Ichiro Suzuki is a Hall of Fame talent who, at this point in his career, is simply making that status inescapable.
With his 10th straight 200-hit season, achieved on Thursday, Ichiro put his name in the same paragraph as that of Pete Rose. He had tied Rose's career total of 200-hit seasons, the significant difference being that Ichiro has achieved this feat in his first 10 seasons in the Major Leagues.
That record of 10 straight 200-hit seasons is his alone. It is time now that he be regarded by himself, alone, as a singular talent, a unique player, one of a kind.
Hits, hits, hits. Ichiro established the single-season record for hits (262) in 2004, beating the record of Hall of Famer George Sisler. Now he has set a standard for hitting early and late but especially often with the 10 straight 200-hit seasons. There is a reason no one else has ever done this. It has been an accomplishment beyond the reach of every player in the game's history -- until Ichiro Suzuki.
Ichiro is a five-tool player. He can hit, he can run, he can throw and he is one of the finest outfielders in baseball, with nine straight Gold Gloves to his credit. The fifth tool, hitting for power, is an option Ichiro has not chosen. He has been cast as a leadoff hitter by the Mariners and it is his role to get on base, not to attempt to run up some power numbers. But anyone who has watched him take batting practice understands that he has power. It's not Jim Thome power, but it's power, even if Ichiro has abstained from taking his game in that direction.
Ichiro is so good that he has single-handedly beaten, destroyed, demolished and obliterated a cultural stereotype. Before his arrival in the U.S., it was widely believed that although Japanese pitchers might succeed in the North American game, Japanese hitters would be overpowered by our hard-throwing hurlers.
That was wildly incorrect. So Ichiro became not only a Hall of Fame-caliber player but a pioneer. His performance helped broaden baseball's base of talent. The game is better because Ichiro played it -- not only could Ichiro play it, he excelled at it.
Most consecutive seasons with 200-plus hits
Wee Willie Keeler
If it is possible that somebody who has been in 10 straight All-Star Games has not had enough recognition, that somebody would be Ichiro. A large portion of the North American baseball public is sleeping while the Mariners' home games are headed toward a conclusion.
And Ichiro has not demonstrated an interest in maximizing media interest in him, which would maximize the effects of his stardom. And that is perfectly all right.
When he has chosen to offer his insights, he has demonstrated an obvious intelligence, not to mention wit. There were his comments, for instance, about the inaugural World Baseball Classic. People were interested in his unique perspective on the relative merits of Japanese and American baseball. What could Japanese and American players learn from one another? Ichiro said that Japanese players could learn from the intensity American players brought to the game on a daily basis, and American players could learn to maintain dugouts that were not quite so filthy.
ichiro by the years
* Statistics with 10 games remaining
How will Ichiro's achievements be measured against those of the greatest players in the game's history? Well, he's not done achieving. But he has already amassed 2,230 hits even before completing his 10th season in the Majors. It took Rose 24 seasons to collect his record, 4,256, although he was not a full-time player at the end of his career. It took Ty Cobb 24 seasons to record the previous record, 4,191.
Ichiro will be 37 in October. His Major League career does not project for another 14 seasons, although his 41 stolen bases this year indicate that he is not in a dramatic decline.
The point is that over 10 years of play, Ichiro has achieved something that no other player has. He has had 10 straight 200-hit seasons, and he was never particularly close to missing that lofty level, his previous low being 206 in 2005. In 2011, an 11th straight season of 200 hits would be not a surprise but a reasonable expectation.
Ichiro has turned the great into the routine. Whenever this remarkable career ends, it will be followed, five years later, by a richly deserved induction at Cooperstown.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.