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April 2, 2011 at 12:00 PM

Ichiro could set new franchise hits record tonight

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Usually, we have to wait until well into a season for some of Ichiro’s hitting milestones to be reached. Not this year. With two hits last night, Ichiro moved to within one more of equalling the franchise record of 2,247 set by Edgar Martinez.
And yes, Ichiro does come through with two hits per game quite often. Last night was one example. So, not only will he likely equal the mark tonight, he’ll quite possibly set the new standard.
How incredible is this? Very.
Martinez needed parts of 18 seasons and 2,055 games to establish the mark. Ichiro just embarked on his 11th season in the majors and tonight will be his 1,590th game.

As impressive as his feat will be, it pales in comparison to what’s in store.
When you start doing the math, Ichiro will need approximately three more seasons after this one to reach 3,000 hits in MLB. And that’s after a late start to his career, having played professionally in Japan since 1992.
If he gets there, he should be a shoo-in first ballot Hall of Famer. In my book, he’s already in on the first ballot.
Photo Credit: AP


How could he not be after playing all of those seasons in Japan and racking up the 1,278 hits he did over there?
Now, I’m not one of those who will add together Ichiro’s totals from both leagues and say that he has a chance of surpassing Pete Rose’s all-time record of 4,256. It doesn’t work that way. Pro baseball in Japan is not the equivalent of what is being played in MLB, no matter how many World Baseball Classic titles that country wins.
Not meant to slight Japanese baseball, which is played at a very high level. But winning some exhibition games or tournaments does not make one country’s league better than the biggest professional league in the world. MLB is now comprised of the best players from multiple countries on far more than a token level and that by itself makes it a superior league to what is being played in Japan.
I mean, even Canada has beaten the U.S. one-on-one in various tournaments the past 15 years. Doesn’t mean Canadian baseball is superior to baseball played here.
So, by that measure, Ichiro may well surpass 4,000 total hits for his combined career, but it won’t carry the same weight. Just like the hit totals of his former Mariners teammate, Martinez, in the Pacific Coast League have little bearing on the consideration of his overall career.
That said, I do think Japanese pro baseball is superior to Class AAA. Sort of like what the Canadian Football League would be to the American college ranks. The CFL is better than U.S. college ball, but clearly a notch below the NFL.
And that’s why, when looking at the career of quarterback Warren Moon, you have to consider not just his NFL yardage and TD total as a passer, but also what he did up in Canada for so many years with the Edmonton Eskimos. For me, those totals made Moon just a notch higher in the overall estimation than he would have been simply bringing his NFL stats to the table for career consideration.
I asked Moon about it a few years ago.
“I was running the football up there as a quarterback a lot,” Moon told me. “All of that takes a toll and potentially shortens your career. It’s the same with Ichiro. You wonder what he could have done if he didn’t spend all the years he did playing over there in Japan. We see what he’s done each and every year he’s been here, if you take those totals and average them out for the years he played over there, he’d probably still be at 3,000 hits.”
In other words, if there was ever a question about Moon getting into the Hall of Fame, it would have been erased by the additional consideration of his CFL numbers.
Same with Ichiro. He could retire today and still be a Hall of Famer in my eyes. Not only will he soon be the franchise leader in hits, but he’s done it while playing above average defense throughout his major league career. Not to mention the stolen bases.
He’s in.
If he reaches 3,000 MLB hits, he’ll probably get enough votes around the country to be a first ballot Hall of Famer.
But what he’s done during his MLB career alone, re-instituting a smaller-ball brand of offense during a steroids-infused era, has broken enough ground to get him into Cooperstown. For me, there is no longer any debate. Ichiro has made his share of history already and will be recognized for it. Throw in his Japanese numbers and you come to appreciate just how historical what we’re seeing in Seattle has actually been.
And hey, if Ichiro ever does surpass Rose’s hits total with his combined numbers, it will still be worth celebrating without trying to argue that he’s the better guy. But wow, just imagine the fur that will be flying around in a few years once that milestone gets within realistic reach.
Won’t that be fun? So yeah, as they say, the rest, from here on in, is gravy. Tonight, very likely, we’ll see just one more milestone to add to the pile. A big one where the Mariners are concerned.
But, believe it or not, the best is still yet to come.

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