A Sure Thing: Ichiro Is In The Hall

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - September 12, 2007
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To: National Baseball Hall of Fame

Subject: Ichiro Suzuki

Dear sirs,

You might as well get the engraver started. The outline for the plaque is written and you just need to fill in the blanks.

Better known by his first name, Ichiro, the speedy outfielder reached the 3,000 hit plateau faster than anyone in baseball history finishing with (__) hits. A winner of ( ) batting titles, he hit ( ) with (—) stolen bases during his ( ) year career. In 2001 he was named the American League Rookie of the Year and MVP after hitting .350 with 56 stolen bases. Three years later he became baseball’s single-season hit leader with 262. The ( )-time All Star was also one of the best defensive players of his era winning (_) Gold Glove Awards and known for a strong and accurate arm. Suzuki was a legend in his native Japan prior to arriving in the United States. In eight seasons with the Orix Blue Waves, Suzuki complied a .353 career batting average.

The question is not if, but when Ichiro Suzuki will be inducted into the Hall of Fame. The answer is five years after retirement when he’s first eligible. He’s a certain first ballot guy, who at the age of 34 appears to have another 10 productive years ahead of him if he so desires. The only thing that could derail him in his chase for 3,000 is an injury - always a possibility for any athlete, but one that should be of little concern for the man who keeps himself in tremendous physical condition and who has only missed 15 games in his first six complete seasons.

Serious talk about Suzuki’s future in the Hall began in 2004 when he hit a career high .372 while establishing a new single season hit record that Hall of Famer George Sisler established 84 years prior. Since then he has just added to his legacy as not just one of the best players of his era, but as one of the best players of all time.

In July he became the third fastest to reach 1,500 hits behind Sisler and another Hall of Famer, Al Simmons. Ty Cobb, a rather decent hitter in his day, is fourth on the list.

On Sept. 2, Suzuki joined Wade Boggs and Wee Willie Keeler - two more Hall of Famers - as the only men in the history of the game to have seven straight 200-hit seasons. Keeler holds the record with eight, and would anyone bet against Ichiro’s chances of tying and then passing Keeler?

During his short time in the Major Leagues, Suzuki has won six Gold Gloves and has been named to seven All-Star teams. He has two batting titles, has finished no lower than second in hits in any one season and no lower than fifth in stolen bases. This season has been more of the same. As of this writing Suzuki has 203 base hits, 37 stolen bases, is hitting .352 and is playing Gold Glove quality defense in center field.

The only thing missing from Suzuki’s resume is the one thing that will be most difficult - a serious run at .400. If anyone has a shot at reaching the mark that was last broached by Ted Williams in 1941, it’s the guy from Kasugai, Japan. Suzuki’s bat control is unparalleled, which allows him to foul off pitches until he gets one he can deposit behind the infield. His speed is a huge factor allowing him to bunt for base hits and to leg out any misplayed ball in the infield. He’s got everything needed to succeed except for patience at the plate.

For all his amazing ability with the bat, Ichiro walks very little and strikes out too much. Since his rookie season with the Mariners, Suzuki’s best year for free passes was in 2002 when he drew 68. Since then he’s only gotten within 20 of that mark on two occasions. And while his average of 64 k’s per season does nothing to threaten Adam Dunn, it’s too many compared with his walk totals. Unfortunately, those are two things that’s he’s going to need to improve on to reach a mark that has only been hit 28 times by 15 different men. At his current pace of averaging 682 at-bats per season, Suzuki would need 273 base hits - or 48 more than the norm - to reach .400. That’s just not going to happen, so he’s going to have to cut down on his at-bats. Since 1900 only three men have hit .400 with more than 600 at bats.

Ichiro may not become No. 16, but no matter. He’s hall-bound and just waiting for the official invite.

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