Ichiro reached Labor Day with 160 hits (went 2-for-5 in an 8-5 loss to Oakland on Sunday), obviously meaning that he needs 40 more in Seattle’s final 23 games to reach 200. An 11th consecutive 200-hit season would not only extend Ichiro’s own major league record, but break a tie with Pete Rose for most 200-hit seasons in a career.
Those who have followed Ichiro since his Mariners debut in 2001 certainly understand that almost no hitting feat, regardless how rare, seemed beyond his reach. Until now.
To collect 40 hits in 23 games, Ichiro almost requires a 23-game hitting streak. In what is the worst statistical season of his time in America (he reached Labor Day with a .275 batting average, 56 points below his career mark), Ichiro’s longest hitting streak is just 13 games.
Ichiro would also practically have to go 2-for-4 in every remaining game, or would need a handful for 3-for-4s or 4-for-4s to offset inevitable 0-for-4s and 1-for-4s. Ichiro hasn’t produced a three-hit game since Aug. 22 at Cleveland, and has just five such contests all season (plus a pair of four-hit games).
Even for a player who once collected an astonishing 25 hits in nine games (August of 2004), the hit mountain now confronting Ichiro is unscalable.
If Ichiro had been 40 hits shy of 200 at the start of September, he would have had a reasonable chance at No. 11, considering that he twice has produced 40-hit Septembers, in 2004 (44 hits in 28 games) and 2010 (41 in 27 games).
But Ichiro entered September needing 46 hits to reach 200. While Ichiro has produced 46 hits in a month eight times, he hasn’t reached or exceeded that number since May of 2009, when he had 49. Before that, Ichiro’s last month with 46 or more hits occurred in June 2007 (47).
A vintage Ichiro might have been up for another 46-hit month, despite averaging just 33.9 hits in September/October for his career. But a nearly 38-year-old Ichiro hasn’t had more than 39 hits in any month this season (39 in April) and has averaged just 30.8 hits through the season’s first five.
If, as expected, Ichiro falls shy of 200, it won’t be because he failed in September. Ichiro effectively lost his chance at 200 when he had a 22-hit May (.210 batting average) and followed with a 26-hit July. Anyone chasing 200 hits needs to average about 35 hits per month.
Another issue is whether Ichiro should even be in position to reach 200, regardless of how remote that position is. Sportspress Northwest colleague Art Thiel has argued persuasively that the at-bats currently going to Ichiro in yet another last-place season should instead be spread among the crop of younger Mariners to help determine their major league worthiness.
The Mariners have so far refused to accept that argument. Or perhaps they can’t accept it because Ichiro insists on playing, and Ichiro always gets what Ichiro wants. Ichiro has never made it a secret that 200 hits is a personal priority, and this might be his last, best chance at achieving the feat.
Ichiro turns 38 in October. Only three players that age, or older, managed 200 hits in a season. Sam Rice had 207 as a 40-year-old for the 1930 Washington Senators and 202 for the 1928 Senators at age 38.
Paul Molitor produced 225 hits as a 39-year-old for the 1996 Minnesota Twins, and a 38-year-old Rose had 208 for the 1979 Philadelphia Phillies. In addition, only three players reached 200 hits as a 37-year-old, none since Tony Gwynn in 1997. In fact, just nine individuals have ever managed a 200-hit season after turning 36, one of them Ichiro in 2010.
Most hitters of Ichiro’s historical ilk exhausted their supply of 200-hit seasons long before ages 37-38. Willie Keeler (1892-1910), who held the record with eight straight 200-hit seasons before Ichiro broke it, never had another after turning 30 years old.
Wade Boggs (seven 200-hit seasons), Al Simmons (six) and Rod Carew (four) never had 200-hit seasons after turning 32, and Rogers Hornsby, with seven such years, had his last in 1929 at age 33. And Ty Cobb (eight), never had more than 175 hits in a season after turning 38.
So we may have seen the last of Ichiro’s annual 200-hit extravaganzas. If so, and regardless the Mariners’ internal politics, what a remarkable show it was, one we won’t forget, or see again.
200 HITS IN A SEASON AFTER TURNING 36
|1996||Paul Molitor||Twins||DH, INF||R/R||225||39|
|1979||Pete Rose||Phillies||OF, 1B||S/R||208||38|
|1977||Pete Rose||Reds||OF, 1B||S/R||204||36|
|1993||Paul Molitor||Blue Jays||DH, INF||R/R||211||36|