Ichiro Suzuki collected his 4,256th hit as a top-level pro baseball player on Wednesday afternoon, for the Miami Marlins in San Diego, tying the record total of Pete Rose.
Ichiro led off the game against Padres starter Luis Perdomo with an infield single to third base, moved to second on a single and then scored on a single. (The game, in its early stages, is not yet official.)
But Suzuki’s mark carries an asterisk: His 2,978 hits in Major League Baseball are supplemented by 1,278 when he played for the Orix BlueWave of the Japan Pacific League at the start of his career.
Suzuki’s chase of Rose’s mark has been big news in Japan. But Rose himself, while praising Ichiro’s talent, was dismissive of the feat.
“I don’t think you’re going to find anybody with credibility say that Japanese baseball is equivalent to major league baseball,” he told USA Today. He made similar remarks last fall as the record first came into view. “If you say those hits in Japan are professional hits,” Rose said, “then my hits in the minor leagues are professional hits, too.”
By one measure, Suzuki’s mark is more impressive than Rose’s. Going into Wednesday’s game, Ichiro had 14,334 total plate appearances in Japan and the major leagues. It took Rose 15,890 to collect his 4,256.
Rose and Suzuki have more in common than just their gift for hitting. Both were rookies of the year, though Rose was 22 at the time, and Suzuki was 27 after arriving in Seattle from Japan. Both showed baseball longevity: Rose played until he was 45; Suzuki is 42.
Suzuki dominated the Japan leagues, winning three straight Most Valuable Player Awards from 1994 to 1996. He made the switch to the majors for the 2001 season at a time when Japanese players, especially batters, were rare. But he quickly silenced the doubters, leading the league in hitting at .350 in his first season for the Mariners, and winning M.V.P. as well as Rookie of the Year Awards. He has led the league in hits seven times in his career.
At age 38, when many players are long out of the game, he finally moved on from Seattle to play for the Yankees. In 2015, he joined the Marlins at age 41.
In his long career in the United States, he has just two postseason appearances; he hit .600 in Seattle’s division series triumph over Cleveland in his rookie year, and appeared 11 years later in the Yankees’ 2012 playoff run.
But championships have not entirely eluded him. He was a part of the Japan teams that won the first two World Baseball Classics, in 2006 and 2009.
The contretemps over Suzuki’s mark is reminiscent of the storm when the great slugger Sadaharu Oh approached Hank Aaron’s 755 homer mark in 1977. Some American sportswriters grumbled that the marks were not equivalent, as Japanese ballparks tended to be smaller.
But Aaron was gracious in a taped message broadcast in Japan that night: “I would have loved to have been there tonight to put the crown on top of his head because he certainly is quite a gentleman and the people of Japan have a lot to be proud of.”
Oh ended his career with 868 homers.
The next milestone for Suzuki is 3,000 major league hits; he needs only 22 more. He would be the 30th to get to that number. The others had all started their major league careers by age 23.Continue reading the main story