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Unlike Bonds, teams feel no need to pitch around punchless Ichiro

Posted: Wednesday September 22, 2004 11:31AM; Updated: Wednesday September 22, 2004 4:05PM
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Some quick thoughts for you ...

I'm sitting here and I've just watched Ichiro slap his fifth single of the night. The guy is an amazing hitter. I remember early in his first year in the States I was in Oakland watching him take BP. (It was the series in which he threw out Terrence Long trying to go from first to third on a sharply hit single with a throw that might have been better than Dave Parker's in the 1978 All-Star Game.) He hit five out of six balls into the seats in right field  -- an amazing display. His swing, even then, was far from text book. Tons of shifting, throwing his weight behind the swing. But you could tell he had a knack for identifying where a pitch was going and, more important, where he could hit it. No blind hacking or just trying to make contact. He knows exactly where he's trying to hit the ball every time he swings, and that was never more apparent than in Tuesday's game against Anaheim.

For the past couple of weeks I've been asking anyone who will listen why this guy is still getting pitches to hit. Since no one had an answer, I finally got off my butt (actually I didn't  -- I've been sitting this whole time) and looked at his numbers. He's hitting .372 and slugging .458. Bill James called the difference between those two numbers "isolated power." It's essentially a measure of the number of extra bases a hitter takes per at bat. And .086 isn't very big. Now, I know it's ridiculous to compare Ichiro and Barry Bonds, as they're clearly different hitters trying to do different things. But if you're a pitcher, there's no reason to pitch to Bonds unless it's a meaningless at-bat. His isolated power is .451. That means if you walk Bonds, you're conceding one base but taking the almost 50-50 chance he'll end up at least at second off the table. With Ichiro, it's only a 1-in-12 chance he'll hurt you more than he would if you walked him. So why pitch around him?

This isn't meant to belittle his accomplishments. Two hundred forty-some hits is an incredible total. But when George Sisler had 257, he knocked in 122 runs (Ichiro has 55) and slugged .632. Ichiro's a great hitter who doesn't take many walks, and if he wasn't hitting .372 then maybe it'd be OK to criticize him for not being more patient and trying to get on base more often. But the fact remains, Travis Hafner gets on base more than Ichiro. Weird.

Another thing about Ichiro  -- he's in a terrible lineup on a team that's nowhere near the pennant race. So he's obviously going to see pitches. I bring this up because if you look at the guys who have surpassed Babe Ruth's 1927 home run total of 60, they've all done it while playing in a pennant race. As great as the '61 Yankees of Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle were, they only won the AL by eight games. (The Tigers won 101.) In '98, McGwire's Cards were in the wild-card hunt but lost to Sosa's Cubs. And in 2001 Bonds' Giants lost the division by two games to the Diamondbacks. That makes all of those accomplishments that much more impressive.

Last week I wrote about the mysterious origins of Boner's nickname on Growing Pains. Turns out it's not so mysterious. His last name was Stabbone, which was pointed out by several astute readers, who, to a man (or woman), professed profound embarrassment at knowing that fact. And rightly so. Nonetheless, thanks guys.

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Brian Clough, one of the greatest -- and most quotable  -- managers in English football died earlier this week. When once asked about the influx of foreign players into the English game, he responded, "I can't even spell spaghetti, never mind talk Italian. How could I tell an Italian to get the ball  -- he might grab mine." Some of his better quips.

The other day Chris Ballard proclaimed that the Dr. J vs. Larry Bird One-on-One game was the best sports video game ever. I beg to differ. My top three:

3. Tecmo Bowl. There's something to be said for the simplicity of Tecmo. Yes, everyone knows how good Bo Jackson was. But no one talks about how good Lawrence Taylor was on D. You could run around and hammer people with LT. I think everyone around my age (33, if you're counting) has a story that involves a near-brawl breaking out in a dorm room over Tecmo. In mine, LT tackled Walter Payton on the goal line of a five-point game as time expired. A good 80 percent of Sweetness' body was in the end zone, but Taylor hit him so hard he spun him around so his head -- and the ball -- were outside paydirt. There was a second in which the room was completely silent as everyone tried to figure out what had happened. Then, when it became apparent that Payton didn't score, curses were screamed and the controller was airborne. It ricocheted off the dresser and broke. Thanks, Mitch, you hothead.

2. Track and Field. This arcade game came out around the '84 Olympics. The best thing about it was the 100-meter dash. You had to hit two buttons as fast as you could to make your man run. Some genius figured out that if you took a pencil and used it as a lever, with your left index finger as the fulcrum, you could tap the right side of it onto the button, then the other side would rise and hit your left middle finger. That would send it down onto the left button and elevate the right side of the pencil. Then you'd tap it again, and repeat until your man crossed the finish line. It was the video game equivalent of HGH. Without it, you'd be lucky to beat the overweight Welsh guy in lane 7. With it, you could run a 9.7.

1. Intellivision baseball. Intellivision showed just how lame Atari was, and baseball was the key game. If you were good enough at it, you could easily toss shutout after shutout. When I was in college, the aforementioned Mitch and I got to talking and realized we both had been that good. So I pulled the thing out of my parents' garage and we played 20-inning game after 20-inning game, almost all of which ended 1-0. (As discussed in earlier columns, we weren't very cool.) The key was getting the leadoff man on. If you did that, you could bunt him around the horn, because the game didn't know that if a runner crossed the plate on a play on which the third out was made via a force out, the run didn't count. That was the only way to score, unless you homered.

In Tuesday's Blog, Albert Chen mentioned Edward Furlong's legal troubles. I can't think about Furlong without thinking about his sidekick in Terminator 2: Danny Cooksey. Danny, of course, played Sam on Different Strokes. You know, Dixie Carter's bowl-coiffed son, who was shamelessly imported when Gary Coleman became too old to be cute any more. (Nothing says jumping the shark like bringing in a new kid.) I remember two things about him: He was kidnapped in one episode, and he once went on Johnny Carson and sang Hey Bartender in cowboy garb. The kid never had a chance.

Because I was the only person in the world not to have done so, I finally read The DaVinci Code. A page-turner, yes, but it's pretty ridiculous. (One colleague likened it, aptly, to an Encyclopedia Brown story.) If you want a book in which someone tries to unravel the mystery of a hidden message in a work of art, do yourself a favor and read Michael Frayn's Headlong. Fantastic, funny, and the characters don't speak as if they were reciting Religious Studies 101 B text books.

Speaking of The DaVinci Code, if you read flap copy, you'll notice there are several letters in bold. They spell a message: "Is there no helps for the widow's son?" Any idea what that means?

If anyone has a lonely female pigeon, please call Mirela Ditu in Romania.

Thanks for stopping by. Stay classy.

Mark Bechtel covers NASCAR for Sports Illustrated and SI.com.