Who’s On Base?: The Rookie Report

Updated: February 21, 2008

Ichiro Suzuki Albert PujolsGLEN BURNIE, MARYLAND — Is it really fair to categorize a 7-time batting champion as a rookie? Well, that is the dilemma facing the voters for this year’s Rookie of the Year Award. Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners is playing in his first season in the United States but has played for 9 seasons in the Japanese professional league. During his span of 9 seasons, he averaged .353 at the plate, topping out at .387 in 2000. If Ichiro is labeled as a rookie, the battle for American League Rookie of the Year has already been decided.

Ichiro’s status as a great baseball player precedes him. His stats speak for themselves and he has done nothing to disprove the notion that he may be one of the best hitters in the world. So far, in 2001, Ichiro has had a 24-game hit streak, is hitting .355, and is second in the league with 15 stolen bases. His 81 hits lead the league and, if he continues on his current pace, he may end the season with over 230 hits.

Ichiro will join a few other players who have played professional baseball, although not in the major leagues, and who have won the Rookie of the Year Award. Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson, and Willie Mays all played in the Negro Baseball League and all won Rookie of the Year honors when they came to the major leagues. They all later went on to win multiple MVP awards and each was considered one of the best at his position. If the same holds true for the Japanese star, he will definitely make his presence felt on the baseball field.

In the National League, Albert Pujols has dazzled the opposition this year. In just 49 games, Pujols is batting .359 with 16 homers and 51 RBI’s. Pujols has been a saving grace to a Cardinal team that felt that their NL pennant chances were flushed down the drain when Mark McGuire went on the disabled list and Rick Ankiel was sent down to the minors because of his inability to throw strikes. With McGuire out, Pujols was a late addition to the opening day roster, but manager Tony LaRussa felt he already knew the kind of player Pujols could be.

“They’re already changing the way they’re pitching to him,” LaRussa said about the young star. Pujols has shown great maturity at the plate these first two months, but he has also done a good job refraining from being overanxious at the plate. He has 65 hits this season, but also has 32 strikeouts, which is not uncommon for a rookie who is still learning the tactics of the Major League pitchers.

Pujols may have jumped out as the favorite for Rookie of the Year Award in the National League, but a good start does not guarantee the award. In 1994, Carlos Delgado, first baseman for the Toronto Blue Jays, started his rookie campaign with 8 home runs in April but, over the next two months, he hit only 1 home run and was sent down to the minor leagues. It was a very quick reminder that a baseball season is very long and low production equals a career in the minor leagues. Pujols seems to have a very good hold on his game plan to keep his place on the Cardinal roster. “We have five months left in the season and there is still a long way to go.” For Pujols, one-day-at-a-time could be his best chance to reach the post-season and the Rookie of the Year Award. as well.

In other baseball news this week, the Florida Marlins felt the need for a change in the managerial position. On Monday, John Boles was fired as manager of the Marlins and was replaced by Hall of Famer Tony Perez. Perez takes over a Marlin team that is 9 games behind the Braves in the NL East, at 22-27. Dave Dombrowski, General Manager of the Marlins, said that he “felt that he had lost the clubhouse.” Changing managers midway through the regular season can put considerable, added pressure on the new manager. Perez will have to try some tricks to get this team motivated, or … he may be looking for a job at the end of the season.

Over in San Francisco, Barry Bonds has been on a tear and has yet to show signs of slowing down. Bonds has totaled 520 career home runs and has 26 home runs for the season. Twenty-six home runs before the end of May broke the previous record set by Mark McGuire. Bonds has hit a home run in 8 of his last 11 games but the Giants have only won 5 of the 11 games, keeping themselves 3 games back of the NL West leader, the Arizona Diamondbacks.

One more home run will tie Bonds with Ted Williams and Willie McCovey as 11th on the all-time home run list. At this rate, if Bonds can continue to stay healthy, he could pass 600 career home runs midway through next season, and, perhaps, within 2 years, pass his godfather, Willie Mays, at 660 home runs.

Please check back next week as we look at the surprises of the 2001 baseball season.