Thursday, June 16, 2016

On Ichiro and late starts

Ichiro Suzuki bangs out a double Wednesday in San Diego.
Ichiro Suzuki is having quite a season. The 42-year-old outfielder is hitting .349 as of this morning, and even without power (six doubles and no other extra-base hits) his OPS (On-base Plus Slugging) is a respectable .807.

His two hits Wednesday against the Padres put his combined totals -- Japan and MLB -- past Pete Rose's MLB totals. No, that doesn't give Ichiro "the record." Suzuki has 2,979 MLB hits and 1,278 in the Japan Pacific League. If we really want to add the two up and compare to Rose, it's fair to give Rose credit for his 301 minor league hits. And Ty Cobb credit for his 166 minor league hits ...

We don't, of course, because these leagues are not directly comparable.

This hardly detracts from Ichrio's accomplishments. He's almost certain to pass 3.000 hits this year -- that's made-in-the-USA (and Canada) MLB base knocks, which is pretty impressive even without considering that he didn't get to play in North America until he was already 27. There can't be any serious question that he was capable of hitting well in MLB well before then.

His late start here reminds me of Lefty Grove. Grove won 300 games with the Athletics and Red Sox, pitched 17 years in the majors. But he also won 111 games in the minors, 108 of them for the Baltimore Orioles in the International League at a time predating farm systems. The Orioles were a minor league team, yes, but they were better than many major league clubs. Jack Dunn built an absolute powerhouse and he wasn't letting his stars go easily after being forced by finances to sell off a young Babe Ruth.

Grove won 25 games for Baltimore in 1921, 18 in 1922, 27 in '23, 26 in '24. At which point the other IL owners, tired of getting hammered year after year by the Orioles, voted to subject their league to the major league draft, and Dunn was forced to sell off his stars rather than lose them for a pittance.

Which gave Grove enough MLB time to get to a round-number milestone, get inducted into the Hall of Fame, establish a record that echoes decades after his death. But he didn't get to start building that major league record until he was already 25.

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