Appreciating Ichiro's 'record'
- To say Ichiro's pursuit of a record ninth consecutive 200-hit season has yet to capture the imagination of the American sporting public at large would be somewhat of an understatement. While the nation's baseball fans have been treated to nightly updates this week of Derek Jeter's quest to set the New York Yankees all-time hits record, a much older and arguably more difficult mark about to be bested by Ichiro gets little or no attention.
"I think there's a lot of different things to it," Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu, who'd watched Ichiro for years from opposing dugouts, said before Saturday's game. "I think the market, the spotlight that he [Jeter] is under, that has something to do with it."
Wakamatsu also suggested the fact Ichiro is a foreign-born player might have removed some of the interest level for people compared to a homegrown talent like Jeter, playing for the game's most recognizable team.
On Friday, former longtime USA Today baseball columnist Hal Bodley, now a senior writer with MLB.com wrote: "If Ichiro, 35, played most anywhere but Seattle, I'm certain he'd be in the news constantly. This may be unfair, but I believe many of his amazing feats since arriving from Japan in 2001 have almost gone unnoticed. Maybe not unnoticed, but certainly not given the importance they deserve."
Same goes to Don Wakamatsu. Foreign-born players typically get more attention than they would otherwise, because of course they're considered something of a novelty. Would Ichiro have been the MVP in 2001 if he'd been born in America? Maybe. But maybe not.
Ichiro's record is getting relatively little attention because of its very nature. Quick! Who's got the record for consecutive seasons with 40 or more homers? Quick! Who's got the record for consecutive seasons with 50 or more stolen bases? Quick! Who's got the record for consecutive seasons with 20 or more wins?
Generally speaking, records are interesting to fans only when they know who holds it. Nobody knew that Wee Willie Keeler held the record before Ichiro. Also, fans like records that you can describe in three words or less. "Most seasons in a row with at least 200 hits" ... Nope. Not close.
We don't need to look real deeply into this one. The public has yawned because it's the sort of "record" that always has and always will elicit little but yawns.
If Ichiro's not gotten as much attention as some think he deserves, it's probably because he simply hasn't been a great hitter. Oh, he's a great singles hitter; certainly the best we've seen, and obviously one of the best ever. But among the 63 players with at least 5,000 plate appearances since he broke into the majors in 2001, Ichiro ranks 37th in OPS, behind (among many others) Paul Konerko, Pat Burrell, and Torii Hunter.
Which isn't to suggest he hasn't been a great player and a unique player. Unless somebody can convince me that Ichiro's singles have been worth even less than I think, I will support his Hall of Fame candidacy when the time comes. But let's not get carried away.