Ichiro is one of the greatest players ever to play the game, let alone in a Mariner uniform, and I can't wait for the day he's in Cooperstown with an S on his head. I thought it would be fun to take a look back at Ichiro's incomparable career. I've found videos for each one, so let's take some time and enjoy the one, the only, Ichiro.
First, the honourable mentions.
Yeah, this is only a couple weeks old, but it totally belongs on the list. Ichiro congratulating his good friend and fellow Mariner legend on his induction to the Mariners Hall of Fame, as only he could. Until the man himself spoke, this was the highlight of the evening, and I can watch it again and again. I could have done without him being in full Yankee uniform for it, but turning his cap around and saying Dave Niehaus' trademark phrase gets me every single time.
OMG Karen you'll never guess who just touched me!
Remember this? This was awfully cute. It's kinda the whole reason I included some honourable mentions, because all Ichiro actually does is not catch a foul fly. But the girl's reaction to her brush with greatness is just priceless.
Not bad, huh?
I know it's fake. I don't give a shit. It's awesome, and you believe in it anyway the way you believe what's happening in a really good movie might actually be happening. And it's just a great reflection of his mostly pretty laid-back personality, too. Do something jaw-dropping, and shrug it off. My favourite Ichiro commercial by a long, long way.
And now the countdown. Count with me now!
10. Sayonara Suzuki
Curiously, the video with the Yankee commentators can be embedded, but not the one with the Mariners commentators. And I'm not embedding the Yankee commentators, so here you go.
This might seem like a strange inclusion, or something that should have gone in honourable mentions, but it's undoubtedly a seminal moment in Ichiro's career, and even just his career as a Mariner. He was never as popular as some of the other great Mariners, but look how everyone in the stadium is up and paying their respects. Tugs at your heartstrings.
You know the old expression, about how if you love someone you'll let them go. This was probably the most loving thing, if you will, that the organisation could have done for him. He had no further place with the team, so letting him go was just the right thing to do. I've never been of the mind that as a fan of one of the other 29 teams, I have a duty to despise the Yankees simply for being the Yankees. They are a team to me, nothing else. So I'm actually a little disappointed they aren't in contention this year. I hope Ichiro can get a ring, and even if he does he'll still go into Cooperstown as a Mariner. No question about it.
And hey, Danny Farquhar. So it's all good.
9. Ichiro pitching
Because it totally happened once.
Here you see Ichiro getting the last out of the 1996 Nippon Pro Baseball All-Star Game. Elected as an outfielder for the Orix Blue Wave, the Pacific League team sent him to the mound with two outs in the ninth inning and them ahead 7-3. Touching 90 with his fastball, Ichiro forced a 6-3 groundout to end the game.
I wonder how long he would have been allowed to go. I'm guessing 2 batters tops. If he didn't get this guy or the next, bring in a real pitcher. And I miss silliness like this happening in the MLB All-Star Game. Who can forget Larry Walker turning his helmet around to bat right-handed against Randy Johnson? You'll never see that in a "This One Counts" game.
8. Somebody had to be the first
And that somebody turned out to be Terrence Long. My memory had somehow convinced me that this happened in his first stateside game, but it actually took place on 11 April 2001 -- Ichiro's eighth game. Did no one try to go first to third in the first seven? Did his reputation precede him? Perhaps it should have!
It was one that went down in history, and it was the first of a great, great many. There's all kinds of highlight videos for Ichiro over on YouTube, and I could spend hours watching them. There's actually a clip I hoped to find to include here somewhere, but couldn't. It's another first-to-third throwout, with Mark McLemore taking the throw. After tagging the runner, he gets up and points out to right field emphatically. Rather a contrast to the staid David Bell. If anyone can find that clip (or even if they just remember more about the play), I'd be grateful.
7. Climbing the wall like a stepladder
Found two videos for this one. The first has Dave Niehaus' call, the second has Rick Rizzs'. Take your pick, or enjoy them both.
For some reason, this catch always stuck with me. I thought the victim was Steve Finley for the longest time, but as you see, it's actually Garret Anderson. Even for someone renowned for making unbelievable defensive plays, this stands out as one of the greats. Leaping to catch the ball at the wall, often erroneously referred to as robbing a home run when it probably wouldn't have been, is all well and good. But this is just unbelievable. This absolutely robbed a home run. You don't see no-doubt robs like this too often. Ken Griffey Jr had some. Franklin Gutierrez had some. Mike Cameron had some. This was probably Ichiro's best.
I didn't mean to make for a clean divide between fielding plays and moments at the bat, but it's kind of worked out that way. This particular hit wasn't anything all that special -- just your basic Ichiro hit -- but it set a remarkable record of batting consistency. Two hundred hits in ten straight seasons. Even if you balk at the description of ten straight to open a career (though doesn't it seem like the people who didn't buy into that are the same ones now saying his NPB hits don't count?), simply having ten straight at all is a Major League record. Only one other player, Pete Rose, has had any ten seasons in his career top 200 hits.
We will probably never see another player get 200 hits across ten straight seasons. It's a testament to consistency, durability, and just amazing execution. I don't think Ichiro will end up standing alone with eleven 200-hit seasons for a career...but you never know.
5. Mr 4,000
I think this would have been higher on the list had it come when he was a Mariner, but as I said, it makes all the sense in the world that he no longer is. I can't even wrap my mind around four thousand hits, and to hell with those saying the NPB hits don't count. What, was it all just batting practice for the nine seasons he spent over there? No way. He's getting hits at a faster clip in the US than he did in Japan, though I don't know if maybe that means more about the leagues than it does about Ichiro himself. We can debate how many hits he'd have had if he spent his whole career in MLB until the cows come home. And let's, because that's kind of fun. But reaching 4,000 hits at the professional level is an all but unheard of accomplishment on its own (sure, let's get Jigger Statz some new attention, why not).
I love that the New York fans are treating him right. Just listen to those I-chi-ro! chants. I'm sure that if he winds up surpassing Pete Rose's total, he'll do it because he's still a valuable Major League contributor, not because he hangs on specifically for it (the way Rose did to break Ty Cobb's mark).
4. The first steps in uncharted territory
You may not specifically remember this one. I certainly didn't. But Ichiro's first Major League hit set the stage for oh so much in 2001 and beyond. I think we all knew even in April 2001 that he was going to be something special, but did anyone really know he'd be as good as he was? It's quite interesting to look back and view this hit with the knowledge of what stood before this 27 year old young man from Japan.
3. Inside the All-Star Park
No embed for this one, either. So click, people. Click.
The only thing I dislike about this clip is Joe Buck and Tim McCarver's completely disinterested-sounding voices. I'm sure they were actually quite excited by the play, but they sure don't show it. And of course, a cameo appearance by another Mariners legend as he misplays the carom off the wall and lets Ichiro circle the bases. He, of course, later won the All-Star Game MVP for this hit, the first of its kind in All-Star Game play and also the first Ichiro himself had ever hit -- in his entire life.
2. It only took one pitch
This is one of those moments that makes you all the more wishful that the Mariners could have been nationally relevant, because if they were a hell of a lot more people would know about this one.
Two surefire Hall of Famers locked horns. Following a Mike Sweeney double, Ichiro faced arguably the greatest relief pitcher the game has ever known, with two outs and a 2-1 deficit.
I think this stops short of being a "Where were you when?" moment, but not by much. Again, it's only because the game itself had such limited significance. But you remember this home run. I know you do. When you saw the headline for this post, you knew this home run was in the countdown. If you're ranking top moments in franchise history, I think this makes top 20.
Mariano Rivera has blown 78 regular-season saves in his career. This was probably the most spectacular.
1. Genuine baseball history
They say (whoever "they" are) that records are made to be broken. Well, this one took 84 years to fall. Was it the single-greatest batting season ever put together? I'll leave that to those smarter than me to determine and decide.
I love everything about this clip (and the entire game is actually available on YouTube as well). A great player etches his name into baseball lore. A city roars its approval. I love how Dave Niehaus knew to do something not a lot of broadcasters know to do -- shut their damn mouths. After making a quick, energetic call, he just lets the scene unfold for itself for almost a full minute. You can almost feel like you're there. Those that were will surely never forget it.
Any great moments you'd like to highlight that I missed?