VIRGINIA — Ichiro Suzuki is a phenom. An ageless wonder. A future first-ballot Hall of famer and one of the all-time greats. But he isn’t about to become baseball’s “Hit King.”
That title will belong to Pete Rose until someone breaks his major league record of 4,256 hits, which, frankly, doesn’t seem likely to happen unless another Ichiro comes along and plays his entire career here.
Consider what Ichiro has done in his unprecedented career. He broke into the professional Pacific League as an 18-year-old in Japan and went on to garner seven batting titles, seven Golden Glove awards, seven All-star selections, three MVP awards and 1,278 hits. He then made history as the first Japanese position player to play in the major leagues, and as of this writing has tallied another 2,977 hits.
Ten Gold Gloves, 10 All-Star nods, three Silver Slugger awards, two batting titles, one AL Rookie of the Year award and one AL MVP award later, his spot in Cooperstown is assured.
But no, he’s not the hit king for the same reason that Sadaharu Oh isn’t baseball’s home run king. The talent just isn’t up to par in Japanese professional baseball. Ichiro is chasing 3,000 hits, not 4,256.
Major League Baseball should still celebrate Ichiro’s accomplishments in a big way, though, because his impact has stretched far beyond the baseball diamond. He became a rock star on two continents and maintained humility and class throughout a stellar career.
Barry Bonds, of all people, came up with a great suggestion. Why not get Rose and Ichiro together for a round-table discussion? It would be a treat for the fans to hear stories and insights from both men. Put aside the debates about whose hit total is more legitimate and just put the spotlight on two of the greatest hitters baseball has ever seen.
Mike Hautamaki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org