Is 12 seasons enough for Ichiro to make the Hall of Fame?

From Michael Bates at Baseball Prospectus on September 26, 2012:

Despite what has been a tremendous week for Ichiro Suzuki (he hit .533/.563/.867 from September 19th to 24th), there’s been understandable speculation that one of baseball’s most iconic figures is coming toward the end of the line. Not that he has to, but if he retires at the end of the year, Ichiro will finish somewhere north of 2600 hits in 12 Major League seasons, with two batting titles, the single-season record for hits, in excess of 450 stolen bases, 10 (consecutive) Gold Gloves and All-Star appearances, a Rookie of the Year award and an AL MVP.  It’s a short but storied MLB career, and it’s going to lead to a lot of questions about whether Ichiro belongs in the Hall of Fame.

There’s no doubt that, at his peak, Ichiro was a Hall of Fame-level talent.  The problem, of course, is that his career in the majors began when he was 27. If he retired this year, Ichiro would finish with fewer than 2000 games.  Historically, the Hall of Fame has found a place for players with short careers.  Indeed, 48 players who played the majority of their careers in the 20th and 21st centuries have made the HOF despite finishing below that playing time threshold.  These players even include inner circle Hall of Famers like Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson, Arky Vaughan, Hank Greenberg and Home Run Baker.

So it’s clear that a player with a short career CAN be a deserving Hall of Famer, but it’s also clear that voters have become reluctant to honor those players.  They value longevity, and have only valued it more as more players pass statistical milestones and make the HOF field seem more crowded.

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Originally published: September 26, 2012. Last Updated: September 26, 2012.