April 14, 2005


Ichiro's a lean machine: Sleek Seattle outfielder is one slick hitter (JEFF PASSAN, 4/14/05, The Kansas City Star)

When he stretches his arms skyward, Ichiro Suzuki's ribs poke through his taut skin. He is lean and sinewy, elfin really, the antithesis of a bloated, pumped-up, needle-dangling-from-his-butt baseball player.

In the era of performance-enhancing drugs, there are users and non-users. And then there is a separate, one-man category: Ichiro, who needs only a bat and a brain to enhance his performance.

What he does continues to boggle those who look at his 5-foot-9, 160-pound body and see an average guy with extraordinary metabolism instead of an unmatched baseball talent. Last season, Ichiro broke George Sisler's single-season hit record that stood for 84 seasons, blowing the dust off the pages of the record books and inking his own accomplishment, 262 hits. Ichiro's 20-game hitting streak dating to last season ended Wednesday in a 2-1 victory against the Royals. Doesn't matter. He'll just start another today.

In a mind that sees a baseball field with rare clarity, the paradox of a little man in a big man's game constantly gets Ichiro's synapses firing.

“I think about that a lot, seeing guys getting too big and not being able to perform,” he said Wednesday through his interpreter, Allen Turner. “You have to know what's important. If you get too big, you can get hurt. And there are other problems, too. A lot of guys train hard, but they get injured and get weaker.

“When you train, you should get stronger. But stronger at what?”

He leaves the question open-ended, and there are a million answers. Stronger mentally? Stronger physically? Stronger spiritually?

Ichiro has all of those fields covered.

He'll need all that strength later in the Summer when he's chasing both Williams and DiMaggio at some point.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 14, 2005 6:17 AM

262 hits. Think about that, it is 62 more than an excellent hitting season with 200.

Posted by: pchuck at April 14, 2005 9:45 AM

It's a function of his being a free-swinger, which is also why he won't break either DiMaggio's or Williams' record.

Posted by: bart at April 14, 2005 9:54 AM

Just about any sport would be improved by making them "little man's" games.

Posted by: Rick T. at April 14, 2005 10:43 AM

Ichi's already got 3 walks...

Posted by: Timothy at April 14, 2005 1:20 PM

They were arguing on ESPN Radio on Tuesday whether or not Ichiro would have an easier time than your average major league dealing with the pressures of chasing 56 or .400, because he's already got a full crew of Japanese media following him around all the time, while at the same time he doesn't have the same problem of reading all the papers and watching all the TV sports reports players who read and speak English better would be faced with.

(And on a side note -- were this 15 years ago and the media was still obsessed with the idea of Japan buying up the United States, we would never hear the end of the irony of a Japanese ballplayer chasing two hallowed records that were both set in the 1941 season.)

Posted by: John at April 14, 2005 2:40 PM

Ichiro walked only 49 times in 753 PA last year, a 6.5% clip making him a free swinger. It matters because to get to .400 you have to reduce the number of bad pitches you swing at.(Think Wade Boggs who flirted with .400 despite not being able to outrun the average tree snail)

If Ichiro has become more selective, and it can happen at this time of one's career as Johnny Damon shows, he has a real shot because he will beat out 20-30 leg hits a year, balls that would be outs for Boggs, Gwynn or Brett.

Eight games is not a statistically significant sample.

Posted by: bart at April 14, 2005 2:58 PM

I'm curious--how many of those 49 walks were in the 2nd half of the season when he had changed his stance and was hittint .400?

Posted by: Timothy at April 14, 2005 3:58 PM

Well, with a game like baseball, it always pays to check the facts before pontification. Here's what I got from mlb.com's stats—

Month AB H BB Avg
Apr 102 26   8 .255
May 125 50   7 .400
Jun 106 29 10 .274
Jul 118 51  6 .432
Aug 121 56  6 .463
Sep 132 50 12 .379

He got fewer walks in the second half. 24 vs. 25. (Okay.) The thing to remember about Ichiro! is that when it comes to his hitting stats, he's probably an outlier.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at April 14, 2005 4:20 PM

And in the 7th, Ichiro! just raised his average back up to .417 after dipping below .400 earlier today.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at April 14, 2005 4:24 PM

Weird. Just as I was reading this thread, Ichiro singled to left against the Royals.

By the way, Ichiro now has a couple guys in the lineup who can actually drive him in.

Posted by: Casey Abell at April 14, 2005 4:25 PM