On Sept. 12, I overheard a Seattle Mariners game announcer stating in the press box that he still believed Ichiro Suzuki would total 200 or more hits this season.
With the final evening of the season at hand, the above prediction proves inaccurate, as Ich would need 16 hits against Oakland Wednesday (Sept. 28): possible but only if the game went into several dozen extra innings.
With “just” 184 and counting, Number 51 already has been dismissed by some scribes and fans as a has-been at best, an abject failure at worst. Knowing this I’d like to submit a humble contextual rendering of what some believe is Suzuki-san’s lost season.
Granted, his hit total will be about a score below his previous low of 206 (in 2005). But 184 is more in one season than totals amassed by all but five among the hundreds to have worn Mariner blue. The quintet: Alex Rodriguez (215 and 213), Bret Boone (206) Phil Bradley (192) Ken Griffey Jr. (185) and . . . uh, Ichiro Suzuki.
True, his other offensive numbers are down, though not disproportionately to what one would expect of a man soon to turn 38.
Indeed, disparaging Ich for his waning production numbers reminds me of a classic (possibly apocryphal) Ty Cobb anecdote. Long-retired, he was attending an all-star game when a reporter asked the career .367 hitter what he’d average against modern pitchers.
The crotchety Cobb supposedly proffered: “Oh, probably about .300.”
That all, the writer asked, at which point Cobb snarled: “Well, what d’ya expect, I’m 70 years old!”
But back to Ichiro. He also has 40 stolen bases this year, two more than his career average. His offensive numbers, while scarcely sparkling, probably are well above the arc of the bell curve for great players his age. He won’t win his typical Gold Glove award but his mere four errors equal what he’s had each of the recent four seasons.
In short, he seems to be the least of field boss Eric Wedge’s worries going into the 2012 season: Suzuki’s final contract year.
Many have suggested that Ich, in effect, is depriving the team of placing a power-hitter in right field. Wedge has taken a more enlightened view. Earlier this year he told reporters that, if a club isn’t getting power from a traditional position (outfield and first and third base), then the long-balls and doubles have to come from middle infielders and catchers.
In fact, the team home-run leader is catcher Miguel Olivo. Dustin Ackley, presumed to be a fixture for years at second base, is expected to become a perennial 20-plus home-run guy, with a lot of doubles. Mike Carp’s 12 dingers in 286 at-bats would project to 28 next season if he played as often as Ichiro.
One hopes Carp and others amid the apparent wealth of young talent actually reach their potential here rather than at trade destinations.
As for Ichiro, arguing about the efficacy of keeping him seems academic given that it’s obvious to those who speak for him that he intends to play in Seattle next year and wouldn’t consent to a trade.
And there’s always the possibility, of course, that he’ll put up stunning numbers in 2012. Think of Ted Williams, in several ways the Ty Cobb of his era. He hit .388 at age 39, possibly amid criticism from certain Red Sox partisans grousing because he “only” had 163 hits and “just” 38 home runs.