Why Ichiro Should Be Celebrated
Ichiro Suzuki is on the verge of history and he is being overlooked. The 16-year MLB veteran has played a flashy game that has dazzled fans ever since his rookie season. Though never winning a championship, Ichiro's career is one of mind-blowing statistics, however, none may be bigger and more meaningful than what he is about to accomplish at some point this week.
He has a career batting-average of .314, including seasons of .350 and .372. He has also 10 All-Star games, an MVP, and Rookie of the Year award to his credit as well, but what he is most widely known for is his ability to hit. Ichiro owns the single season record for hits in a season (262) and singles in a season. His unorthodox style of hitting in which his hands stay in the hitting-zone longer than any hitter I've ever seen, is something to marvel about.
What may be even more impressive is where he did it. Playing the majority of his career at Safeco field in Seattle, a notorious pitchers park, Ichiro was able to produce, and did so without any protection in the lineup on a team that struggled within their division nearly every year he was there.
The slap-hitting lefty has racked up 2,977 hits while playing for the Seattle Mariners, New York Yankees, and his current team, the Miami Marlins. Ichiro heads into Wednesday's game against the San Diego Padres needing only 23 hits to reach the highly-coveted 3,000 hit club. He also has racked up 1,278 hits while playing for the Orix Blue Wave of the Nippon Professional Baseball League in Japan (now the Orix Buffaloes).
With two more hits, Ichiro will surpass Pete Rose with the most hits in professional baseball with 4,257. With the milestone quickly approaching, many have turned a blind-eye to Ichiro; being that he is on the Miami Marlins probably doesn't help his case either, but nevertheless, we should be paying more attention to what Ichiro is about to achieve.
Pete Rose weighed in on the perception of Ichiro's possible record.
"They're trying to make me the 'Hit-Queen,'" Pete Rose said when asked about Ichiro's milestone. "Next thing you know they'll be counting his high school hits."
It's obvious that professional baseball in any other country doesn't relate to the quality in the MLB, but should we discredit Ichiro for not playing the best players in the world at the start of his career?
Arizona Diamondbacks hitting coach Mark Grace believes that the lack of publicity that's being payed to Ichiro is a bit disheartening and shameful.
"I cannot believe it's not a bigger deal in Major League Baseball. Shame on us for not making a bigger deal out of it," Grace said. "You're talking about breaking Pete Rose's record. I couldn't care less if he got some of those hits in Japan or in Antarctica. You're getting hits at high professional levels. That's huge. I'm in awe of the guy."
To say that the caliber of players in Japan aren't to the level of that here in the U.S. is rather ignorant. After baseball was removed as an Olympic sport in 2005, Japan has won 2-of-3 World Baseball Classic's, while the U.S.'s best finish in the event is 4th place in 2009.
"The fact is that he's going to have 3,000 hits here, and to have all of those hits in Japan, too, tells you how special he is," Ichiro's manager Don Mattingly said. "The hits over there are hits against good quality pitching, basically major league-caliber players, so they're legitimate for sure."
Given Rose's gambling history, perhaps we should be celebrating Ichiro even more for the way he goes about playing and handling himself. He is a model for many young players for the way in which he carries himself as a professional, especially for a foreign player.
Should Ichiro had played his entire career in the MLB, who knows how his career statistics would look and how many hits he would have. He would probably be perceived as one of the best players in MLB history. Perhaps Ichiro's mark should be held with an asterisk? That is up for debate. The way Ichiro is performing at the end of his career is exceptional. He still runs out every ground ball and plays the game as though he is a 25-year-old up-and-comer. With the way the game is evolving, and how pitchers are throwing harder with more movement than ever, we should be celebrating this historic milestone Ichiro is about to achieve. He deserves it and so does the game.