Ichiro Suzuki is many things to many people. He’s funny, gregarious, warm-hearted, cool and focused. So much seems to depend on what he wants and where he wants to go.
I caught up with his agent, John Boggs at the winter meetings in Las Vegas, and he relayed some of his insight into the Japanese icon.
One of my Ichiro stories was during the 2009 World Baseball Classic. In the first two WBCs, Ichiro failed to do anything in the opening round in Japan. I was first up with a question at the press conference when Japan arrived in San Diego for the quarterfinal round.
Q: “Do you understand what might be the problem so far? For example is it your timing?
Ichiro: “I have no way of knowing that. Next question.”
Two or three questions later, a guy who writes frequently about Suzuki, asked the same question in Japanese and Suzuki launched into a three minute dissertation on the steps he’d taken to iron out his approach to the plate.
I told that story to Boggs, and said, “You know what it’s like if he doesn’t anticipate what someone is saying or it’s not on his radar?”
Boggs nodded and said, “He doesn’t hear you, and he doesn’t acknowledge you.”
2019 votes tells us hits matter more than anything
Kazuyoshi Tatsunami was admitted to Japan’s Baseball Hall of Fame on Tuesday in a vote that favored 2,000-hit guys. Tatsunami, with 2,480 career hits got 287 votes, eight more than needed for his selection, while two first-timers with 2,000 hits, Shinya Miyamoto and Alex Ramirez, shot up the rankings.
Tuffy Rhodes, easily the most deserving player on the ballot along with former major league catcher Kenji Jojima were left in their dust.
Ramirez is a decent candidate, and there’s nothing one can do to make Rhodes’ career any better or worse than it was. It is not an insult that more people voted for Ramirez, because we all look at things differently.
The way I see, it, Ramirez had 208 more hits than Rhodes, but Rhodes hit 84 more home runs, stole 67 more bases, scored 234 more runs, and — wait for it — drew 650 more walks. That’s a huge number in two careers that lasted about the same length.
Rhodes, who was on 36.6 percent of the ballots two years ago, was at 22.8 percent last year and 29.6 this year. By contrast, Miyamoto, a sturdy player and a good leader if an underwhelming bat despite 2,133 career hits got 41.2 percent and Tomonori Maeda (2,119 hits) matched Rhodes’ 29.6 share.
To be fair, this leaves me at a loss to explain the lack of improvement for Takuro Ishii, a player of Tatsunami’s caliber with more speed and defense but fewer extra-base hits. Ishii. At 19.3 percent last year, Ishii improved to just 24.8 percent this time around.
The ultimate sacrifice
Or maybe its not just hits, but hits and sacrifices. That could explain why Masahiro Kawai, another solid baseball man of that generation was named on 50.7 percent of this year’s ballots. Kawai had 5m528 plate appearances with a .676 career OPS. The thing that sets him apart is his sacrifice hit total, a Japan-record 533. Like Miyamoto, he bunted more than he walked.
The last year there were no knockout first-year candidates, 2017, voters selected the player who got the most votes who was still on the ballot. That was Tsutomu Ito, a superb catcher and good hitter in an underrepresented position. But Ito is also fourth in career sacrifice bunts with 305. So Kawai is the leader, Miyamoto is third and both may be going into the Hall of Fame with Ito. This begs the question of why voters overlooked Ken Hirano, whose 451 career sacrifices rank him second. What could they have been thinking?