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08/28/2004 Archived Entry: "MLB news: Ichiro, Lofton reach milestones"

The little hitmen: Ichiro and Lofton
By Michael Toeset

In the past week, two of the game’s best leadoff hitters (one more so in years past) have reached some lofty heights.
Kenny Lofton reached a milestone Aug. 25 by collecting his 2,000th hit, and the following day, Ichiro Suzuki became the first player in the history of MLB to have at least 200 hits in each of his first four seasons.
That these little guys are doing amazing things on the field is testament to the fact that MLB isn’t (yet, at least) a big-guys only game. Stolen bases may be out of vogue in the present era, but there are some players who can be counted on to either run or distract the pitcher every time they reach base – a refreshing change from the stationary brand of baseball that is the result of He-men ruling the game.

Lofton is in the twilight of his career, so 2,000 hits may be the last major milestone he reaches. He’s had a sensational career, one that is fairly comparable to the great Tim Raines, and to date he has collected 2,004 hits, 1,285 runs, 665 RBI, 118 HR, 543 SB, a .297 average and a .372 on-base percentage.
Lofton, who gave up a basketball career (remember him playing for the Final Four University of Arizona team?) for baseball, likely won’t make it into the Hall of Fame – again, because of the He-man prejudice – but in my book, he’s worth a look. Some of his season highs to support that claim:
AVG: .349, .333
SB: 75, 70
Hits: 210, 185
Runs: 132, 116
3B: 13, 9
OBP: .412, .409
HR: 15, 14
Lofton is essentially the bridge between Raines-Rickey Henderson and Juan Pierre-Carl Crawford. In his prime, he was able to get on base at an exceptional rate, steal bases at will, display good power for a leadoff batter, and to top it off, he never struck out more than 84 times in a season.
This season – which may possibly be Lofton’s last – he’s batting .275 in 222 at-bats with the Yankees. It’s nothing sensational, but the 37-year-old has at times been the catalyst to the Yankees’ high-powered offense. If Lofton does decide to hang it up after this season, there would be nothing better than seeing him go out as a playoff hero.

When Ichiro came over to the United States, he was the first Japanese hitting superstar to make the transition. And there were more than a few doubters. He’ll be so overmatched it’ll be embarrassing, went the sports radio talk. Four years later, Ichiro has been embarrassing, all right – embarrassing major league pitchers. The outfielder has done something no one – read that again, no one – has ever done: four consecutive 200-hit seasons at the outset of his career.
From the moment Ichiro put on his Mariners uniform, he has done nothing but hit, even coming close to George Sisler’s season hits record of 257 (Ichiro registered 242, the highest total since 1930). His career reads:
.350 average, 242 H, 56 SB
.321average, 208 H, 31 SB
.312 average, 212 H, 34 SB
.365 average, 202 H, 29 SB (to date)
Another record Ichiro set this season was the most hits over a four-season stretch. That’s more than Ted Williams, Ty Cobb, Bill Terry, Joe Jackson and every other legend that has ever played the game. It seems unfathomable that this little, skinny guy is rewriting the history books in such a manner, but Ichiro plays the game with such intensity that it really shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Ichiro’s average his dipped in recent weeks, but he still has a shot at breaking Sisler’s single-season hits mark, so Seattle fans who have given up on their team should still show up in droves to support Ichiro. He has already broken some hallowed records, but to see him break one of baseball’s oldest would be a dream come true – for Ichiro, for the Mariners who took a chance on him, and for all of Japan, who knew their players were equal to (or better than) major leaguers.
So keep an eye on the Seattle box scores in the coming weeks – you may be witness to one of the greatest individual seasons ever.

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Replies: 1 Comment

Well done, Mike. I love this stuff.
Before this year's trading deadline we kept hearing that the Phillies were going to trade Placido Polanco to the Yankees for Lofton but it never happened. I think the Philies missed a chance to help themselves- again

Posted by Max @ 08/30/2004 06:47 AM EST

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