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Batter Up

I’m ready. I know, we’re in the midst of March Madness, the greatest season on the US sporting calendar. And what a four days of basketball we had last week! Plus, my own school (Washington, that is) is right in the hunt. If it weren’t for Cornell’s surprise success, we might be getting all the attention this week.

But — basketball is boring. Really. Okay, underdogs win. Surprises happen. But who wants to watch intentional fouls and timeouts and foul shots and more timeouts? That’s exciting? I happened to turn on one of the first round games with 40 seconds left. Ten minutes later, the game hadn’t ended yet. I’m not exaggerating. I timed it. (In contrast, how about Michigan State-Maryland? Joel and I were stunned that a game could still end that way. In the final 40 seconds or so, Maryland scores to go ahead for the first time since early in the game, Michigan State retakes the lead, Maryland retakes the lead, Michigan State scores to win as time runs out. Forget the time outs and foul shots. Not with one-point margins. But this is the rare exception.)

I mention all this by way of saying: It’s time. Bring on baseball.

And for those of us in Seattle, let’s take a moment to appreciate how lucky we are. We are about to enter our tenth year of getting to watch Ichiro. Not everyone is so lucky. St. Louis is, thanks to Albert Pujols. Who else? Who gets to see one of the great baseball players in history for so long?

How great is Ichiro? Some have argued that his impact is limited, because despite his high batting average, he doesn’t walk much (so his OBP is not so high) and he doesn’t hit for power. I’m certainly not going to argue that his value to a team is equal to Pujols’. But in any case, this isn’t my point. My point is that in his own way, Ichiro is one of the great players in history. And I don’t need to work too hard to make this argument, for Joe Posnanski has done so this afternoon in his latest blog post. A sampling:

I don’t think there has ever been a player in baseball history quite like Ichiro Suzuki.

Or, anyway, there certainly has not been a player quite Ichiro since Deadball, when players like George Sisler and Ty Cobb whacked lots of hits and didn’t walk much and stole bases. Sisler, in many ways, seems like a decent offensive comp to Ichiro — great batting averages (Sisler .340, Ichiro .333), surprisingly low corresponding on-base percentages (Sisler .379, Ichiro .378), good stolen base numbers, some ridiculously high hit seasons (Ichiro, of course, broke Sisler’s hit record when he picked up 262 in 2004. They are the only two players to have two seasons with 240 hits).

But that’s just offense. And while Sisler was a first baseman — and there has been some disagreement about how good — Ichiro is one of the most dynamic defenders of his time. You have already seen, I hope, the catch he made during a spring training game on Tuesday — it’s spectacular. I have watched in about 23 times already today, and I’ll probably watch it at least a few more before dinner. One catch does not define a player, I suppose … but just WATCH THAT CATCH. It tells you an awful lot about the kind of defensive player Ichiro has been for almost a decade now.

And, of course, Ichiro has a fabulous arm, the best of his generation. There will always be those who say no one can compare to Clemente defensively, and I would not argue the point. But Clemente is just a touch before my time … and I think Ichiro is the best defensive right fielder I have ever ever seen.

Batter up!

Categories: Baseball, Sports
  1. gailirving
    March 26, 2010 at 4:33 PM

    So where is our 20 game package? I’m ready. ‘”LET’S PLAY BALL!”

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