ANGRY WARD WEDNESDAY: ICHIRO WORSHIP

SEATTLE, WA – Taking a break from the yuk-yuks today to focus on a guy who everyone knows, but who is still quite possibly the most under-appreciated player in Major League Baseball. That man’s name is Ichiro Suzuki or, more simply, Ichiro as he is called throughout the bigs. But unlike other one name superstars such as Sting, Madonna, and Mothra-in-Law, Ichiro toils in the relative obscurity of the Pacific Northwest. Sure, our friends ChibaLotteAkita and Oregon Pete probably have a decent grasp of Ichiro’s exploits but to the baseball public as a whole, he’s more a curiosity than someone who should seriously be considered one of the greatest players in the game. Here’s what we’re talking about.

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    Ichiro takes fellow Brother-From-Another-Planet,
    Mariano Rivera, deep with two out in the 9th.
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Prior to signing with the Seattle Mariners for the 2001 season, Ichiro played for the Orix Blue Wave in Japan for what amounted to seven full seasons. Over that time he hit .353, amassed 1,278 hits, won seven batting titles, three MVPs, and helped lead the Blue Wave to the Pacific League Pennant in 1995. But we digress. Upon joining Seattle in 2001 all Ichiro did was lead the league in batting, hits, and steals en route to winning rookie of the year (ok, so he was a pretty accomplished rookie) and MVP honors. Think about that. Here’s a guy who didn’t know the league, the pitchers, the language, anything! And all he does is step right in and do everything spectacularly. And he wasn’t just some one-season wonder.

In St. Louis to attend the 2009 All Star game, Ichiro paid a visit to George Sisler’s grave.

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In the nine full seasons Ichiro has played for the Mariners, he has never hit under .300. In 2004 he broke George Sisler’s 83-year-old single season hits records of 257 when he collected 262 and batted a league-high .372. Some argued that Ichiro achieved this number playing in more games than Sisler but, up until that point, many of baseball’s greatest hitters never got close to this record, not even Pete Rose. In fact, the most hits Rose ever got in a single season was 230. Speaking of Charlie Hustle, Ichiro is on the verge of tying him for most 200-hit seasons in the history of the game. Rose’s record stands at 10 which was spread out over a 15- or 16-year period. Ichiro has collected 200-plus hits in all nine years he has played in the states. If he does it again this year, and Pete Rose shouldn’t bet against him, the two men will stand tied.

OK, so the guy can hit and run and hit some more, but what about his defense? Well, he tracks down fly balls with ease, has an arm like a bazooka, and has won nine consecutive gold gloves at his outfield position. When someone hits one into the rightfield corner in Seattle, they aren’t thinking “triple,” they’re praying for a double. Challenging his arm is like calling out someone holding a hand grenade.

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    Audtioning for the next Spider-Man

Now, at age 36 and 20 games into the 2010 season, Ichiro stands at 2055 hits with the very real chance to eventually hit the 3000 mark in his MLB career alone (he’s already far surpassed that number if you include his hits in Japan) which is nothing short of astonishing. If you want to nitpick his game you could point to his low home run totals and the fact that he doesn’t draw many walks. But, if you’ve ever really watched him play you’d see a guy who can hit the long ball when needed but chooses to hit for average and also a player who can lace line drives from balls at his shoe tops and up around his eyes. Why draw a base on balls when you’re that good a hitter?

So, while guys like Pujols and Rodriguez continue to swat home runs and receive most of the newspaper ink, Ichiro quietly remains the most complete and consistent player in the game. He’s one of those rare players that is worth the price of admission every time out (and you know how I feel about paying for tickets!). At any given moment he can do something offensively or defensively that you’ve never seen before. His feats should come with their own adjective: Ichiroic. And perhaps best of all, the guy is built like a toothpick, so the steroid and HGH questions are never in play. Such is his talent that nothing seems out of reach. Will anyone ever eclipse Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak or hit .400? Probably not, but as long as Ichiro’s still playing, stay tuned.

Alrighty then, I’m sure the minute this mash note hits the web Ichiro’s lawyers will start looking into a restraining order against me, but I’m OK with that. These things needed to be said. You really need to see this guy play live if you get the chance. Next week I promise to be back to my old malcontent self. Look for Jillian Brooks here tomorrow.

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About Angry Ward 661 Articles
Angry Ward, who has admirers at the New York Times, is the quintessential angry sports fan but for one exception... he's flat-out funny. And the angrier he gets, the more amusing his work becomes. Psychiatrists say, "Angry Ward's 'anger' is a direct result of "Bronx/Mets syndrome: growing up in the Bronx as a Mets fan." As if that weren't enough, his Minnesota North Stars abandoned him for Dallas, forcing him to embrace The Wild the way Nancy Pelosi embraces Mitch McConnell at charity events. And while his Vikings only tease him with success, his Golden State Warriors actually win these days. A-Dubya is MTM's longest-tenured indentured servant, its Larry David and quite simply, "The Franchise." (Junoir Blaber disputes this). Vent, curse and giggle with him on Angry Ward Wednesdays.