There are some players that simply dazzle us. Barry Bonds. Mickey Mantle. Ozzie Smith. Greg Maddux. Ken Griffey Jr. Bryce Harper. Clayton Kershaw. These are the men who step onto the field and immediately command that every eye in the stadium fall onto them for one moment. For one inning, or a plate appearance, the world is their playground, and the field their own private fiefdom.
For a long time, Ichiro Suzuki was that kind of player. In his first full season with the Orix Blue Wave at age 20, he hit .385/.445/.549. He followed that up with a 25-homer, 48-stolen base campaign at age 21 in which he hit .342 and only struck out 52 times in 611 plate appearances. He never displayed his early career power in North America (he topped out at 15 home runs in 2005), but it didn't matter. Ichiro stole the show by simply being better than everyone at nearly everything.
The speed. The contact skills. The patriot missile-launching arm in right field. If it can happen on a baseball field, Ichiro was probably better at it than the next guy. Including hitting home runs. One of the best experiences any baseball fan can have is watching Ichiro take batting practice. It's like watching Harper take BP. The ball just keeps flying.
There won't be another player like Ichiro for quite some time. He was simply too good, too obscenely, incredibly good for another player to waltz in and claim his crown. We like to anoint players as "The next Ben Zobrist," or "The next Mariano Rivera," or sometimes even "The next Kevin Maas." It's nearly incomprehensible to have a player hailed as "The next Ichiro."
What would a player have to do, or more importantly be, to be called the next Ichiro? What magical confluence of events would need to occur for the greatest baseball minds to be mad enough to heap that lofty praise and terrible set of expectations onto the shoulders of some poor sap?
To say that this player would need to be a generational talent would be an understatement. Consider the fact that Ichiro is about to tally his 3000th MLB hit, and he didn't get his first here until he was 27. Consider that Ichiro has only struck out in 9.9 percent of his plate appearances in MLB, and that's after it's ballooned upwards over the last two seasons. Consider that Ichiro is 38th all time in steals, and, again, didn't start playing in this league until he was 27.
This player would need an 80-grade hit tool, 60-grade speed, a 60-grade arm, 55-grade raw power (with more of a 40 game power), and a 60-grade field tool.
That's not a generational talent. It's a once-in-a-lifetime talent. This player isn't laying out in the tall grass at some high school, waiting to be plucked out of anonymity and obscurity by a lucky scout. This player isn't going to emerge tomorrow because of a fateful session in the batting cage. Players like Ichiro aren't crafted. They're born of divine providence, and we are blessed every so often to be allowed to watch them. Ichiro isn't the next first overall pick of the draft. He was flaunting those ridiculous tools on professional fields when he was younger than many of the prospects in the draft.
He's Eddie Collins and Cap Anson. He's Rod Carew. He's Pete Rose. At some point, there may be another Ichiro. But it wont be tomorrow. And it won't be a year from now.
It'll be when Ichiro is grey and gone, accepting his plaque at Cooperstown. Then, just maybe, we'll hear tall tales of some wiry kid from somewhere who can do beautiful things with his bat.