On the significance of this record

DMZ · October 2, 2004 at 12:51 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Some quick and dirty comparisons.

Sisler hit .407 in 631 at-bats to get to 257 hits.
As of press time, Ichiro is hitting .373 in 694 AB to get his 259 hits.

In 1920, in the AL, the average hitter put up a .284/.343/.387 line. Today it’s .270/.338/.433.

Using Clay Davenport’s historical translations to compare the two, Sisler’s batting average translates to a .372 and he comes out with 241 hits over the course of his 1920 season. Ichiro’s translated stats so far for the 2004 season have his batting average at .388 (and only 264 hits).

If you want to make an argument that Sisler was the more valuable hitter overall, whatever. To me it’s sort of besides the point, which is that Ichiro is an amazing hitter, even as he might lack the power, say, of Sisler.

Is the record important? Like every record, it depends on the beholder. I could personally care less about who hit the most home runs in a 17-game span, but I’m interested in 162-game spans, as long as they coincide with the start and finish of a season.

Acknowledging Ichiro’s great accomplishment while knocking down the accomplishment itself is the kind of back-handed compliment that makes me crazy. We for better or worse count certain stats in baseball, and we order them to some degree — batting for an average higher than .400, home runs, RBI is frequently mentioned when a good offense seems like it might produce a hitter to challenge Hack Wilson — and we pay attention to those who might challenge them.

Part of Ichiro’s problem is that he came up on Sisler and blackjacked him (no doubt apologizing before hand at some length) when no one was looking. This isn’t a record that anyone’s approached in years. Because baseball hitters have changed and the game itself doesn’t produce the kind of high-average hitters to challenge it, we don’t see the kind of speculation and press coverage of it. There wasn’t the kind of photo-genic Sosa v McGwire race, followed by Bonds a couple of years later. Sisler isn’t known in the way that Ted Williams is (though Sisler’s one of the best first basemen ever), so the season hits record doesn’t have as much modern historical ooomph as hitting .400 does.

But so be it. Ichiro has reached and passed a mark for hitting excellence which no one has approached besides Ichiro has challenged since 2000, when Darin Erstad (no, really) had 240. This record is not cheap, or easily achieved, as some might have you believe. It has proven one of the most expensive and difficult in baseball history, and whether or not you want to nitpick at Ichiro’s game, you have to applaud this achievement.


9 Responses to “On the significance of this record”

  1. Flavor Flav on October 2nd, 2004 2:59 pm

    Nice piece of writing. Enjoyed it.

  2. Demmy on October 2nd, 2004 3:30 pm

    How come no one is pointing to the fact that Sisler played in an era in which a tremendous pool of talented player weren’t even allowed to play? Do you think Ichiro would have more hits this year if, say, Latins weren’t allowed to play? By the same token, wouldn’t it be likely Sisler would have had less hits had blacks been allowed to play? That should make the 154 vs. 162 game argument a moot point.

  3. eponymous coward on October 2nd, 2004 3:32 pm

    It might be challenged more if we didn’t have the explosion in power we’ve seen the last 80 years. Note that Sisler got his record at the very beginning of the lively ball era- when dead-ball stars like Ty Cobb, Eddie Collins and Tris Speaker were still active. The growth in home runs and strikeouts since then has worked against players hitting this, since it’s decreased average and contact.

  4. Avery on October 2nd, 2004 5:36 pm

    Good point Demmy.

  5. Adam S on October 2nd, 2004 5:39 pm

    Sisler obviously benefited by playing before integration and the internationalization of baseball. He also benefited by playing before their were late inning specialists.

    At the same time, Sisler played when there were only 16 teams. So while the talent pool is much larger to pull from, there are also more of “them” being pulled to the majors.

    Either way, 250+ hits is an amazing accomplishment, something only 7 players have done in the history of major league baseball.

  6. Jim Thomsen on October 2nd, 2004 7:43 pm

    So why doesn’t Rob Neyer acknowledge any of this? Assuming he has any credibility left after perhaps his worst season of commentary ever.

  7. Chris S. on October 2nd, 2004 8:11 pm

    It is certainly a bit frustrating to hear some of the commentary on how his record is diminished because of the number of games. (Nobody seemed to mind that Cal Ripken was able to play more games in a shorter span because of the extended schedule). They are both amazing achievements, but I don’t understand giving Ichiro his due for an accomplishment nobody has really even approached in 70 years.

  8. Paul Covert on October 2nd, 2004 9:40 pm

    It’s nice to be agreed with (see #30 under Dave’s response to Sheehan). 🙂

  9. tede on October 3rd, 2004 12:58 am

    I think another big factor that is often ignored in the 154 vs 162 debate – especially since this argument almost always is about home runs, is the godawful fielders gloves and poor groundskeeping of that period. Send Rich Aurelia back to 1920 with his 2004 fielding glove (and I wished somebody had) and he’s the best SS in baseball.

    Always 1920 was the first year after the illegal pitches were banned. Two pitchers per a team were grandfathered in to continue throwing spitters, but I would expect these were the best pitchers and not the Ryan Franklin’s. The Cliff Nageotte’s of 1920 were deprived of one of their best pitches and did not have a slider for instance to fall back on.

    Also, due to train travel in those days, double headers were frequent. Double headers (IMO) are a benefit to hot hitters as the opposing manager will be forced to have a weaker pitcher pitch one of the two games.

    Still Sisler was a great player despite Bill James book flip flop. It was too bad that until recently he fell into the cracks since the Browns are a defunct team ignored by both St. Louis (since they didn’t win) and Baltimore (ditto).

    Dead on #6 Jim Thomsen that Rob Neyer is not having a good year.