One of my great baseball memories was watching a batting practice session in Arizona several years ago. It was just one of those typically perfect March days when the boys of summer are getting ready in the sunshine of the desert. It was fun to watch the Mariners take their cuts, until the slender right fielder stepped into the batting cage. Then the hitting became a clinic.
He drove the first pitch on a line down the left field line, the second pitch in the gap in left center, the third batting practice fastball straight into center field and so on. The guy had such control of the bat and such perfect timing that he could literally drive the ball wherever he wanted – and he did. Can’t say I’ve ever seen a better display of raw, professional baseball hitting ever.
The fact that No. 51 established an all-time Major League record last week by getting his 200th hit for the tenth consecutive season has to put Ichiro Suzuki into the ranks of the all-time greatest hitters of a baseball. The great one is a hitting machine.
Ty Cobb needed 18 seasons to get 10 seasons of at least 200 hits and the all-time hits leader, Pete Rose, took 15 years. Ichiro did it in ten straight years with the Mariners. Remarkable.
Seattle Times columnist Larry Stone speculates that Ichi could get 3,500 total hits by the time he quits, still short of Rose’s record, but remarkable considering he came to the U.S. Major Leagues at age 27. As Stone notes, had he been playing since, say, age 22 – he played 9 seasons in Japan before coming to Seattle – he’d be knocking on Rose’s door right now. Ichiro has also, generally speaking, had more at bats per season that Rose and doesn’t walk as much.
The old baseball adage holds that the really great players can do it all – hit for average, hit for power, run the bases, play defense and throw the ball with speed and accuracy. I’ve seen Ichiro jack a few, but he’s clearly not – nor has he tried to be – a power hitter. Still he has 90 homers and has always been a threat to leave the park every time he goes to the plate.
I rank him as one of the true impact players of his age. Barry Bonds – illegal drugs aside – was always an impact player, so too Mays and Clemente. Those types of players can impact a game just by being in the line up. Ichiro is in that class.
He is also the quiet, professional that shuns the spotlight and plays the great game with respect for its traditions, both in the U.S. and in Japan.
One of the first times I saw him I thought you must be joking. This guy’s mechanics are all wrong. He can look perfectly awful swinging at a pitch and stepping in the bucket. He flings the bat at the ball. He falls away from the plate. He just gets 200 hits every year.
He may not always look great slapping a base hit to the opposite field, but Ichiro is among the greatest hitters ever.