Ichiro honored at Safeco

Ichiro honored at Safeco

SEATTLE -- The kind of start Ichiro Suzuki needs to become the first Major League player in 64 years to hit .400 provided a timely topic for Commissioner Bud Selig Friday night prior to presenting the Mariners right fielder with an award for breaking an 84-year-old record last season.

On a night the first 25,000 fans entering Safeco Field received "Ichiro 262 Bobbleheads", the single-season hit king accepted the Commissioner's Historic Achievement Award during a pregame ceremony near home plate.

After watching video highlights of Ichiro's record accomplishment, the largest crowd of the homestand stood and applauded as Ichiro and Selig walked out of the first base dugout, onto a red carpet, and to a podium near home plate.

Ichiro accepted the Historic Achievement Award, and three framed photos, and then stepped up to the microphone and gave an acceptance speech -- in English.

"I am honored to received this award," Ichiro said. "Breaking the hits record here at Safeco Field in front of the Seattle fans is the greatest moment of my baseball career. First, I must thank George Sisler. I was able to experience that great moment only because he made such an impressive record.

"Without George Sisler, I never could have reached this level of emotion. I am honored to have broken this prestigious record. I also want to thank my wife, Yumiko, my teammates, the fans in Japan and most of all, Seattle fans. You give me great inspiration. Thank you."

"We have been very careful in the awarding of the Commissioner's Historic Achievement Award," Selig said during a press conference. "And it is a very fair statement to say that as I award it to Ichiro tonight, he has richly deserved it. There is not even a question.

"His accomplishments have been remarkable. He follows a list of people who have deserved it, and he certainly does, too."

Ichiro, the Mariners' two-time batting champion, replaced Hall of Fame first baseman George Sisler in the MLB record book last season for most hits in a season -- 262. Sisler had 257 hits in 1920 with the St. Louis Browns, a record that many considered to be unbreakable.

With the Mariners being eliminated from the playoff race well before September, Ichiro's pursuit of Sisler's record drew much more attention locally than nationally.

"I'm not sure his greatness is fully appreciated all over," Selig said, "but he is an extraordinary player. Other guys have hit .340, .350, but this guy is special. I mean breaking George Sisler's record is a great accomplishment. There have been a lot of great hitters, and not many have come close."

Not even the late Ted Williams.

"I have always felt that Ted was the greatest hitter that ever lived, but Ichiro is really special," Selig said. "He is really a unique baseball player and hitter. I've seen power hitters and high-average hitters and you have to go back and watch Rod Carew in his prime to see what you thought was about as great of hitter as you could see. But this young man is a very exceptional hitter and player."

Ichiro becomes the eighth MLB player to receive the award, and the first since Roger Clemens was saluted in 2004 for recording 300 career wins and 4000 career strikeouts.

The way Ichiro has been hitting in April, he just might be positioning himself to become the first two-time recipient of the Historic Achievement Award.

He went into the series opener against the Indians with a .375 batting average. That is 120 points higher than his April average in 2004. Ichiro got hot in May (.400), cooled off a bit in June (.274) and then sizzled in July (.432), August (.463), September (.373) and October (.429), becoming the first player in MLB history to have as many as three 50-hit months (May, July and August).

If Ichiro can bat .429 for half a season, then why couldn't he hit .400 for an entire season?

"It would be a wonderful, wonderful thing," Selig said. "I can't tell you what a great thing that would be for our sport."

The .400 mark has been challenged several times since Williams batted .406 in 1941, and the closest anyone came is Tony Gwynn, who batted .394 in 1994 with the Padres. Carew and George Brett also challenged the elusive figure.

"I actually talked to Ted quite a lot about (hitting .400), and Ichiro looks like the same kind of player in that he has a lot of confidence. He may not have the power Ted had, but he can do something Ted never could, and that is run.

"Ichiro is just fun to watch and the more you watch him, the more you realize how good he really is."

Ichiro, 31, left Japan prior to the 2001 season to join the Mariners, leaving behind a string of batting championships that he accumulated while playing for the Orix Blue Wave.

The Mariners won an AL record 116 games in his rookie season and Ichiro became only the second player in MLB history to win both the Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year awards in the same season.

He also is the first player to have at least 200 hits in each of his first four MLB seasons.

Though Ichiro is the first Mariners player to receive the Historic Achievement Award, the Mariners' organization was honored for the remarkable 2001 season.

Other recipients include:

* Barry Bonds for setting the MLB single-season home run record.
* Rickey Henderson for setting the MLB records for most career runs, walks and stolen bases.
* Tony Gwynn for an NL record-tying eight batting titles and .322 career batting average.
* Mark McGwire for setting the MLB single-season home run record.
* Cal Ripken Jr., for setting the MLB record for most consecutive games played.
* Sammy Sosa for surpassing Roger Maris' 61 home runs in a single season.

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.