Ichiro! and the Hall of Fame
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?