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Ichiro Breaks 84-Year-Old Baseball Record (October 13, 2004)

Ichiro acknowledges the crowd after his 258th hit. (Jiji)
Suzuki Ichiro, the 30-year-old right fielder for the Seattle Mariners, made history on October 1 at Safeco Field in Seattle by breaking an 84-year-old record for the most hits in a single season. The previous record of 257 hits was set in 1920 by George Sisler of the St. Louis Browns. During the game against the Texas Rangers, Ichiro got three singles to push him past Sisler and give him a total of 259 hits to that point. He managed to tack on three more hits for good measure in the season's remaining two games to finish the year with a grand total of 262.

A Record of Accomplishment
Ichiro was born in 1973, which was coincidentally the same year Sisler died at the age of 80. After graduating from Aichi Prefecture's Aikodai Meiden High School, Ichiro was the fourth player taken in the 1992 Japan Professional Baseball draft when he was selected by the Orix Blue Wave. Among his exploits, he set the Japanese record for most hits in a single season by racking up 210 in 1994, he won the Pacific League batting championship seven consecutive years, and he became the first Japanese player to receive an annual contract worth ¥500 million (about $4.5 million at ¥110 to the dollar). Following the 2000 season, Ichiro became the first Japanese baseball player to take advantage of the posting system to go to the Major Leagues, where he ended up with the Seattle Mariners. While Ichiro was the eleventh Japanese baseball player to enter the Major Leagues, he faced a new kind of pressure as the first nonpitcher. But while many people on both sides of the Pacific Ocean wondered how well he would fare, Ichiro did not disappoint. In his first season in 2001, he amassed 242 hits, won the American League Rookie of the Year Award, won the AL Most Valuable Player Award, won the AL batting title, and finished highest in the league in stolen bases.

Determination and Work Ethic Credited
Standing 180 centimeters (5 feet 11 inches) high and weighing 77 kilograms (170 pounds), this diminutive Japanese player who bats left and throws right was well-received in the Major Leagues as a player who adds a new dimension to a game that has been dominated by the home run in recent years. Ichiro is always the first player to arrive at the ballpark and begin his conditioning, and his rigorous self-control and dedication to practice are legendary. While he was playing in Japan, Ichiro's swing had a very noticeable kick with his right leg. After moving to the Major Leagues, though, he made his swing more compact in order to hit the faster pitching. This change of swing has been credited with allowing him to become a "hitting machine."

Attending the game was Sisler's 81-year-old daughter Frances Drochelman, who celebrated Ichiro's accomplishment, saying, " My father would be delighted. He would be so happy to know such a fine young man was doing so well." As Sisler stood in the shadows of home run slugger Babe Ruth, he has often been overlooked in baseball history. Ichiro's pursuit of the longstanding record focused new attention on Sisler in the US media.

At a press conference immediately after the game, Ichiro stated, "This is the most emotional moment in my baseball career." Comparing this new record with those he set in the past, he commented, "Among the figures I've put up by refining my skills, the significance of this one is completely different." Ichiro also gave a message to young players in Japan: "I'd like to say to them that it doesn't matter if your body is big; if you make use of your ability, the possibilities of what you can do will expand."

When Ichiro broke Sisler's record, the event was not only covered by Japanese and US media but was reported around the world. US media gave tributes to Ichiro for rewriting the record books, while in Japan many people made comments to the effect that Ichiro's accomplishment may lead to a reevaluation of the Japanese people as a whole. At a minimum, what this determined right fielder has managed to do on the field has gone beyond baseball to have a larger meaning.

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Copyright (c) 2004 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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