Some would say that he is now the all-time hits leader in professional baseball… surpassing the fiery Pete Rose who played his entire career in North America’s MLB (Major League Baseball).
Ichiro… the only person I know of in the MLB to have his first name on the back of his baseball jersey played in the Japan Professional League between 1992 and 2000… which means I most assuredly saw him play in his rookie season.
I most assuredly have his Japanese rookie and second-year baseball card from when he played for the Orix Blue wave.
A quick glance at his baseball statistic for those first two years (1992 and 1993), will show he only played 40 and 43 games respectively, compiling a meek 24 and 12 hits for a .253 BA and a lousy .188 BA.
If you saw that, like I did… you would never, ever think that this guy could become one of the greatest hitters in all of baseball.
First… despite surpassing Pete Rose’s career hit total of 4,256 hits over 24 season, I simply can not give Ichiro props for being the new global hit leader.
Like it or not… the Japanese baseball league is inferior in quality to the MLB. The competition there would be like maybe AAAA… somewhere between the highest minor league North American teams, but still below the MLB teams.
So… the competition that Ichiro faced while compiling his 1,278 hits for Orix in Japan, is dubious, at best.
The Japanese once took great pride in stating that Oh Sadaharu was the greatest home run hitter ever because he popped 868 home runs over his 22 year career. He did… except the dimensions of the standard Japanese baseball stadium are smaller, and thus it is actually easier to hit a home run in Japan than it is in the MLB… and then there’s the ability of the pitchers he faced… which I have no doubt are better than myself times five… but are not as good as the majority of the MLB pitchers of the day or even now.
Look… there are never-was North American baseball players who have gone to play in Japan, and have dominated the home run circuit. Few could ever duplicate that back in North America.
I would say that Cecil Fielder - father of Detroit Tigers’ star Prince Fielder - created a decent career after playing in MLB, going to Japan for a few years and proving himself, before coming back to the MLB as a power hitter.
Hell, even Tom Sellick improved his game while in Japan.
Here's a couple of lines from the Toronto Star:
"back in 2000, Suzuki’s final of nine seasons in Japan, he led the league with a .387 average. Second, at .332, was journeyman major-leaguer Sherman Obando, a .239 hitter in 177 games with the O’s and the Expos. Fifth was Tony Fernandez, winding down his pro career for a nice payday. Fernandez, then 38, hit .327 with a 905 OPS. Japan in 2000 was not the majors. "
Now… despite me having slagged Japanese baseball’s skill level relative to the MLB… I should note that Ichiro currently has 2,979 hits… just 21 shy of 3,000… which if he wasn’t already a sure-fire baseball hall of famer, the magical 3,000 hits number would make him a shoo-in.
So… despite Ichiro playing against better baseball competition in North America’s MLB, he has still managed to hit, hit well, and hit often. It means he’s a damn fine hitter. And a defender, too.
Look… very few Japanese baseball players have ever come to the MLB and become a superstar at their position.
The pitcher.. the Tornado, Nomo Hideo… he could have been a superstar… but he was one damn fine player… my favorite player in Japan, actually. I saw his first game on TV (while in Japan) and I thought… damn… this guy could pitch in the MLB… and he, basically became the guy that opened the door for other Japanese players to find financial and playing success.
Who else… Yu Darvish and Tanaka Masahiro? Maybe the man they call Godzilla… Tanaka Masahiro? He was a very good player… but he did not sustain his excellence for very long in North America.
But that’s why Ichiro is a stud. Nine years in Japan and 16 in the MLB.
I don’t think Japan should be celebrating Ichiro for his 4,257th hit. That’s a BS number created to wag the dog.
We can celebrate Ichiro when he snags his 3,000th MLB hit… and whenever he finally choose to retire, we can celebrate the baseball player who once got 262 hits in his fourth MLB season in 2004 to set the all-time single season record… or for garnering 10 200+ hit seasons in a row to start his MLB career between 2000 through 2010.
Sorry Japan… Ichiro is a great player - one of the best ever to play the game of baseball… but he’s no Pete Rose.
For the benefit of all those who see the irony in that statement, let me just state that I mean Pete Rose the player… and only the player… not the guy who was a playah, gamblah or li-ah.
PS: Last night my 10-year-old son got his third hit of the season... his third triple... now if he can just do it more often!
PPS: Image at top of Ichiro Suzuki of the Miami Marlins hitting his 4,257th professional hit against the San Diego Padres on June 15, 2016. (Jake Roth / USA Today Sports).