Ichiro Makes Most of Playing Time, Moves Up To 43rd All-Time
By Sean Millerick
This weekend, I watched the highlights and post-game interviews of Alex Rodriguez hitting his 660th home run, tying the great Willie Mays for fourth all-time. And nobody cares. Talking heads on the networks, the majority of fans, even his manager Joe Girardi looked about as comfortable as a man visiting his proctologist when asked to comment on the record. Much more quietly, he’s also chasing 3,000 hits, sitting just two back of tying the great Sam Crawford (a personal favorite of mine for his trivia darling status as the career triples leader) for 30th all time. And…nobody cares. Two great records chases, but by a guy who’s done as much damage to the integrity of those vying for Cooperstown as anyone. While shaking my head at this, it occurred to me that-very quietly- there’s been another HoF caliber player eking out his own record chase- the Miami Marlins Ichiro Suzuki.
Signed as a backup outfielder and pinch-hitter extraordinaire to a two year deal this offseason, the most popular question of Spring Training was how would manager Mike Redmond find at-bats for Ichiro. But due to a nagging injury to 2014 Gold Glove winner Christian Yelich, Ichiro has appeared in every game, and put up 23 hits in 28 contests. With three hits in the last two days, he moved up to 43rd all-time with 2,866 career hits. The man he’s tied with? That’d be six-time All-Star Harold Baines.
Before diving into Baines, some housekeeping to attend to. First off, what you can look for going forward this season. Every time Ichiro ties or passes someone ahead of him on the road to 3,000- something done by only twenty-eight other major leaguers ever– you can expect a short summary highlighting the player passed, and my opinion of whether or not you can argue Ichiro is in fact a better player. And I want you guys to actually comment upon and debate this! Which brings us to our second bit of housekeeping- the fact that three other players have already been passed this season.
- Ivan Rodriguez 2,844. Ichiro ended the 2014 season tied with Pudge, and passed the one time Marlin backstop with his first hit of the season, a pinch hit against the Braves. A former AL MVP, Rodriguez won a World Series with Miami in 2003, and caught more games than any other catcher in baseball history. Talent came with tenure apparently, as Pudge had the best percentage of throwing out runners- ever. And with that, I’d have to call him- slightly- better than Mr. Suzuki. We Fish fans can only hope that the club’s second sure-fire Hall of Fame talent has a tenure just as successful as the first. Pudge retired in 2012, but would seem a lock for induction once eligible- just like Ichiro.
- Brooks Robinson 2,848. Ichiro passed him on April 17th, spot starting for Marcel Ozuna. This is another case of Ichiro running into another All-time great. It’s pretty damn hard to show up a player who won 10 consecutive Gold Glove Awards and played in 10 straight All-Star games, but Robinson kinda does it in his sleep. Brooksy won 16 consecutive Gold Glove Awards and played in 15 straight All-Star Games, while earning both AL MVP and a World Series MVP honors. This is another no insult to Ichiro tip of the cap to the opponent, and as we climb up this list, I think we’ll agree there’s a lot of those. But then again, that’s why I’m asking. Robinson entered the Hall in 1983, with over 90% of the vote in his favor.
- Jesse Burkett 2,850. Tied and passed in the same game, with a 2 for 4 effort April 21st against the Phillies. Chances are you’re in great company if you’ve never heard of him…or at least I like to consider myself great company. Let’s put it this way. At the time of his retirement, saying the Cubs could win a World Series wouldn’t have been laughable at all seeing as how they were going to play in the next three October classics. Burkett, who retired in 1905, was cheerful enough to be nicknamed Crab and won three batting titles in his career. He holds the record for most inside the park homers, and hit over .400 twice. Ichiro gets the nod here due to documented defensive excellence- this is where it gets dicey comparing players from different eras. Course, the single-season hits leader was no slouch at the plate himself.
- Harold Baines 2,866. Tied Tuesday and passed in Ichiro’s first at-bat yesterday, Baines stands as the most recent player to pushed down the all-time chart. A six-time All-Star, Baines is the first player on this list with no existing bust or no existing chance of entering Cooperstown as a player. Falling of the ballot in 2011, he has his own statue outside of US Cellular as one of the more popular White Sox. One of the most consistently productive DH’s of all-time, he curiously enough went fourteen seasons between 100 RBI campaigns, and had only three in his entire 22 year career. Yet he still drove in 1,628 of them, which has only been eclipsed by 29 other sluggers in baseball history. While I think crying foul is fair here on his HoF status, I’d put it out as equally fair to say the greater player wears No. 51, edging him out by well more than a nose…and at least one hit.