgins talks about Ichiro’s work ethic is this story.

Larry Stone of the Seattle Times wonders what kind of hitter Ichiro might evolve into over the final years of his career. Read his blog post here.

And, in case you missed it, we got hold of Wee Wille Keeler a year ago to talk about Ichiro’s achivements after he broke Wee Willie’s American League record of eight straight 200-hit seasons. At the time, Wee Willie had been dead for 86 years, but we managed to track him down. Enjoy the story.

As Wee Willie once said, “Keep your eye clear, and hit ’em where they ain’t.”

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