He is one of the few major-league players in history who’s known by only his first name, Ichiro. He is the only player to wears his first name, not his last name, on the back of his jersey. Consequently, there are probably many fans who don’t even know his last name is Suzuki. Somewhat quietly this season, he’s closing in on Pete Rose’s record of 4,256 career hits.
As of Saturday, Ichiro Suzuki currently has 4,252 hits in his pro career. However, those familiar with his background are quick to point out that 30 percent (or 1,278) of Ichiro’s career hits came while playing professionally in Japan.
Nevertheless, Ichiro still has a compelling case for being recognized as the new all-time “Hit King,” as Rose is commonly referred to today. A similar argument, centered around home runs, occurred back in the 1970s when Sadaharu Oh, who played his entire career in Japan, surpassed Hank Aaron for most home runs in a professional career.
Ichiro began his pro baseball journey in Japan at age 18. He wound up playing nine seasons there before signing with the Seattle Mariners. Arguably, his hits in Japan shouldn’t be included in the comparison with Rose, as many observers would say the Japanese Professional Baseball League is more comparable to Triple-A minor-league baseball than the major-leagues in the U. S.
Yet he hit the ground running (and hitting) upon his arrival in Seattle in 2001. What he did in his first major-league season with the Mariners was nothing short of a miracle, even for a top American prospect who would have advanced through the traditional minor-league system of organized baseball.
The 27-year-old Ichiro proved he was already capable of playing at the highest level in 2001 when he led the American League in hits (242), stolen bases (56), and batting average (.350), on his way to capturing the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player crowns in his initial season. That hadn’t been accomplished in the same year since Boston’s Fred Lynn in 1975.
Looking only at his major-league career, Ichiro is currently less than 30 hits from attaining the 3,000-hit benchmark for sure-fire Hall of Famers. He would become only the 32nd player in history to reach that mark. When he does, he will have reached the celebrated mark in only sixteen seasons, the same as Rose. Over the course of his entire major-league career, Ichiro has a 162-game average of 200 hits per season, compared to Rose’s 205 in his first sixteen years.
In Ichiro’s first 10 major league seasons, he averaged 224 hits per season, the only player in history to attain 200+ for ten straight seasons. Rose also had ten 200-hit seasons during his 24-year career, but not consecutively.
The left-handed hitting Ichiro holds the major-league record for number of hits in a season, accumulating 262 in 2004, which surpassed George Sisler’s 84-year-old record of 257. Ichiro’s batting average was a phenomenal .372 that year.
The ten-time All-Star and Gold Glove winner will surely be a Hall of Fame selection, the first Asian player to attain this honor. While Ichiro will not have eclipsed Pete Rose’s record for career hits in Major League Baseball, he’ll be one-up on Rose in another significant category–he’ll ultimately have his bronze likeness enshrined in the hallowed Hall in Cooperstown.
In a season when Boston’s David Ortiz is getting much-deserved attention and adulation in his farewell campaign, Ichiro’s career merits some love from the baseball community, too. As a 42-year-old, this is likely his final season, especially if he reaches the 3,000-hit milestone. He won’t get the same type of send-off as Big Papi, but baseball fans would do well to pay homage to this future Hall of Famer during the balance of this season.