Ichiro Is The Hit King America Deserves

I should start out by acknowledging that this comes from a place of total and complete bias.  I’m a huge Ichiro fan; I bought in from Day 1.  I know, I’m from the Seattle area, and you’d think it could be taken for granted that I’d be a huge Ichiro fan, but as many of you well know, there are PLENTY of local haters in the area.  Mariners fans who don’t understand Ichiro, who like him well enough but like to mock him just as often, or who simply dislike Ichiro and everything he stands for.  You’ll find plenty of Mariners fans who think Ichiro is a me-first prima donna – and maybe he was!  I have no idea.  All I know is that Ichiro is the greatest right fielder the Mariners have ever had – which is saying something, considering I was also a pretty huge Buhner fan.  Ichiro was a 10-time All Star in his first 10 seasons in the Major Leagues, a 10-time Gold Glover in the same period, a 3-time Silver Slugger, and an American League MVP and Rookie of the Year in the SAME SEASON.  If you took just his 11.5 seasons with the Mariners, right there you’ve got a Hall of Famer, discounting all that came before and all that’s come since.  How you couldn’t at least appreciate him for what he was, I’ll never understand.

He wasn’t Griffey.  He wasn’t some middle-of-the-order power hitter.  And, as a leadoff man, he didn’t even walk all that much.  But, he was (and, apparently still IS) a hitting machine, a guy who could steal you an elite number of bases (anywhere from 26-56 in his first 12 seasons), a guy who played flawless outfield defense, and oh yeah, a guy who also had a rocket arm.  The sheer number of runs he saved this team, by either chasing down balls, throwing runners out, or more importantly, preventing runners from advancing an extra base, has to be staggering.

Ichiro was the whole package, minus the power.  And, in an era where MLB contracts just started to get into the ridiculously staggering levels they are today, Ichiro never really felt like a burden financially.  He had 4 years with the Mariners where he averaged $17-18 million per season.  Over his entire Mariners career, he averaged approximately $12 million per season, which feels about right.  Hell, for a Hall of Famer, it feels like a BARGAIN!

On the All Time Mariners list, here are some of his ranks:

  • WAR – 3rd, behind Griffey & Edgar
  • Batting Average – 1st, at .322
  • OBP – 9th, at .366
  • Games Played – 2nd, at 1,844 (behind Edgar)
  • Runs Scored – 2nd, at 1,176 (behind Edgar)
  • Hits – 1st, at 2,533
  • Doubles – 3rd, at 295 (behind Edgar & Griffey)
  • Triples – 1st, at 79 (next highest has 48)
  • Stolen Bases – 1st, with 438 (next highest has 290)

I don’t care what anyone says, Ichiro in his prime was undeniably great.  And, now he’s back in the news.

Yesterday, he passed Pete Rose for most hits as a professional, with 4,257 and counting.  Pete Rose, famously, was known as the Hit King, with his 4,256 hits in the MLB.  Of course, to get Ichiro to his number, you have to include the 1,278 hits he accumulated in the Japanese professional league, which many like to denigrate as inferior.  I dunno.  Do they get paid to play the game of baseball?  Is that what they do for a living?

If we’re going to reduce the impact of hits in the Japanese league – likening it to hitting in AAA – then do we get to do the same to the era in which Pete Rose played?  I mean, come on!  Are you trying to tell me the pitchers and level of athlete in the 60s, 70s, and 80s were just as good as they are in the new Willennium millennium?  I’m afraid not, mon frere!  If I had to find an apt comparison for those bygone athletes who chain-smoked, drank religiously, hardly ever worked out, and couldn’t tell you what a “carb” was if their lives depended on it, I MIGHT be so bold and so insensitive as to compare their level of talent and athleticism to those playing in the Japanese league when Ichiro was over there getting his 1,278 hits (but, to be honest, that would be unfair to our overseas friends).

Look, I know these are meaningless numbers.  All of them.  Who cares who has the most professional hits?  If you care, then you’re doing it wrong.  The whole numbers thing with baseball is so pointless, I don’t even know why anyone talks about it anymore.  Didn’t Sosa and McGwire, and then Bonds and A-Rod already make a mockery of the whole thing with their steroids-fuelled abominations?  If you care enough to continue calling Pete Rose the Hit King, then you’re admitting that you condone Barry Bonds as the Home Run King and all that his numbers stand for.

If you’re going to get your panties in a bunch, then I’m afraid we’re just going to have to stop comparing different eras of baseball, because it’s really too much.  If you got in a time machine, pulled Pete Rose out of the 1960s, and had him start his playing career in Japan in the early 1990s, then had him follow a similar career trajectory as Ichiro, would he have become the animal he was in the 70s and 80s?  Or, would this generation’s level of talent and athleticism have overwhelmed him to the point where we’d never know the name Pete Rose?

Sorry ol’ Petey Pants, but I’m not buying it, and I’m not buying you as the Hit King anymore.  Ichiro’s my man!  Ichiro, the erstwhile 27 year old MLB rookie, who later this year is going to get his 3,000th MLB hit (21 away, as of this post), is the single greatest hit machine the sport of baseball has ever seen.  Granted, they may mostly be singles, and he may have a ton of the infield variety padding those stats, but no one said Ichiro is the greatest hitter.  Just like no one said Pete Rose was the game’s best hitter.  If that’s who you’re looking for, then you should probably go grab Ted Williams.  But, the Hit King is a different beast.  And today, that beast goes by the name Ichiro.

Look, America is swell, and it has a lot going for it.  But, America doesn’t need to be the best at EVERYTHING.  We don’t need to make every facet of our lives about who has the biggest cock, okay?  On this one, Japan gets to hold the record.  It’ll be all right!  America will still be good at other things!  Like mass gun murders!  And electing worthless, pieces of shit to be our political leaders!  And obesity, probably!

America:  All These Things & More! (just not the Hit King).

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