Ichiro Suzuki Passes Pete Rose With 4,257 Hits in His Career
Pete Rose had 4,256 hits in his Major League Baseball career. After a double against the San Diego Padres, Florida Marlins’ outfielder Ichiro Suzuki has 4,257 in his professional baseball career. 1,278 of those hits came when he played for the Orix Blue Wave of the Nippon Professional Baseball league in Japan.
This fact complicates the matter, but should not remove him from the “Hit King” discussion, regardless of what Pete Rose says.
Earlier this week, Rose told USA Today:
“It sounds like in Japan, they’re trying to make me the Hit Queen. I’m not trying to take anything away from Ichiro, he’s had a Hall of Fame career, but the next thing you know, they’ll be counting high school hits.”
Comparing a professional baseball league in Japan to high school baseball is absolutely trying to take something away from Ichiro. It’s disrespectful and a blatant attempt at diminishing his achievements and claim to the “Hit King” throne.
The big “what if” will always be “What if Ichiro had played those years in the MLB instead of Japan?” The answer is that he may have broken Rose’s record sooner. Japan’s NPB played a much shorter season. During young prime years, from age 20 to 26, Ichiro never played more than 135 games. That equates to losing more than an entire MLB season’s worth of games. For someone who averages 200 hits per 162 games against MLB pitching that could have easily added another 200 or 250 hits to his total.
It’s not like his ability to hit plummeted when he came to the United States. Ichiro hit for more power in Japan, but in terms of contact hitting the transition was seamless. He hit over .300 in his first 10 MLB seasons.
Here Are the Facts
Since we’ll never know for certain “what if”, we’ll address the “what is.” When Ichiro came to the MLB in 2001, he hit .350 and became the second player in MLB history to win Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same year, joining Fred Lynn of the Boston Red Sox. Though unrelated to hitting, Ichiro was also the fastest player in the league with the strongest throwing arm in the league. Has anyone else ever held both designations? Maybe Bo Jackson.
Solely based on his MLB numbers, Ichiro is among the greatest contact hitters ever. He currently ranks 31st all-time in MLB hits. Of the 30 players in front of him, only 3 played less than 20 seasons. None played less than 18 seasons. Ichiro has played just 16.
He led the league in hits 5 consecutive seasons in his mid-30’s, and prior to that at age 30, set the single season record for hits with 262.
Ichiro has more MLB hits than Babe Ruth, Lou Gherig, Ted Williams, Ernie Banks, Barry Bonds, and Ken Griffey Jr. He has 500 more hits than Mickey Mantle or Frank Thomas. They all had a substantial head-start in the MLB hit race as Ichiro didn’t start his career here until age 27. Yes, every one of those legends certainly hit for a ton more power, but they were still great hitters.
Those legends are a reference point, just to put in perspective how great a contact hitter Ichiro has been. Speaking of contact, similarly amazing slappy-singles-hitter’s Wade Boggs and Tony Gwynn have 13 batting titles between them and both played into their 40’s. Ichiro is 32 hits from surpassing Boggs and about 150 from catching Gwynn. For someone to start playing Major League Baseball in their late 20’s and put up cumulative numbers on par with two of the greatest hitters who ever lived is beyond incredible.
It’s also remarkable the 42 year-old is hitting .349 this season.
Despite Rose and Ichiro both being deserving, sadly there cannot be 2 “Hit Kings.” We cannot call Rose the “Hit King” and Ichiro the “King of Hits.”
The debate will continue, but Ichiro certainly deserves to be part of it.
(Ichiro Suzuki Passes Pete Rose)