posted on Feb, 23 2005 @ 06:59 AM
Ichiro's goals? Numbers tough to imagine
Anything seems possible after hits record
By JOHN HICKEY
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER
PEORIA, Ariz. -- When talk turns to Ichiro Suzuki, the numbers start flying.
When Seattle manager Mike Hargrove discussed Ichiro yesterday, he turned several times to the major league-record 262 hits the Mariners right fielder
compiled last year, breaking George Sisler's 84-year-old mark of 257.
When hitting coach Don Baylor talked about Ichiro yesterday, he wondered if Ichiro could make a run at a .400 batting average. Baylor then compared
Ichiro's 2004 season to Cal Ripken Jr.'s breaking Lou Gehrig's mark of 2,130 consecutive games and pushing it to 2,632.
"Maybe his future is going to have a run at the (Joe DiMaggio) 56-game hitting streak," Baylor said. "That's the same kind of record like Gehrig's and
When Ichiro, whose career-best hitting streak is 23 games, starts talking about Ichiro, however, the first thing he says is February is no time to set
such lofty goals.
"Right now is no time to make goals," Ichiro said in meeting the media for the first time this season. "Right now, numbers aren't important. Hopefully
like last year, at some point in the season the numbers can become a goal."
That said, Ichiro talked plenty about numbers yesterday. He talked about whether .400 was an achievable goal for anybody. He talked about the
expectations that would follow in the wake of his hits record.
And, after prodding, he talked about a record that he has never approached, a record that would have special meaning for him. And it should. The
record for runs scored in a season is an almost-unthinkable 192 by Billy Hamilton in 1894. The record for the modern era is 177 by Babe Ruth in
Here's an idea of how off-the-charts those numbers are: Since 1937 no big leaguer had scored more than 151 runs in a season until Jeff Bagwell scored
152 for the Astros in 2000. No one has scored as many since.
Given that Ichiro had to wait until the final weekend of the season to reach triple figures last year (he finished with 101), such a record would seem
to be off the radar.
Even at his most run-happy, in 2001, Ichiro's total was 127. A stellar number, to be sure, but not at all in the record-threatening realm.
Spring training is conducive to dreams, however, and Ichiro's dream talk yesterday was about making a push at the runs record with the help of a
lineup beefed up by the additions of sluggers Richie Sexson at first base and Adrian Beltre at third base. Both have 40-homer power, although that may
be mitigated some by Safeco Field's hard-to-reach fences.
"I don't know what the number is," Ichiro said of the runs record, "but we've definitely added a lot of numbers with the players we've brought in. So
if I get a lot of hits, there should be a lot more runs. If I get close, that'll be exciting."
The right fielder's first runs goal, however, has nothing to do with chasing records. It has to do with winning games.
"My job is to score runs, and I hope to get to 100 much faster than I did last year," he said.
In the ideal world, of course, that earlier production would translate into more wins and help erase memories of a 99-loss season Ichiro recalled as
Of course, the runs record doesn't have the same cache as Ripken's record or a push at .400. There hasn't been a .400 hitter in the major leagues
since Ted Williams went 6-for-8 on the last day of the 1941 season to finish at .406 for the Red Sox.
In the past three decades, the Twins' Rod Carew (.388 in 1977), the Royals' George Brett (.390 in 1980) and the Padres' Tony Gwynn (.394 in
strike-shortened 1994) have made the best charges at .400.
Ichiro finished at .372 last year and twice finished over .380 for a season in Japan. But he hasn't hit .400 anywhere since high school.
It would seem his chances to reach .400 this year (or any year) aren't good, although, as Baylor said, "it would be great to see him make a run at
To achieve his 262 hits last year, Ichiro needed a career-high 704 at-bats.
That in itself is a staggering number, just one fewer than Willie Wilson's all-time record of 705 set in 1980. To reach .400 in 704 at-bats, Ichiro
would have to destroy his record and rack up 282 hits.
His fewest number of at-bats in his four Seattle seasons is 647 (2002), and even with that modest total, he would need 259 hits, more than anyone in
history except Ichiro last year, to reach .400.
"It's been many years (since) somebody has hit .400, and I don't know if I will ever do it," Ichiro said. "But I want to be a player where fans can
think that I can do it. And if it does happen, it happens.
"Maybe no one will ever do it again. It's hard to say."
It's easy to say Ichiro has increased expectations now that he has set the hits record and taken over the batting lead among active players with 2,500
or more career at-bats at .3394, just ahead of Todd Helton's 3387.
Those expectations factor into Ichiro's thinking entering the spring.
"As a player, you always need to have pressure, whatever it is," he said. "You might say that 262 hits would do it, or 74 homers. Players need
pressure; it's good for players to have higher expectations.
"I feel as a player that I make a lot of mistakes and those turn into outs. Last year, I made less mistakes than in previous years. If I do that
(again), I'll have a higher average and more hits."
Maybe 192 runs and a .400 average aren't quite as elusive as they would appear.
Nah, they are.