Ichiro is nearing entry into the 3,000-hit club, a feat achieved by only 29 of the 17,000 men who have played major league baseball. This is how he got there.
Ichiro’s status as an everyday major league player effectively ended two years ago when the New York Yankees declined to re-sign the 40-year-old outfielder. Since then, Ichiro has labored with the Miami Marlins to become the 30th man with 3,000 career hits, which will secure his passage into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Ichiro should reach the plateau any day, remarkable after he hit .229 with a .282 OBP and a career-low 91 hits in parts of 153 games the past season, leaving him 65 hits shy of 3,000 as this season started. Given his age (42) and the limited at-bats he was slated to receive as Miami’s fourth outfielder and left-handed pinch hitter, 3,000 seemed no sure thing even for a player who once routinely collected 40 in a month and four times had more than 50.
But a suddenly re-energized Ichiro (batting .337 in limited plate appearances and now four hits from 3,000) flipped the narrative May 21-23. He delivered a throwback spree of 10 hits in 13 at-bats, including 4-for-4 May 21 against the Washington Nationals and 4-for-5 May 23 vs. the Tampa Bay Rays.
That made Ichiro, at 42 years, eight months, the oldest in history to garner 10 hits in 13 at-bats. The only other 42-year-old to achieve that feat: Cap Anson (42 years, 5 months) 122 years ago in August 1894.
Baseball will acknowledge Ichiro’s 3,000th with a big-picture summary. That will properly focus on his record 10 consecutive 200-hit seasons, his record 262 hits in 2004, two batting titles (2001, 2004) and numerous defensive gems, while including the list of Ichiro’s ancillary deeds: 10 All-Star appearances, 10 Gold Glove and three Silver Slugger awards, plus the 2007 All-Star Game inside-the-park home run (the only such play in ASG history) over Ken Griffey Jr.’s head.
But the big picture isn’t nearly as fascinating as the individual frames that demonstrate how Ichiro amassed 3,000 hits and the history he toppled en route.
Ichiro recorded 242 hits as a rookie in 2001, the most by a first-year major leaguer and the highest single-season total since Bill Terry’s 254 in 1930. That marked the first of a nearly annual shattering of ancient hits records of one kind or another.
After two seasons, Ichiro had 450 hits, most by a player in the first two years in a career, breaking the previous mark of 444 by Lloyd Waner, whose career began in Babe Ruth’s heyday.
The following are the most hits in any spans ranging from four to 10 seasons (the player listed below Ichiro was the previous record holder):
|4 Years||Ichiro Suzuki||2001-04||924||242 hits in 2001, MLB-record 262, ’04|
|Bill Terry||1929-32||918||2,193 career hits, Hall of Fame, 1954|
|5 years||Ichiro Suzuki||2001-05||1,130||Bat titles in ’01 (.350) and ’04 (.372)|
|Chuck Klein||1929-33||1,118||2,076 hits in 17 years, HOF, 1980|
|6 years||Ichiro Suzuki||2001-06||1,354||From April 12-June 10 batted .394|
|Wade Boggs||1983-88||1,274||Homered for 3,000th hit; HOF, 2005|
|7 years||Ichiro Suzuki||2001-07||1,592||1st in history with 3 230-hit years|
|Jesse Burkett||1895-01||1,526||3 200-hit seasons; elected to HOF, 1946|
|8 years||Ichiro Suzuki||2001-08||1,805||Led AL in hits (213) for fifth time|
|Paul Waner||1927-35||1,680||.333 BA over 20 tyears; HOF, 1952|
|9 years||Ichiro Suzuki||2001-09||2,030||225 hits despite missing 16 games|
|Willie Keeler||1894-02||1,905||Had 8 200-hit seasons; HOF, 1939|
|10 years||Ichiro Suzuki||2001-10||2,244||Led AL in hits for record-tying 7th time|
|Pete Rose||1968-77||2,067||5 200-hit years en route to 4,256 hits|
Ichiro also broke or matched season and career records held by Shoeless Joe Jackson, Rogers Hornsby, George Sisler, Al Simmons, Joe Medwick and Jackie Robinson, all Hall of Famers. Ichiro’s 242 hits in 2001, to cite one, broke the record of 233 by Shoeless Joe in 1911. Ichiro also led the AL in stolen bases (56) in 2001, the first to top the average and swipe charts since Robinson in 1949.
Nearly every time Ichiro’s name appeared on a hit chart or graphic during the prime of his career, the rest of the players on the list had inevitably been dead for a half a century. Now, when we peruse the list at baseballreference.com of the 10 hitters most statistically comparable to Ichiro, it’s no surprise that six played before World War II, including five whose careers ended before 1930.
The most similar: Zack Wheat, a 1959 Hall of Famer whose career started in 1909 and ended in 1927. By contrast, of the 10 players most similar to Griffey, only one, Mel Ott (1926-47), played the bulk of his career before World War II.
|Zack Wheat||1909-27||2410||2884||.317||.817||Brooklyn Superbas, A’s|
|Ichiro||2001-16||2440||2996||.314||.762||Mariners, Yankees, Marlins|
Ichiro produced dozens of jaw-droppers in his pursuit of 3,000. We won’t dwell on his non-batting feats, such as the fact he once stole an American League-record 45 bases (April 19, 2006-May 16, 2007) without getting caught.
Ichiro’s 10-for-13 streak from May 21-23 this season was reminiscent of two similar astonishers, both late in 2004.
From Sept. 21-23 against the Angels and Rangers, Ichiro went 11-for-15 (.733 BA, who does that?), including nine hits in two games in Anaheim. During that splurge, Ichiro had hits in eight consecutive at-bats. Weeks earlier, from July 28-Aug. 5, Ichiro did the following, perhaps his greatest spree of all (doubleheader Aug. 3):
|July 28||at A’s||3-for-5||.341||3 singles, scored a run, drew a walk|
|July 29||at Angels||5-for-7||.347||4 singles, one double, scored twice|
|July 30||at Angels||0-for-4||.344||Drew a walk, scored in a 6-5 loss|
|July 31||at Angels||3-for-6||.346||Home run, two singles, 3 runs scored|
|Aug. 1||at Angels||2-for-5||.346||2 singles in 3-2 loss to Bartolo Colon|
|Aug. 3||at Orioles||5-for-5||.354||Triple, four singles, two runs scored|
|Aug. 3||at Orioles||1-for-1||.355||Pinch single batting for Bucky Jacobsen|
|Aug. 4||at Orioles||3-for-5||.358||Triple, two singles, one run scored|
|Aug. 5||at Rays||3-for-6||.359||3 singles, 2 RBIs in 4-2 victory|
One non-batting Ichiro feat that’s especially amusing: He will likely become the first member of the 3,000-hit club who taught himself Spanish so he could trash talk players from Latin America.