Ichiro! and the Hall of Fame

DMZ · September 29, 2004 at 3:01 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Ichiro started playing ion 1993 for the Orix Blue Wave. Between 1994 and 2000, seven years, he hit .353/.421/.522. Since coming over to the Mariners, he’s hit .339/.384/.444.

Warning! Rough stats ahead!

Assuming that he managed the same overall playing time (longer seasons here but labor disputes), using his Safeco rates, that’s about 4000 PAs, and you’d add to his career totals about 1,300 hits, 250 walks, another 50 HR.

Ichiro! would today have over 2,200 hits, over 400 walks (420?), and 87 HR. He’d break into the all-time leaderboard after his 2005 season at about… #90, 2006, #60 or so (asssuming no labor war again), 2007, #40, 2008, he could be in the top 20 for major league hits of all time. His 350 SB would have him sneaking onto that all-time leaderboard this year.

That’s not perfect, but it’s a starting point to think about this. Ichiro! would have played 100 games in 1994, say 145 in 1995. If you figure him for an almost full-timer but also grant him games off he missed in Orix, I come out with another hundred, hundred-fifty hits.

I think even that understates the case. Speed, like defense, generally declines much earlier in a player’s career than hitting talent. Given Ichiro’s general hitting style, I think it’s likely that he may done even better here early in his career than this gives him credit. And he’d almost certainly have won a number of Gold Gloves if he’d played here from 1994-2000 as well.

My point, though, is this — unlike Japanese players who put up tremendous numbers only in Japanese baseball, Ichiro! may well end up with, strictly speaking, two halves of a resume. He’ll have been outstanding in the first half of his career in Japan, and in the second half of his career here. If he’d played here his whole career, he’d be a shoe-in to be voted into the Hall.

But as it is, his accomplishments here only serve as proof that he could have been a HoF-level player, had he started here… but his career achievements here won’t seem to justify enshrinement.

I’d vote for him, but I think everyone here knew I’d write that. The question is… when Ichiro! decides to retire, given five years to mull on the question, will the Hall of Fame votering have advanced enough that he’ll be given due consideration? Should the Hall of Fame recognize great ability, even if all that the ability achieved is not within our borders?

And if that’s the case, doesn’t that open the door for Oh?


31 Responses to “Ichiro! and the Hall of Fame”

  1. Robbbbbb on September 29th, 2004 3:08 pm

    “[W]ill the Hall of Fame votering have advanced enough that he’ll be given due consideration? Should the Hall of Fame recognize great ability, even if all that the ability achieved is not within our borders?”

    Perhaps. I choose to remember that the Hall of Fame gave credit to a guy who accumulated a bunch of stats in the Negro Leagues before he came over to Major League Baseball. Jackie Robinson made the Hall on the first ballot.

    While there are differences between Jackie and Ichiro, there are some similarities to their careers, too, and I think there is at least a chance that the voters will recognize that Ichiro’s career in Japan deserves some credit. It all depends on when Ichiro’s skills expire, too. If he plays to age 40, like a certain DH who’s a contender for the Hall, at the level he’s playing now, then I think he’s a shoo-in.

  2. successlessness on September 29th, 2004 3:11 pm

    Oh deserves HOF status regardless.

  3. Mark in DC on September 29th, 2004 3:15 pm

    If he ages well and comes close to 3000 hits he has to go in. His stats alone would be hall worthy, but the impact he had off the field are even greater. If the wave of Oriental players continues to grow he will be the figure that is credited with opening up these opportunities.

    YEA DC WE GOT A TEAM!!!!!!!!!

  4. Dash on September 29th, 2004 3:18 pm

    Here is the problem with including stats from beyond the borders. It is the ‘National Baseball Hall of Fame’ which means that only stats accrued within these borders (and our suburb Canada) count. Until it becomes the ‘Professional Baseball Hall of Fame’ they won’t take international stats into account. This also explains inclusion of stats from players in the Negro Leagues.

    Don’t get me wrong I think Oh should be in there (I even have a replica Tokyo Giants jersey of his). And if Ichiro can keep up this pace for a 4 or 5 more years I’d say he should be in there too.

    Unfortunately Hall of Fame voters and aren’t as enlightened as we are.

  5. bob mong on September 29th, 2004 3:24 pm

    I kind of think that if Ichiro! puts up borderline HOF numbers (i.e., 2000-2500 hits, .320ish batting average) then his Japanese career will be enough to push him over the line and into the HOF.

    On the other hand, if he has close to 3000 hits with a batting average north of .330 plus a bunch of gold gloves, then he’ll get in, japanese career or not.

  6. tyler on September 29th, 2004 3:39 pm

    Dash… are you married?


    Ichiro belongs in. Edgar belongs in for what he did for saving baseball in Seattle (and despite FO attempts to destroy it now).

    Oh.. No? I say On YES! and…
    Pete Rose belongs in… or Ty Cobb belongs out.

    Oh.. and let Bill Simmons fix the Hall!!! His ideas are awesome. And Edgar is a Level 1 HoF’er if I’ve ever seen one. In fact, somebody rich who loves the game of Baseball should buy some land, create a “New Cooperstown” and build the new hall there, complete with purchased official memorabilia, and ask players for their gear to put there instead of the quasi-hall we have now. Kind of like an “AFL”… until the supposedly real hall changes to meet the needs of its ever shrinkening fan base.


  7. Dash on September 29th, 2004 3:40 pm

    Tyler – Nope. Hopelessly single.

  8. Adam on September 29th, 2004 3:42 pm

    I don’t think he will unless he’s like Joe Morgan or Rickey Henderson and plays well to his late 30s… and I would be shocked if he ages really well.

  9. Kelly Gaffney on September 29th, 2004 3:42 pm

    I think Minnie Minoso and Monte Irvin make for good comps for someone who started late in the major leagues, but clearly had the talent to excel earlier than they did. Why Irvin is in the Hall and Minoso is not, I can’t explain given that racism eliminated the beginning of both their careers. I also think it reflects the internal inconsistency of the Hall of Fame voting, making projecting the receptiveness of the HOF voters to Ichiro’s candidacy impossible.

  10. Evan on September 29th, 2004 3:48 pm

    Given that the “National Baseball Hall of Fame” does extend into performances from Canada (that said, I don’t see any Montreal Maroons there), I don’t see how you can exclude Japan.

    Ichiro’s career is a good comp for the negro league players who made it into the majors, while Oh’s career is a good comp for the megro players who didn’t. I don’t see how you accept one without the other.

    I’d put Oh in the hall. Actually, as long as the American Association and Federal League count as major leagues, I’m tempted to qualify the Japanese leagues as such too. Even if it does completely screw up the record books.

  11. Pete N. on September 29th, 2004 4:06 pm

    As much as I’d love to see any Mariner into the Hall, I’ve got to disagree with this argument. First, the reasoning for including non-MLB experience for Robinson, Paige, et al is that they had no choice BUT to play in other leagues. Their color excluded them from MLB, or else they would have competed there. This is not the case with Ichiro, as he moved to the majors when he chose to, not when MLB decided to allow players of Japanese descent to compete.

    Second, you cannot consider Ichiro’s Japan League stats unless you do the same for EVERY JAPENESE PLAYER IN THE HISTORY OF JAPAN. This is a daunting task, and one obviously fraught with peril.

    I’m sorry, but the only way I see that Ichiro Suzuki deserves to make it to the Hall of Fame is if he continues hitting the way he has for another 8 years.

  12. Scott on September 29th, 2004 4:07 pm

    I wrote about this recently, but the amazing thing is that if you look at his HOF monitor he already has accumulated a large part of a HOF portfolio, based on 3 years alone. It’s really just a freak show stat, of course, but if he can play here until at least 30s he’ll have pretty credentials than several HOF OFs on his MLB stats alone…

  13. dw on September 29th, 2004 4:12 pm

    If you’re going to put Oh in the Hall, shouldn’t Lefty O’Doul go in first?

    I ran Ichiro’s numbers through an old Brock2 calculator the other night and got 7703 ABs, 2462 hits, 80 HRs, 543 walks, and a .320 average. He ended with 8 200-hit seasons, 10 straight years of .300+ BA, and only 2-3 years of replacement level play. Assuming 8 GGs and 8 ASGs (but no more batting titles), he ends up with a HoF Monitor score of 150 — a solid HoFer. The projection thinks his best years are past him, but it also says he has 4 years of 2002-level performance left in him.

    The Brock2 isn’t all that accurate (think 5-day hurricane forecasts), but it’s a rough-and-ready forecast.

  14. Pete N. on September 29th, 2004 4:14 pm

    One more point. I find it good to use baseball-reference.com’s “Most Similar by Age” chart when looking at these sorts of things, and guess who I find as the most similar to Ichiro through age 29?

    George Stone.

    Will all due respect to Mr. Stone’s family, I don’t think you build a Hall of Fame case on his portfolio.

  15. dw on September 29th, 2004 4:23 pm

    On Scott’s point: I calculated Ichiro’s current HoF Monitor score as 115, assuming another GG this year. 24 of that, though, comes from his lifetime BA breaking .330.

    And on Pete’s comment: George Stone is only a similar match because he, like Ichiro, started playing in the league at 27. Beyond that, they’re not all that similar. Ichiro is such a fluke (with his late debut) that it’s very hard to find anyone with a similar curve. No one comes into MLB at the peak of their performance curve.

    Wee Willie Keeler 27-30 stats are a whole lot more similar to Ichiro’s 27-30 stats than Stone’s.

  16. Pete N. on September 29th, 2004 4:26 pm

    You’re right in respect to Stone v Ichiro, and it isn’t fair of me to find comparisons to Ichiro because of his innate uniqueness.

    The core argument is still there, though. Guessing what people would have done is not a valid way to select Hall of Famers. Only in one instance, the exclusion of black players from the majors, do I symphathize, as it is merely a way of righting a wrong. I haven’t been convinced of that in Ichiro’s situation.

  17. dan heller on September 29th, 2004 4:48 pm

    Jackie Robinson didn’t quite “accumulate a bunch of stats in the Negro Leagues”. He played one season with just 163 ABs before joining the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 (played in the minors in 1946).

    Year Team G AB H 2b 3b HR BA SB Pos
    1945 KC Monarchs 47 163 63 14 4 5 .387 13 SS

  18. DMZ on September 29th, 2004 4:49 pm

    I’d like to point out that Ichiro! did not have the kind of choice that’s been attributed to him. He’d have to wait another year to be a free agent eligible to sign here. The only reason we got him when we did is because he had expressed an interest in moving over, and Orix decided that they’d make a lot of money posting his rights up to the MLB.

    Because of the agreements between MLB and Japanese baseball, making the move from Japanese baseball once you’ve started playing there is not nearly as easy as you make it sound. Sometimes it gets really complicated and nasty, as with Alfonso Soriano.

  19. Pete N. on September 29th, 2004 5:10 pm

    While it’s fair to say that making the shift from Japan to the U.S. “is not nearly as easy” as I made it sound, it is a far cry from what Jackie Robinson and the Negro Leaguers went through.

    After all, I’m sure that Satchel Paige “expressed an interest” in playing in the majors to no avail. My point is that while Ichiro is a phenomenal, once-in-a-lifetime player that we are blessed to be able to watch, his accomplishments in the major leagues will fall short of Hall of Fame status should his career end within 3 or 4 years. And while it is unfortunate that he wasn’t able to come over sooner, it is nowhere near the historical injustice of white-only baseball.

    By the way, I almost hesitate arguing this point, inasmuch as I greatly enjoy your website and find myself agreeing with 98% of your arguments.

  20. BJH on September 29th, 2004 5:39 pm


    I’m certainly no baseball historical expert, but..

    First off, isn’t it true that MLB teams could not in 1993 and cannot now even draft Japanese amateurs? And even if they could have in 1993, would they have drafted Ichiro? I doubt it. Why? No matter how much talent and potential he showed (and I don’t know how much that was in 1993), I remember a prejudice against Japanese players (position players in particular) that they just couldn’t make it in MLB. These are the pre-Nomo days.

    That is certainly not the same as the prejudice black players faced, but still.

  21. Nikku on September 29th, 2004 6:09 pm

    I find it funny that the same writers that say Japanese players shouldn’t get ROY votes (usually saying that they don’t want to disrespect NPB) wouldn’t vote for Oh to be included in the HOF. They really need to make up their minds about if NPB success means anything here.

  22. Pete N. on September 29th, 2004 6:18 pm

    BJH, you make a good point, and, to be honest, I was unaware that there were any restrictions as to the drafting of Japanese amateur players. However, out of curiousity and not facetiousness, how was Mac Suzuki able to come over at such a young age?

    One last point, here are three names:

    Katsuya Nomura (C), 657 HR, 1988 RBI, 2900 H
    Isao Harimoto (OF), 504 HR, 1500 R, 1676 RBI
    Shigeo Nagashima (3B), 444 HR, 1552 RBI, .305 BA, .540 SLG

    Before I looked it up, I had never heard of these people, but their statistics are fantastic. I don’t see how you can include Ichiro and Oh without including them – and that’s just the best three I could find in five minutes of searching. I’m sure there are dozens if not hundred more players that merit consideration.

    But that begets a nasty problem, where do you draw the line? If Ichiro, why not Oh? If Oh, why not Nagashima?

    Unfortunately, there is no clear answer to this problem. We could erect a separate wing of the Hall for international players, but that smacks of racism and is really a lousy solution. Japanese baseball history, while as rich and full of talented players as American baseball, is just that, Japanese baseball. I’m sure Japan has a Hall of Fame and I’m just as sure that Oh, et al are proud members.

    However, do you think Henry Aaron is a member of the Japanese Hall of Fame? What about Babe Ruth? Isn’t it fair to say that if Oh belongs in the American Hall, that Aaron belongs in the Japanese Hall?

    The whole thing is silly. To be a member of the Hall of Fame, it is clear to me that your accomplishments in the major leagues are what qualifies you, with the SOLE exception of Negro League ballplayers who were not able to compete.

  23. Chris Begley on September 29th, 2004 7:14 pm

    I find that I agree with Pete on this. However, let us say that Ichiro plays 6 more years, decreasing in quality every year – that would have him end up with about 200- 2200 hits. In that case, he may be a player you want in the hall because his time here was at a Hall of Fame level. Nothing to do with his Japanese stats, but if he performed that well in just 10 years, he is definitely a hall of famer (in my opinion).
    Now the Hockey Hall of Fame is expressly a hall for all hockey, hence the inclusion of Vladmir Tretiak, among others.

  24. tyler on September 29th, 2004 7:43 pm

    once again… on the hall comments… read the simmons article. while he writes for humor as much as legitimate points often, this particular idea is fantastic, and would allow for the possibility of admitting various players from other areas.

    It could even be built in a particular building shape to allot for the possibility. And don’t say there’s no money for it– have you read the financial package for the Washington situation? Sickening.

    And I don’t think seperate wings doesn’t reek of racism to me. in fact, isn’t there a fair sized Negro-Leagues section? doens’t that deserve a section? And i would move the majority of the “Old” players into their own wing as well… the guys that nobody has ever heard of outside a historian… not the “name” guys.

    just thoughts…

  25. Chris Caldwell on September 29th, 2004 8:47 pm

    I think Ichiro’s impact on the game off the field is being understated here.

    Before Hideo Nomo played for the Dodgers, the perception was that Japanese baseball was simply of inferior quality. Then Nomo exploded onto the scene, followed by other pitchers like Kazuhiro Sasaki, and the prevailing idea was that Japanese pitchers could make it, but the hitters were slap-hitting girls softball players that would be embarassed by big-league pitching. Then Ichiro signed with the M’s. Rob Dibble famously said he would run naked through Times Square if Ichiro won the batting title, and others cast similar doubts. Ichiro prevailed.

    I believe that, given Ichiro’s confidence (borderline arrogance, but the good kind), he was waiting for the chance to come to the Majors, and at the age of 27 it finally arrived. Racism toward the Japanese players was clearly, to me, a key reason that Ichiro took as long as he did to come to Seattle. Without Ichiro, Hideki Matsui and any other subsequent Japanese sluggers might not have had their chance. That’s a Hall of Famer.

    Oh, and Tyler-
    Thanks for the Simmons link. I loved when he said that he and his dad never bought scalped tickets at Fenway just to see Sutton pitch.

  26. Adam on September 29th, 2004 10:26 pm

    I believe the actual reason why Ichiro didn’t come sooner had nothing to do with racism.. but the contracts Japanese teams have their players sign which keep them around for 7 years. That and going to America was frowned upon for a while, Nomo was regarded as a renegade when he did it.

  27. dw on September 29th, 2004 10:51 pm

    Tyler —

    There IS NO separate Negro Leagues section of the Hall. All the plaques hang in the same room, in the order in which they were inducted. There are different sections of memorabilia from different leagues and levels (Negro, international, AAU, etc.), but there’s no Negro League section or wing.

  28. Paul Weaver on September 29th, 2004 11:14 pm

    What’s the minimum to get in the Hall as a player? 8 years?
    You can enter the hall of fame on more merit than your pure performance. Jackie Robinson was really good on a great team for a relatively short career – it was his impact on baseball (and beyond) that made him a first ballot HoFer, not his stats. Ichiro is making an impact (very similarly in fact), he’s had an entire nation enraptured and opened the door for a whole new nationality.

    Ichiro will lose a step or two, and those infield hits will go down, the average will go down, (his patience will probably improve). But he doesn’t even need 2,000 hits to be a first ballot HoFer.

    I believe his Japan stats should play very little role for his HOF access. Players who excelled in other independent and minor leagues (negro leagues aside) never got consideration.

    Being the baseball geeks that we are, we know that if Ichiro merely hits .300 with his style of play, then he isn’t amazing – ~.700 OPS. But even if he were play that way for four more years and retire, coupled with his first 4 – he has lower-tier HOF numbers…but upper-tier HOF impact.
    (And of course he shatters that ineffective, but intriguing, HOF monitor number. With this season he already breaks 100 on the monitor.)

  29. bob mong on September 30th, 2004 8:17 am

    10 years is the minimum for the Hall.

    And just for a little perspective, here are the post-WWII HOF right-fielders:

    Roberto Clemente, Al Kaline, Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield, Frank Robinson, and Hank Aaron

    Those guys have an average career line of:
    3069 H, 516 2B, 91 3B, 501 HR, 3466 R+RBI, .293/.368/.502

    That’s the average.

  30. dw on September 30th, 2004 9:40 am

    But we all know Ichiro is a CF playing in RF. If he moves over next year (not bloody likely) that means he’ll play the majority of his HoF-eligible MLB career in CF.

    If I’m reading the list right, there are only two regular post-WWII CFs in the Hall — Richie Ashburn and Mickey Mantle. Two completely different models of hitter. This is why the position argument is stupid. I mean, do we say that Renteria is a terrible SS because his OPS isn’t anywhere near ARod/Jeter/Tejada?

    The Monitor seems to be good barometer for the future, since it relies on titles, awards, and averages. If a player is HoF-worthy, their Black Ink, Gray Ink, and Standards numbers will catch up. Ichiro’s Standards number should climb two more points this year (24 to 26), Black Ink eight points (10 to 18), Gray Ink eleven points (43 to 54). Couple that with a 115 Monitor score and he looks like he just needs six more solid years for admission. 115 puts him in with NOMAH, Larkin, and Biggio.

    As noted before, 24 of those Monitor points are for batting above .330. If he falls back to ~.320, he’ll need to make up those eight points. The easiest way to do that is to get 2500 hits (15 points).

    So… he is on the road to the Hall, and in four years has put together a case as strong as NOMAH’s. Based on current numbers and projections, one could put money on him making the Hall in the first three ballots. He’s a dead-ball superstar playing in the live-ball era.

  31. Jim Albright on October 11th, 2004 6:07 pm

    For my take on the issues (I’m working on an Ichiro conversion and a look at the most similar players to that conversion), see the following articles:

    There are more articles on Oh if you’re interested, but start there.

    Jim Albright