Baseball Almanac, Ichiro, and the Hall of Fame

Baseball is a game of statistics.  Everyday guys like me keep a scorecard at the stadium and the game’s box-score is worth a peak in the next day’s newspaper.  ESPN and others keep track of statistics in basketball, hockey, and football, but the meaning and weight given to the numbers in those sports don’t rival baseball’s.  Football “box-score” hardly ever receives a mention.

And that’s why there’s a website like the Baseball Almanac, a site entirely dedicated to records of baseball.  It is a remarkable site.

For example, it definitively proves what I had suspected all along, that an unassisted triple play–something I once had the pleasure of seeing live, albeit on TV against the Yankees–is rarer than pitching perfection.  In fact, it’s rarer than hitting four home runs in one game, hitting six hits in one game, having a thirty game hitting streak, hitting a home run on first pitch ever, having a three pitch inning, throwing four stikeouts in one inning, retiring the side on 9 strikes on 9 pitches, throwing two complete games in one day, or stealing second, third, then home.  As far as I can tell, the unassisted triple play is the most exclusive club outside of smacking 4000 hits, throwing 20 strikeouts in one game, which oddly is not mentioned in Baseball Almanac, and hitting two grand slams in one game, which I thought would be more common.  On May 29, 2000, then, I witnessed Randy Velarde truly perform a moment in history, and it was a beautiful moment at that.

The site also amazes me with how rare some of the more well-known feats are.  In a sport boasting over 100 years of tradition, there are only 27 players to get 3000 hits, 23 pitchers to reach 300 wins, 16 pitchers to strike out 3000 batters, and 24 players to blast the increasingly unimpressive 500 home runs.

Then there are the statistics that will never be equaled or surpassed because the game has changed, like Cy Young’s 749 complete games.  When you look at the list of career winners, you realize that the 300 win club may be joining this category after Randy Johnson achieves the feat next season and Mike Mussina retired following this past season because the next closest active players are Jamie “I’ll be in the majors until I’m a grandpa” Moyer with 246 wins and Kenny “I know you can’t believe this, but I’ve pitched a perfect game” Rogers at 219 wins.  Neither is going to reach 300.

The flip side are the statistics that are the product of modern baseball, like career games pitched and career games saved.  Not only do I  recognize most of the leaders of these categories, but I’ve personally seen them pitch, including the venerable Jesse Orosco.  The rise of the bullpen means Orosco’s record won’t stand much longer; just look at the number of active players near the top of the list.

And then some statistic you just shake your head in disbelief, like Nolan Ryan’s strikeout record of 5,714 that will never be broken (Randy Johnson is second–a whopping 1000 behind), not because the game has changed (heck, I have his baseball card so he’s not that old), but because he was a freak of nature.  Ditto for the recent Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson’s stolen base record, which at 1406 is over 50% more than Lou Brock’s 938 standing at second.

All this brings to my point about Ichiro.  In fairness, I can’t remain completely unbiased when I make judgments about Ichiro because I’m Japanese.  Notwithstanding, I think his accomplishments are impressive, not just for the records that he’s broken, but because of the context of history in which he’s rewriting the record books.

Consider his most famous accomplishment: 262 hits in one season, the most in the modern era.  When you take a peak at the list of most hits in a season, the top 20 leaders are all from 1930s or before except Darin Erstad and Wade Boggs, who are tied at 17th with 240, and Ichiro, who appears twice.  As Jim Caple of ESPN noted in a column when Ichiro broke the record, the feat was accomplished in an era of power hitting when singles weren’t fashionable.  It offered relief from modern baseball sins.

Ichiro is also on the cusp of breaking two more records, with 9 consecutive seasons of 200 or more hits and 4 consecutive seasons of leading the league in hits.*  The former will break a Major League record set by Willie Keeler over a century ago, from 1894 to 1901, and also tie him with Ty Cobb for most seasons in the American League with 200 hits.  Yes, fewer games were played in the era of Keeler and Cobb, but my God, another season of 200 hits by Ichiro would border on the unprecedented.

With his MVP, Rookie of the Year, numerous Gold Glove and All Star MVP honors to go along with his historic feats, I think Ichiro’s place in the Hall of Fame is secure even if he never reaches 3000 hits in the majors.  I never, in my wildest imagination, thought a Japanese baseball player could be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.  Not in the near future.  Not ever.  But Ichiro was a player who may prove to be once in a century.

My only visit to Cooperstown was long before I knew as much about baseball and its history as I do now, but I still reveled in the aura of the place.  I hope Ichiro makes it to the Hall of Fame.  I’m almost certain he will.  And on the day that he does, I’d like to visit Cooperstown again to truly appreciate the legends he would become a part of, having become a little wiser about baseball history thanks to the Baseball Almanac.

*  Until Ichiro broke it, Wade Boggs had the record of 8 consecutive seasons of 200 or more hits in the American League.  The streak is a testament to what an incredible player he was, a fact  I never appreciated when he was a Yankee because he was near the end of his career.


11 Responses to “Baseball Almanac, Ichiro, and the Hall of Fame”

  1. 1 Chris Schroeck January 23, 2009 at 6:26 am

    I’ve been an Ichiro fan ever since he came over. He’s a throwback type who is a lot of fun to watch. I think he deserves to be in Cooperstown, although I am not sure how good his career totals are here…are they low because he started late?

  2. 2 joesas January 23, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    Yeah, he was the batting champion in Japan for 7 consecutive years before he came here I think he turned pro when he was 18 (which is what best players in Japan do), so he was still relatively young when he came to the states.

    But 3000 in the majors will be very tough for him. I’m really hoping he gets there, b/c that should seal the deal. I love this style myself. I’m a small ball kinda guy (altho I hate bunts)

  3. 3 Chris Schroeck January 27, 2009 at 9:19 am

    Yeah, the only way he doesn’t get in is if people think his totals are too low. But in the context of his career, what he has done is just amazing. I also like that he makes such an unorthodox swing work, and that in fact, that unorthodox swing is part of what makes him so successful.

    It’s like in “Happy Gilmore”, how Adam Sandler runs up to the golf ball before hitting it. Ichiro takes a running swing at the ball. It’s really hard to hit a baseball. I would imagine it’s even harder if your whole body is moving, and he hits for *average* doing that.

  4. 4 joesas February 9, 2009 at 9:11 pm

    I like how you compared Ichiro to Happy Gilmore. That’s just hysterical.

  5. 5 rattoch September 14, 2009 at 4:38 pm

    I would think hitting records of any kind would be the most likely to be broken this day in age. Considering we are in the steroid era. David Ortiz has a whopping 23 homers with a mere .228 batting average. I think making a base hit every now and then should not be that difficult.

    • 6 joesas September 15, 2009 at 8:09 am

      I think your comment in regards to steroids missing the mark. It’s clear steroids has done nothing to make hitting records easier to break; it’s only the power records that’s been affected. In fact, in anything, the steroids era made breaking that record more difficult. Ortiz makes the point. You can’t get 200 hits with a .228 batting average. Ichiro doesn’t get a hit “now and then”; he gets a hit always. I doubt Ichiro’s record will be broken for a long time. Take a look at the names of people whose records he’s breaking. They’re from 70-80-100 years ago, when baseball rules were different (fouls weren’t strikes!). No one today comes close to the numbers Ichiro is putting up (Jeter throughout his career has done well). It’s because ofnot despite the steroids era that makes Ichiro’s small accomplishments so amazing.

  6. 7 rattoch September 14, 2009 at 4:41 pm

    With regard to the happy gilmore reference, no doubt it is already hard enough to hit a baseball while standing still. Never mind running upto the ball, then swing, then making contact.

    • 8 joesas September 15, 2009 at 8:09 am

      It’s worth noting that Ichiro essentially is moving to first as he completes his swing.

  7. 9 rattoch September 16, 2009 at 12:38 pm

    good points, i guesse you could also note that pitchers use steroids so that would even out the playing field. no doubt cheating is wrong.

    • 10 joesas September 18, 2009 at 10:47 pm

      Not sure I agree that it evens out the playing field. I think hitters have clearly benefited from ‘roids.

  1. 1 25 Random Crap About Me « The World According to Joe Trackback on March 2, 2009 at 9:24 am

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