In Japan, a noren is a short curtain that hangs to the entrance of a little teahouse or restaurant. It is not solid, but made of strips, and so when you go through it, your hand goes first, then your arm, and the rest of you, but quickly the strips fall back into place, and it is as if a wisp, a ghost, a sprite has passed through.
I always visualized Ichiro Suzuki that way, slipping from Japanese baseball to our major leagues so effortlessly, barely stirring the air.
As he nears his 40th birthday, Suzuki has long since played more in the United States than in Japan –– nine seasons there, 13 here –– on his way to, surely, accumulating more hits than anyone who has ever stood in a batter's box. He's a handful short of 4,000 now, with better than 2,700 made in our American League. Beyond lie only Ty Cobb and Pete Rose, who holds the record with 4,256 — a total Suzuki could very well eclipse only two summers from now.
Of course, should he stay healthy and pass Rose, there will be some patriots who will dismiss the accomplishment, arguing that the 1,200-plus hits that Suzuki slapped out in Japan were against pitchers inferior to the American mound cadre. Fair enough, but surely it evens out that Suzuki has managed to achieve his extraordinary success playing on two continents, in two cultures, with two different-size baseballs, while Rose did it all in a familiar few ballparks.
Don't you think that sometimes, even in baseball, with all its sacred statistics, you can round numbers off and call it equal, plus or minus a margin of admiration?
At the Hall of Fame they're already expecting by far the largest crowd ever when Suzuki is inducted seven or eight summers from now –– numbers way in excess of what Mike Schmidt and Cal Ripken drew up the Susquehanna from Philadelphia and Baltimore. Cooperstown will be little Tokyo that day, and Tokyo will be big Cooperstown.
It would also be so appropriate at that time for baseball to finally show some mercy to Pete Rose and let him enter the shrine with Suzuki. The drug cheats have put Rose's offense in perspective. He did not damage baseball one iota as a player, and his misdeed as a manager now appears as small beer alongside how those druggies dishonored the game, distorted history and robbed their fellow players.
It's become a rather hackneyed mantra how the United States is the land of the second chance. Only the Second Amendment gets more lip service. Notwithstanding, if anyone deserves a pardon after all these years, before the petals fall, it is Rose, and for him and Suzuki to go together through that curtain –– that noren –– would be both proper and lovely.
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