The End of a Streak -- Ichiro and Derek

07/24/2011 12:52 pm ET | Updated Sep 23, 2011
  • Howard Steven Friedman Statistician and health economist for the United Nations; Teacher, Columbia University

I'm going to depart from my usual topics to focus on a lighter one, sports. For the past few weeks, many people were riveted by articles about Derek Jeter and his chase for 3,000 hits. For me, this story lacked interest. We knew he would hit this milestone. The result was inevitable. Regardless of his declining batting performance, there was no question that unless he experienced a career ending injury, he would achieve this goal -- the only questions being where, when and how?

Sports stories that are more interesting to me are ones where the conclusion is not inevitable. Single season records have a finite time period raising the pressure of each performance. Streaks are also more exciting to me since you never know if or when they will end. Joe DiMaggio's record of 56 games is incredible for so many reasons and when the streak finally ended, he began another one immediately.

Ichiro Suzuki has gotten over 200 hits for 10 consecutive seasons in the major leagues -- a major league record. Pete Rose was the only other player to ever have 10 seasons and they weren't consecutive. This streak is a testament to Ichiro's ability to not only hit well every season, but also to stay injury-free (a combination of fitness and good luck). The previous record of 8 consecutive seasons was set over 100 years ago.

Not many sports writers have discussed the painfully obvious fact that this streak seems likely to end this year. Ichiro batted over .300 in his first 10 seasons and this year is currently batting below .270. With little over 60 games left to play, he is about 90 hits short. It's still possible for Ichiro to get hot and hit over about .345 for the rest of the year, giving him enough hits to keep the streak alive. I'm not optimistic that this will happen but I'll keep checking the boxscores to see how he did. There is drama in watching whether he can pick up his batting enough to keep the streak alive. The result isn't inevitable... for now. Yes, at 37 he is past his prime but, if he gets hot, he might continue his streak. In fact, some hold out hope that he can continue this streak for the rest of his career, retiring before ever failing to reach 200 hits -- sort of a Rocky Marciano of baseball.

One can only speculate as to what Ichiro's lifetime stats would look like if he had started his career in the U.S. rather than Japan. We would likely be debating whether he would pass Pete Rose's lifetime hit record rather than wondering if or when his consecutive season streak will end. More generally, it makes me think how much fun we can have in life by simply wondering, "what if."

In the meantime, I'll keep checking the box scores and rooting for him to turn back the clock of time.

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