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Ichiro Suzuki, Warren Moon and amazing stories

Aug 22, 2013, 1:16 PM EDT

First of all, the Ichiro getting to 4,000 total hits thing is awesome. No qualifier. It’s awesome. Ichiro is a singular player, absolutely one-of-a-kind. No player in Major League Baseball history has stockpiled hits as quickly as Ichiro Suzuki. He has 2,722 hits in his first 13 seasons — that’s 175 more than Pete Rose. The fact that he now has 4,000 hits between his time in Japan and his time in the Major Leagues is a wonderful achievement and I’m glad it’s being celebrated. No qualifier. It’s awesome.

The other day on Twitter, I wrote that his 4,000 hits was similar to the 70,000 yards that Warren Moon garnered between the NFL and the Canadian Football League. Many people seemed to dislike this comparison. They seemed to think that it was an insult to Japanese baseball to compare it to the CFL. And, look, I have no idea about the quality comparison — I was never much good at those logic puzzles, you know, “Japanese baseball is to Major League Baseball as the Canadian Football League is to the National Football League,” true-false statements you see on the SAT.

People seemed to think that I was diminishing Ichiro by making the Moon comparison. But, in fact, I think I was lifting Ichiro up by making the Moon comparison.

Here’s why: Both statistics tell amazing stories.

Warren Moon was good enough to be an NFL quarterback when he came out of Washington in 1977. There is absolutely no doubt about this. He was a dazzling high school quarterback who was given few looks by colleges. Washington did offer him a chance. And at Washington, he was MVP of the Rose Bowl his senior season.

He had a bazooka of an arm — has anyone since Joe Namath thrown such a smooth ball with such ease? He was also 6-foot-3, had a bit of mobility, he was really the ideal quarterback prospect. Not a single team drafted him, and this was in the days when the NFL Draft was 12 stinking rounds. Fourteen quarterbacks were drafted. But not Warren Moon. It’s obvious why, just as it’s obvious why few colleges gave him a look. He was a black quarterback, and this was the time when football people simply did not believe in the leadership or the decision-making of black quarterbacks. That simple. Before the 1978 draft, Warren Moon’s draft, only eight black quarterbacks had EVER been drafted by NFL teams, none higher than the sixth round.

That year, a little sports history was made: Doug Williams became the first black quarterback taken in the first round of the NFL draft. That bit of history was heady stuff for the NFL though — no black quarterback would be drafted for the next five years. This gap included Warren Moon.

So here’s what he did: He went to play football in Canada. And he was a superstar. He was a crazy, fantastic, one-of-a-kind superstar. He led the Edmonton Eskimos to five straight Grey Cup championships. There are those who believe the Eskimos could have competed with NFL teams. Moon became the first quarterback at any professional level to throw for more than 5,000 yards in a season, and the next season was closer to 6,000. He led the team back in a crazy, legendary Grey Cup comeback in 1981. He was MVP of the Grey Cup again in 1983.

Then, finally, at age 28, he went to the NFL, to play for some terrible Houston Oilers teams. He threw for a lot of yards and a lot of interceptions and lost a lot of games until Jerry Glanville became his coach, and things began to shift. Then Jack Pardee came along, and his assistant Kevin Gilbride installed the run-and-shoot offense, and Moon went wild, streaming perfect and beautiful spirals all over the field, four times throwing for more than 4,000 yards, playing in nine Pro Bowls, passing his way into the Hall of Fame.

We talk a lot about statistics here, argue a lot about them. That’s fun, I think, and I’ll keep doing it forever probably. In the end, though, when you boil it down to the essence, I like the statistics that tell something like a true story. That is why I don’t like when an announcer says something like, “Bobby Wallflower is hitting .429 with runners in scoring position, so this is the guy you want up there,” only to find that Bobby Wallflower is three-for-seven with runners in scoring position. That’s not a true story. I don’t like when someone makes a big deal out of Todd Helton passing Joe DiMaggio in home runs. DiMaggio missed three prime years while serving his country in World War II and played his career at Yankee Stadium when it was a graveyard for right-handed hitters. Todd Helton is a great player, absolutely great. But use other ways of demonstrating that. The DiMaggio home run comparison does not tell a true story.

Tom Tango makes the excellent point that before we start counting Japanese statistics, we should probably count postseason Major League statistics — so Hank Aaron would actually have 761 home runs, and Derek Jeter would actually have 3,508 hits, and David Cone would actually have 202 career victories, rather than the thinner-looking 194 wins that earned him just 3.9% of the vote his one year on the Hall of Fame ballot.

I agree: I think counting postseason statistics would tell a truer story. But what about counting Japanese stats and Canadian Football League stats? Well, I have two thoughts on that. I don’t think it’s of much use as a point of comparison. I mean, Ichiro’s 4,000 hits do not really compare with Rose’s. Moon’s combined passing yards do not really compare with Marino’s or Manning’s or Favre’s. So, if you trying to make comparisons, no, I don’t think that’s dependable. And it leads to people griping that Stan Musial doesn’t get to count his minor league hits, which I don’t think is particularly helpful.

But if you are trying to tell a story? Ichiro’s 4,000 hits … Moon’s 70,000 yards … Satchel Paige’s 1,000-plus worldwide victories … Sadaharu Oh’s 868 home runs … Lynette Woodard’s 3,649 points … Bill Tilden’s six year stretch when he did not lose a single meaningful tennis match … these tell incomparable stories. And so, for get comparisons, forget what it means for the record books. They’re wonderful on their own.

Would Ichiro have 4,000 hits had he started in the Major Leagues instead of Japan? I’ll go one-step further: I think he’d have MORE than 4,000 hits. But that’s not how history played out. Would Warren Moon have 70,000 passing yards had he started in the NFL instead of Canada? Probably not, but I’ll go one step further. I think he would have been the first black quarterback to star in the NFL and might have helped create opportunities for black quarterbacks a lot earlier. Unfortunately, that’s not how history worked out either.

  1. lippike - Aug 22, 2013 at 1:29 PM

    Hoping this guys has another 300 MLB hits in him so there is never an excuse for why he won’t be in Cooperstown. Not that he won’t with 2700, I just don’t want to hear “if only”.

    • sayheysayhey - Aug 22, 2013 at 5:09 PM

      I was at the game and this if only might just happen I wrote something on the fans reaction to the game… Check it out here and get back to me with your thoughts http://enjoythestadium.blogspot.com/2013/08/ichiros-4000th-hit-atmosphere.html

    • sportsfan18 - Aug 23, 2013 at 6:55 PM

      No worries… he’ll go into the Hall of Fame…

      10 time all star
      10 time gold glove winner
      3 silver slugger awards
      2 time batting champion (currently a .320 lifetime batting average, will go down but will remain well above .300 for his MLB career when he does retire).

      Rookie of the year
      MVP award (plus he received votes for MVP in 8 other seasons, 3 times in the top 10)

      all time single season hits record – 262 hits in one season

      10 consecutive seasons with 200 or more hits

  2. mybrunoblog - Aug 22, 2013 at 1:50 PM

    I’ve been really surprised by the negative feedback by some about the celebration of Ichiro’s 4000th hit. Obviously it doesn’t rank anywhere close to Rose or Cobb in terms of significance but I think it is a remarkable accomplishment. Cooperstown awaits this guy even if he doesn’t reach 3000 during his MLB career.

    • bevomav - Aug 22, 2013 at 9:07 PM

      Because it’s a bogus milestone. He had a lot of those hits were in Japan and they don’t count. Ichiro is an amazing talent but he’s no Ty Cobb or Pete Rose.

    • yournuts - Aug 22, 2013 at 10:14 PM

      If I had a choice of Pete Rose or Ichiro in their prime I would take Ichiro in a heart beat. Incredible speed, and a canon for an arm.

  3. El Bravo - Aug 22, 2013 at 1:51 PM

    Someone get some audio of his pre-ASG speeches and that will be the most impressive thing we ever will hear about him.

  4. cur68 - Aug 22, 2013 at 2:02 PM

    I remember the Warren Moon years here in Edmonton. His arrival coincided with my family’s move here. He was the talk of the province. A lot of that talk included the good old racist kind, but there was much admiration there, too. He was hard not to admire, not only as an athlete but also as a well-spoken, intelligent person.

    I recall that he was nice to me when I met him. He asked how things were going for me here on the prairies with all of these nice farm folks. We actually shared a laugh about how a scrawny 12 year old black kid like me and a big deal American athlete like him could wind up here. Ichiro/Moon comparisons? Sure. Why not. Maybe Ichiro is as nice to random Asian kids raised out of their cultures as Warren Moon was to me. If so, then its a fair comparison.

    • stlouis1baseball - Aug 22, 2013 at 2:44 PM

      Helluva story Cur. I bet you instantly became a lifelong, die hard Warren Moon guy.
      As you should have.

  5. Detroit Michael - Aug 22, 2013 at 2:04 PM

    Only 257 more until he passes Pete Rose’s total. Doesn’t seem likely that he’ll make but I hope Ichiro does.

    Don’t forget, Rose said: .”Hey, tell Ichiro he can even count his hits in Japan. I don’t care. He ain’t getting to 4,000 hits” See http://joeposnanski.blogspot.com/2010/09/nolan-and-ichiro.html

    • aceshigh11 - Aug 22, 2013 at 2:33 PM

      You don’t think Ichiro has 257 hits in him?

      Even in “decline” over the last two years, he had 178 and 184 hits. He’s on pace for 158 this year.

      He’s still remarkably durable. As long as teams want him and he can play every day, he could easily pull it off over the next two years.

      • yahmule - Aug 22, 2013 at 3:18 PM

        He will get it. Somebody will have a spot in their outfield for him.

      • Detroit Michael - Aug 22, 2013 at 3:26 PM

        I questioned whether folks will give Ichiro the playing time. His wRC+ is 79 in 2013 and it hasn’t been over 100 since 2010. Teams don’t usually want to give a full-time job to corner outfielders in their 40s who bat well below the league average.

        However, maybe I’m too pessimistic. I’m certainly not rooting against Ichiro.

    • nothanksimdriving123 - Aug 22, 2013 at 4:59 PM

      Question is how much $$ ole Pete has riding on this one.

  6. rdssc - Aug 22, 2013 at 2:34 PM

    Love the Rose quote, thanks.

  7. wjarvis - Aug 22, 2013 at 4:03 PM

    It’s kind of sad, but him getting to 4000 hits is the first time I’ve looked more deeply at a lot of his stats, and it makes me think I’ve over rated him a little over the years. We all know he hits a lot of singles, used to steal a lot of bases, but doesn’t walk, hit for power and makes a lot of outs too. My favorite baseball stat is net bases(TB + BB + HBP + SB – CS) / Outs Made. Certainly not a perfect stat, but it gives players ways to improve there numbers by average, walks, sb, or slg. In the MLB Ichiro get 0.743 bases/out, which compares favorably to Roses 0.723. However, to put that in perspective with some of Ichiro’s contemporary OF who were also good/excellent defenders but most people would probably put in the Hall of very good, Jim Edmonds 0.907, Carlos Beltran 0.868, Andrew Jones 0.796, Torii Hunter 0.737. I guess my point is that while Ichiro is very good at generating exciting plays, such as outfield assists and infield singles, his actual offensive and defensive value probably puts him closer to borderline HOF players rather than slam dunk first ballot HOF. I realize that if he’d played entirely in the US that he’d have even more hits and SB, but he’d also have a lot more outs. I still think he’s a HOF, but most baseball purists probably also think my standards are too low.

    • Kevin S. - Aug 22, 2013 at 6:29 PM

      One, that’s kind of a junk stat. Two, three of those four guys should actually be Hall of Famers.

      • wjarvis - Aug 22, 2013 at 9:25 PM

        I know it’s not a great stat, but it’s one that I still like. It doesn’t tell you anything about how a player hits, but it gives you an expectation of what production (including steals) you can expect on average for every out they’re responsible for. The same point could be made using a number of different stats, offensively Ichiro is not necessarily superior from the other players, but I think he has that reputation. Two, your right they should be hall of famers, but do you think they will be hall of famers? I’d be surprised if three of them get voted in, and shocked if any of them were close to first ballot.

  8. tmurph1966 - Aug 22, 2013 at 4:23 PM

    CFL hall-of-famer, Damon Allen

    more professional passing yards than Moon (72k to 70k) and more rushing yards than Moon (12k to 3.4k)

    Damon finished 15th on all-time professional rushing list and only 300 yds behind brother Marcus.

    should Ichiro be in the baseball hall of fame?

    should Damon be in the football hall of fame?

    • yahmule - Aug 22, 2013 at 5:31 PM

      Poor comp since Damon Allen didn’t play in the NFL and Ichiro has had a long and distinguished MLB career.

      • tmurph1966 - Aug 22, 2013 at 6:31 PM

        my post asked the question:

        if Ichiro gets into the baseball hall of fame, should Damon get into the football hall of fame

        a Japanese player with combined stats from Japan and America
        vs.
        an American player with Canadian stats

      • yahmule - Aug 23, 2013 at 11:05 AM

        I was able to follow that, thanks. The answer is no, Damon Allen will never even be discussed for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Byron Allen has as much chance.

  9. nothanksimdriving123 - Aug 22, 2013 at 5:12 PM

    OK, if we’re looking at the CFL, let’s look at pucks. Who scored the most goals, Wayne Gretzky or Gordie Howe? Well, NHL only, regular season, we all know 894 for 99 and 801 for 9. Add playoffs and it’s 1,016 to 869 for Wayne. (The playoffs had more rounds when 99 played.) But add in their WHA totals, which seems fair if the writer is counting CFL for his story, and now it’s 1,072 for Wayne, and 1,071 for Gordie. But wait. If we’re counting WHA, and calling it pro hockey totals, we should also count Gordie’s USHL season with Omaha back in 1946 when the NHL had but 6 teams so there were more good players in the lower leagues. That makes it 1,095 for Mr. Hockey and 1,072 for the Great One. Sorry Wayne.

    • Detroit Michael - Aug 22, 2013 at 5:28 PM

      No, I don’t think you can count the USHL That was clearly not the top hockey league in Canada, Howe’s country.

      • nothanksimdriving123 - Aug 22, 2013 at 9:14 PM

        The USHL, the United States Hockey League was obviously not a Canadian league, though in that era, most players were. It was one of the top professional leagues at the time, when there were only 6 NHL teams. So if we are combining Ichiro’s Japan and MLB stats for his pro totals, and Moon’s CFL and NFL, then I think Howe’s WHA and USHL goals can reasonably be added to his NHL totals for an aggregate pro total.

  10. brueso - Aug 22, 2013 at 5:40 PM

    I think he gets into the Hall even if he doesn’t get to 3000 US hits on the basis of other records like most hits in a single season, and 10 consecutive seasons of over 200 hits.

    • nothanksimdriving123 - Aug 22, 2013 at 9:27 PM

      To me, the Hall question is: Was X one of the dominant players of his era? We look at stats to bolster our arguments about that. And IMHO, he was dominant for a decade. Find me a pitcher who during that decade ever thought, “2nd and 3rd, none out, oh but Ichiro’s up, phew, I thought I was in trouble for a second, easy DP.” Or a baserunner who thought he’d advance on a fly to right. His MLB stats just bolster that, and his Japan stats add icing to the cake.

  11. northstarnic - Aug 22, 2013 at 6:14 PM

    Great input from cur68. Thanks for sharing your story. Warren moon was truly one of the all time greats.
    “Despite spending his first six professional seasons in the CFL, Moon ranked third all-time in NFL passing yardage and fourth in touchdown passes thrown at the time of his retirement.”
    One really has to wonder where we would be ranking him among all time great QBs had he played all of his pro seasons in the NFL.

  12. bevomav - Aug 22, 2013 at 9:12 PM

    Since the bar has been lowered and all hitting stats count, I supmit.

    I had 165 hits in Little League and beyond. I am only a few thousand from joining Ichiro. If I add in the over 2000 hits I have gotten on video games, I am even closer. A couple more years and I will have enough to pass Cobb and Rose as well.

    Bevomav to the HOF.

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