Today, Ichiro Suzuki hit an eighth-inning double off of Fernando Rodney to the right field corner. He sent Giancarlo Stanton to third, and he trotted into second base easily, looking mildly annoyed more than anything before he briefly removed his batting helmet to salute the crowd. If you count his 1,278 hits in Nippon Professional Baseball, the double was his 4,257th career hit, which is one more than Pete Rose ever achieved in his major league career.
“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 his high-school hits.”
“I don’t think you’re going to find anybody with credibility say that Japanese baseball is equivalent to major-league baseball.”
Whether or not NPB ball is as difficult as MLB, Ichiro needed about 1,500 fewer plate appearances than Rose to equal his record, so you could adjust Ichiro’s NPB numbers for inflation and still determine that the hit record is Ichiro’s. But unless Ichiro collects 1,277 more major league hits (which, honestly, isn’t as outlandish as it superficially appears to be), it’ll be impossible to determine mathematical ownership of the hit record absent a level playing field. That said, Ichiro is the true hit king.
Here’s what he told USA Today when they asked him about the monument’s approach and all the accompanying attention from Japanese media it brought:
“I would be happy if people covered it or wrote about it, but I really would not care if it wasn’t a big deal. To be quite honest, I’m just going out and doing what I do.”
This is an emblematic comment from a man who eats the same meal before every game, follows the exact same routine every game day, and has managed to remain productive into his 40s. To call Ichiro “consistent” is to sell him short. The man is a baseball metronome, who sprays hundreds of hits every single year, rarely strikes out, and is still setting records as an elder statesman. He can do the spectacular, but never seems to be straining. Baseball is a sport of tiny margins, and Ichiro is a grandmaster of reliability (he used to have the Japanese word for “concentration” etched into his Little League glove). This doesn’t mean he’s incapable of, say, scrambling the rules of geometry to evade a tag or throwing the dick off the ball from the outfield.
The probably-false rumor that he thinks he only has a finite number of home runs in him and chooses to dole them out with discretion is an illustrative (if not also a bit spurious) anecdote about his talent. Ichiro was never not in control. If he wanted to hit more home runs he would have.
There are plenty of quantitative arguments that support Ichiro as the greatest hitter of all time; he had 262 hits in 2004, the most ever; he had ten straight 200-hit seasons, and Rose had ten across his entire career; he grounded into exactly one double play in the 2009 season. Ichiro doesn’t have as many MLB hits as Pete Rose, but he is the best hitter of all time. When he’s 49 and still eating the same meal and doing the same stretches and hitting .305 for the Las Vegas Roll, he’ll pass Rose in major league hits, but he’s the Hit King already.