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Mariners blog

Daily coverage of the Mariners during the season and all year long.

September 17, 2008 at 8:56 PM

Remarkable feat for Ichiro

Notching 200 hits in eight consecutive seasons had only been done one other time in baseball history until tonight. There have been substantial changes in the rules of baseball and the way it’s played since Wee Willie Keeler had his eight consecutive 200-hit campaigns, from 1894 through 1901 for the Baltimore Orioles and Brooklyn Superbas.
For one thing, there was no such thing as a fouled strike until 1901 in the National League, where Keeler played during his record stretch, and 1903 in the American League. Before then, you only had strikes by swinging and missing. Helps drive up the hit totals, as well as on-base-percentage, which exceeded .400 for Keeler in seven of the eight seasons.
Ichiro will never put up an OBP the way Keeler did with a .462 in 1897, the same year that saw him hit .424 and score 145 runs while driving in 79. Not to mention his 202 singles. An unworldly feat by Keeler. But in a much different era. Foul balls on bunt attempts did not result in strikes until after Keeler’s first 200-hit season in 1894 when he padded his numbers with prowess at bunting. They didn’t call batters out on a two-strike fouled bunt attempt until 1909, by which point Keeler, nearing retirement, had already declined to double-digits in hit totals.
Then again, Keeler’s numbers after the first rule change in 1894 regarding bunted fouls, when he was still in his prime, didn’t exactly suffer. The man could hit.
Keeler also played in an era devoid of home run power. Before baseballs began getting juiced-up, there was the “Dead Ball Era” when guys like Keeler had to look for fielders and “Hit ’em where they ain’t!” It was not unusual for players to try to notch infield hits, or beat balls out with blazing speed. Perhaps also not as easy to take some fielders by surprise, or catch them off-guard because of positioning as it is today.
So, this isn’t to take anything away from Keeler. He perfected the “Baltimore Chop” in which he’d slam the ball into the hard-packed dirt in front of the plate and cause it to bounce so high that he’d reach first base before the shortstop could even attempt a throw. In some ways, similar to how Ichiro’s uncanny ability to get out of the batter’s box quickly — using a hip motion and weight transfer patented by him — enables him to beat out routine grounders.
Different eras, different ways of doing things.
But two remarkable hitters in their own right. And when you throw in the fouled strike rule and realize that no hitter has been able to do what Ichiro has done under its limitations, it puts it all into the proper context.
Keeler was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame decades ago. Just as Ichiro will be enshrined in Cooperstown one day, several years from now. He’s already got several artifacts in there. And forget about overall career numbers and whether he gets 3,000 career hits in the U.S. or not.
What he’s accomplished in eight short years this side of the planet — taking out records that have existed for decades and now, over a century, he is a unique figure in the history of this sport. And that uniqueness alone makes him a Hall of Famer. In any era. In any country.

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