Thursday, September 10, 2009

Cooperstown-worthy, Ichiro? Absolutely ...

I’m unsure Ichiro Suzuki is the right subject to address for a sportswriter whose attention is focused on players on teams with playoff aspirations.

Not to say that Ichiro isn't worthy of my writing about him; he is worthy. But I didn’t consider Ichiro a serious subject until I ran into a friend at the Mariners-Indians game a few weekends ago.

My friend’s name is Jon Paul Morosi, the national baseball writer for whom I met when I worked forThe Seattle Times. In an article Jon wrote shortly after the series, he posed a question about Ichiro’s bona fides for the Hall of Fame.

I took time to give Jon's story thought. Then I asked myself: What’s to question?

Dissect Ichiro’s body of work -- and Jon did -- and you see the Mariners star has won three batting titles and owns a truckload of Gold Gloves; he’s been a Rookie of the Year and an MVP, and he’s stolen more bases than somebody with his lean, muscular build ought to steal.

In his ninth season in the bigs, he’s on the verge of his ninth season with 200 or more hits. For his career, he’s within a handful of bases hits of 2,000, and if you were to count the total of hits Ichiro compiled while playing ball in the Japan League, Ichiro is at 3,000-plus hits and counting.

With numbers like his, a debate about Ichiro’s Hall-of-Fame worthiness would border on pointless were it not for the era itself. But unlike Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Sammy Sosa, Miguel Tejada, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, Ichiro has been one of the rare superstars whose career hasn’t had the taint of steroids painted on it.

Hall-of-Fame worthy?

Close the damn building if he ain’t. If Cooperstown honors the best, what ballplayer whose biography doesn’t include a chapter on performance-enhancing drugs has had a better decade than Ichiro?

Albert Pujols … maybe?

The fact Ichiro, 35, has only played nine seasons in the big leagues is of little significance in judging his career. Besides, absent a set of extraordinary circumstances, he will end up playing 10 or more seasons in the Majors Leagues, which means his career will match Sandy Koufax’s and Jackie Robinson’s in length. And didn’t both of these men find their way into Cooperstown?

Within hot streak of a fourth batting title, Ichiro is having a typical Ichiro-like season. His base hits just keep on coming. Each one brings him a step closer to baseball immortality alongside The Babe, Hammerin’ Hank, The Mick and Yaz.

In an e-mail, a friend put it this way: “He should be a lock for the Hall of Fame ... best leadoff hitter or best hitter, period, of his generation ... single-season record for hits ... MVP award ... multiple gold gloves ... case closed!”

His last two words echo Jon Paul Morosi’s sentiments.

And so do I.


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