Baseball / MLB

Ichiro extends streak to 14

Kyodo

Ichiro Suzuki went 2-for-4 to extend his hitting streak to 14 preseason games Wednesday as a Seattle Mariners split squad beat the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 4-3.

Ichiro singled to left in the first inning and added an infield single in his final at-bat of the day. Ichiro, who set a single-season major league record of 262 hits last year, has had at least one hit in all of his 14 games this spring.

In Phoenix, Chicago White Sox infielder Tadahito Iguchi came on as a pinch hitter and hit a two-run double and popped up to the shortstop, both in an eight-run third inning, in his only at-bats of the game against the Milwaukee Brewers. The White Sox won 17-9.

In Jupiter, Fla., So Taguchi was 0-for-1 with a flyout in the St. Louis Cardinals’ 3-2 victory over the New York Mets. Mets infielder Kazuo Matsui did not play due to a back strain.

Agreeing to disagree

Rakuten Eagles general manager Marty Kuehnert and Lotte Marines manager Bobby Valentine agree on little.

What is clear as the 2005 Pacific League season, featuring the newly created Rakuten Eagles, gears to kick off this Saturday is that they disagree on everything else from revenue-sharing to the use of performance-enhancing substances to salary caps.

Discussing the state of Japanese baseball Thursday, following one of the most turbulent seasons in recent years in 2004, the two squared off on some of the more sticky issues confronting the game today.

They both agreed that a lot of good, such as the introduction of interleague play, had come out of the first-ever players strike, a team merger and the creation of the first new club in 50 years.

“I think for a long time the players wanted interleague play and the fans wanted interleague play,” Kuehnert said. “I think this is just the first step toward the many changes that have to be made in Japanese baseball.”

Kuehnert, however, said he is not out to reinvent the wheel and realizes that there is a limit to the scope of his influence as a general manager in Japan.

“We (Rakuten) will do the best job we can to minimize cost, maximize revenue and have baseball become more of a business. But we can only do so much without changes happening in the entire system.”

Revolution in Japanese baseball, Kuehnert said, will only come about with co-operation among all the 12 teams.

An example he gave was implementing an equitable draft system, free of shady under-the-table deals, which became the focus of several scandals involving players last season.

“If this is not stopped, we’re not going to have an equitable draft system. This is one of the big changes they need right away,” he said, adding that the commissioner’s hands are tied since he lacks the clout to make decisions over the owners.

Valentine, for his part, praised the new playoff system in the Pacific League, saying it helped create an exciting atmosphere for the fans and players toward the end of the season.

“I think it’s incredulous that the Central League didn’t follow suit and see the excitement that caused. We were playing the last games of the season with money on the line,” Valentine said.

Where the two diverged was the issue of revenue-sharing, salary-caps, and what constitutes performance-enhancing drugs, the focus of the recent Senate hearings in Washington, involving such big names as former major league slugger Mark McGwire.

Valentine said that allowing testing was a problem in Japan and the United States because of the standards are unclear.

“What are you testing for? Something that’s illegal? Are you testing for something that enhances your performance? I think the whole thing is rather hypocritical.” He did offer, however, that testing should be done to keep a level playing field.

Kuehnert, however, said he believed the issue of steroids is one of the biggest problems facing baseball today.

“I think in American sports there’s so much money involved. It’s become an epidemic. I’m very disappointed as fan when I look at (Barry) Bonds and McGwire and (Sammy) Sosa now. I used to look at them with respect.”

In a reference to Softbank Hawks owner Masashi Son saying he hoped to create the No. 1 team in the world, Valentine said that the tech-savvy president should be commended and allowed to spend as much money as he can afford.

“If you’re willing to spend money, as some owners in the states do to try to get the best team in the world, I think that’s ambitious and good for him.”

Kuehnert, however, said Son’s comment flied in the face of the direction of revenue-sharing and salary caps.