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Hooray for Ichiro

September 27, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Ichiro in Toronto, after getting his 200th hit last Thursday

[Frank Gunn, AP]

For weeks, my primary baseball interest has been whether Ichiro would get 200 hits this season. I wrote about him last March, on the eve of the season:

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?

And I wrote about him a month ago, noting that “I’ve been tracking Ichiro’s march toward another season of 200 hits, a march that has been alarmingly slow” and then adding, in a footnote:

The choice of 200 is of course an accident of our use of base 10, but nonetheless, a 200-hit season has become a sign of excellence, and only the greatest of hitters have 200-hit seasons with any frequency. Pete Rose had 10, the record. Those 10 occurred over fifteen seasons, from 1965 to 1979. Ty Cobb had 9, between 1907 and 1924. Ichiro is in his tenth season, and in his first nine he had over 200 hits every time. Thus, if he reaches 200 this year, he will tie Pete Rose for the most 200-hit seasons, and do so in his first ten seasons. An astonishing record. Going into today, he was second in the majors in hits for the season, with 165 (behind Josh Hamilton’s 175). Alas, he went 0 for 4 today against the Twins, so he is still at 165, through 130 games. At that rate, he will reach 205.6 hits at the end of the season (162 games).

As it turns out, Ichiro picked up the pace. He had a six game run between September 14 and September 21 when, with 4 at-bats each game, he had 3, 0, 2, 2, 0, and 4 hits. That got him to 197 hits for the season. He then went 1 for 5 and 2 for 5, arriving at 200 hits on September 23, last Thursday. And he hasn’t slowed down. The next three days brought 5 more hits: 2 for 5, 1 for 4, 2 for 4. As for today, let me check. Oh, never mind. 0 for 5.

Anyway, he did it. Ten straight seasons of 200 hits or more. And the only ten seasons he has played professional baseball in the US. He’s unique. That he has secured a place in the Hall of Fame is now certain. Indeed, he should be a unanimous choice in his first year of eligibility.

The next big question is whether he will get to 3000 career hits. He now has 2235 hits. Of course he will if he can maintain this pace, and of course he would have passed it long ago if he came to the US earlier. (He was 27 in his first season. He’ll turn 37 on October 27.) He is so fit, so disciplined, that he may be able to avoid injury and maintain a high level of productivity, with gradual tailing off in the next five years. Let’s say he does tail off, with “only” 190 hits next year, 180 the next, then 170, and then 160 at the age of 40. That’s another 700 hits. Throw in another 5 in this last week of the season and he’ll be at 2940. Again, as long as he avoids injury, he’ll get there — in five more seasons at most.

This is silly speculation. Whatever he goes on to do, he’s already a wonder. Hooray for Ichiro.

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