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Ichiro holds one seemingly unbreakable record

MLB.com

On Thursday, we learned that Ichiro Suzuki will hit the pause button on his legendary playing career, and we may never see him as an active player again. He was one of the most exciting, unique and extraordinary players of all time. In an era of home run hitters, Ichiro showed us one could be a star with bunts, infield hits and stolen bases.

And Ichiro set a record -- a cherished record -- that may never be broken. Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hit streak is the Holy Grail, the one record we all assume to be the most untouchable.

On Thursday, we learned that Ichiro Suzuki will hit the pause button on his legendary playing career, and we may never see him as an active player again. He was one of the most exciting, unique and extraordinary players of all time. In an era of home run hitters, Ichiro showed us one could be a star with bunts, infield hits and stolen bases.

And Ichiro set a record -- a cherished record -- that may never be broken. Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hit streak is the Holy Grail, the one record we all assume to be the most untouchable.

But perhaps more unbreakable is Ichiro's record of 262 hits in one season, which he did in 2004. Given the recent trends of more strikeouts and more scheduled days off for players, it is hard to imagine anyone approaching that mark. A look at history can help us illustrate why this is the case.

The previous hits record was set by George Sisler, who had 257 knocks in 1920. Since then, very few have come close. Here's a look at the most hits in a season in every decade since.

1930s: Billy Terry, 254, 1930
1940s: Stan Musial, 230, 1948
1950s: Hank Aaron, 223, 1959
1960s: Matty Alou, 231, 1969
1970s: Rod Carew, 239, 1977
1980s: Wade Boggs, 240, 1985
1990s: Lance Johnson, 227, 1996
2000s: Ichiro, 262, 2004
2010s: Jose Altuve, 225, 2014

As you can see, no one has come within 37 hits of Ichiro since 2004, and that's a lot of hits to make up. And other than Altuve's splendid 225-hit season in '14, no one in baseball has more than 216 hits in a season since '10.

There are a number of reasons no one will ever break Ichiro Suzuki's record of 262 hits in a season. For one, you need a lot of at-bats. Ichiro hit all the checkmarks needed:
• He batted at the top of the order
• He didn't walk a lot
• He was durable and played every day

In 2004, Ichiro had 704 at-bats. In the history of baseball, there have only been four instances in which a player has accumulated as many as 700 at-bats.

Most at-bats in a season
1. Jimmy Rollins, 716, 2007
2. Willie Wilson, 705, 1980
3. Ichiro Suzuki, 704, 2004
4. Juan Samuel, 701, 1984

Now, in today's game, very few players play all 162 games or even get close. And even if you play every day, players that bat at the top of the order are getting fewer at-bats (since there is an emphasis on drawing walks and improving the on-base percentage). Since 2010, the most at-bats in a season is 684, by Ian Kinsler for the '14 Tigers.

Look at it this way: Ichiro batted .372 in 2004. Since '10, no one has topped Josh Hamilton's .359 in '10, and he didn't come close to 700 at-bats.

And if you want to accumulate 263 hits, here's how many at-bats it would take based on various possible batting averages.

704 at-bats: .373 (Ichiro's 2004 at-bat total, plus one more hit)
690 at-bats: .381
* 664 at-bats: .396
** 640 at-bats: .411

* 664 at-bats is the average number of at-bats that the MLB leader has had the past five years.

** 640 at-bats was reached by only five players last year (Ender Inciarte, Dee Gordon, Francisco Lindor, Charlie Blackmon and Elvis Andrus).

When you combine Ichiro's unique ability to play every day and rack up hits without drawing walks with the trends in the modern game, it becomes clear that his single-season hits record is safe for a while, and possibly forever.

Elliot Kalb is a researcher for MLB Network.

Seattle Mariners, Ichiro Suzuki