In Japan, Ichiro enjoys a status comparable to a Living God.
Criticism of Him is taboo, and would probably incur the wrath of rightists.
However, how good a player is Ichiro?
Partisans will point to 10 years in a row of 200 plus hits. His career average for the Mariners is .328, which is Hall of Fame territory. Kudos indeed.
However, as is often noted, Ichiro almost never walks, and rarely hits for anything but singles.
His career on base percentage (OBP) is just .373, which is 184th on the all time list. For someone who does not or cannot hit for power, he is therefore not getting into scoring position - which is the lead off hitter's raison d'etre.
Derek Jeter, another future Hall of Famer whose skills are fading, has a career OBP of .385. And Jeter hits for power.
Perhaps the greatest leadoff hitter of all time, Ricky Henderson, topped in at .401, and he was a run-producing machine.
Even compatriot Kosuke Fukudome of the Cubs has had a better OBP: .375 in 2010 and .386 this year. And, once again, unlike Ichiro, Fukudome has power.
Well, Ichiro fans point out, he is a defensive machine. Yes, 160-pound Ichiro has an arm to die for. However, if he is so good in the field, why is he relegated to right field? The best man with the glove would be at short. In the outfield, the most gifted person plays center. Right field sees the least action, and therefore is the place you play the guy - how can we say this delicately? - who will see the least action.
Partisans also point to the fact that the Mariners are a lousy team. True.
However, why then has Ichiro not made himself available to other teams where he might win a World Series and, second, improve on his run production? Ichiro haters say it is his obsession with stats - his stats. We don't know.
Ichiro is a great player. Kyoto's Nintendo Corporation, which owns the team, is paying him a lot of money and getting more than that in return.
But he is not now - and never was - the best player in the Major Leagues. Far from it. At his peak, he was an All Star rightfielder.
But don't ever say that out loud in Japan.
Image © Wikipedia
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TK16 Master Kendama
Thursday, July 14, 2011