We usually wait for milestones to salute excellence, but every now and then it's worth pausing to admire some athlete who is sui generis, who does something spectacular, but does it day after day, year after year. So may we now sing the praises of
It's not as if Ichiro is ignored or unsung. He's not only been an MVP, but also he's made the All-Star team every season, and he holds the major-league record with nine straight 200 hit seasons. But Ichiro is on a losing team in Seattle, he hasn't appeared in the postseason in nine years, and he plays out in the Pacific Northwest, in what most of the media considers (with a bow to
The fact is, though, that Ichiro is probably better at the task of putting a bat on a pitched ball than anyone, ever, in history. Unfortunately, he came into a league first ruled by home runs and then pitching, making what he does seem like singing
He has 2,195 hits in our major league. He blooped 1,278 hits in the Japanese majors. In case you want to suggest that he feasted on weak pitching over there, well, Ichiro actually averages more hits per game here than he did in Japan. He just hits pitchers. Ichiro averages a little more than 1.33 hits a game, whoever is pitching, wherever, whatever time of day. Altogether, at age 36, he has more than 3,600 hits, about 600 fewer than Rose's American record. Since he's in top shape, he'll probably play long enough to end up with a total of 5,000 hits in global major-league play.
And, of course, Ichiro is a significant cultural figure. As the first Japanese position player and the first big star to jump to the U.S., he opened up the American game to Asians, and made our national pastime truly global ... even if he can't ever get into a World Series himself.
Our provincial Hall of Fame does not recognize Japanese baseball stars, like