In Sunday's 5-0 victory for the Seattle Mariners over the Texas Rangers, Ichiro Suzuki's one hit was his 200th of the season. While normally this would not be incredibly notable for Ichiro (he has reached the mark every year he has played in North America), the normality of the occurrence was the reason for the notoriety of the hit.
With his RBI single Ichiro reached yet another level of prestige, becoming the only player in the history of Major League baseball to collect 200 hits in 9 straight seasons, breaking his tie with the master of the Baltimore Chop, Willie Keeler.
Because Suzuki entered the league after playing nine years in Japan, his career numbers likely will not set many records. But the player who is the single season hits leader (262) has now set another mark that raises him above the greatest hitters ever to play the game. The statistical accumulation is stunning in and of itself, but when considering the names that Ichiro has now set himself apart from, the accomplishment is enough to make one reconsider the normal stalwarts — and Ichiro's place among them — traditionally named as the "all time greatest" hitters.
One would assume the natural tendency would be to compare Ichiro to Keeler but unfortunately this comparison is less than constructive. Keeler was an outstanding hitter in the early days of organized ball, posting a .341 career average with 2,932 hits. The eight consecutive seasons he collected 200 hits were his only seasons reaching that mark, a stellar run but not enough to get him to 3,000 hits in a full 19-year career.
The other variable is the amount of time Keeler spent playing in the 19th century. It is hard enough to judge the statistics of "dead ballers" that played near the turn of the century but Keeler started playing offical organized baseball in 1892 with the New York Giants, recording all but two of his 200 hit seasons before 1900. Because of these difficulties, we will acknowledge Keeler's historical greatness but omit him from the Ichiro anaylsis beyond the acknowledgement of the record the two players once shared for a season.
From the dead ball era there were many players who put together ridiculous offensive stats (absent the power numbers of course, the ball being "dead" and all). Men like Tris Speaker (fifth all time), Cap Anson (seventh), and Honus Wagner (eighth) all compiled numerous amazing seasons and all eventually collected well over 3,000 hits. But the undisputed hit-king of this era was inarguably Ty Cobb.