Counting his time in Japan, Ichiro Suzuki passed Pete Rose for number one all time in career hits with 4,257 after his double on Wednesday. Unfortunately, the MLB record books don’t count hits in Japan as hits in the Major Leagues, so the record will remain Rose’s until there is another great young hitter that survives in the big leagues for nearly 20 years. As it stands, Ichiro is approaching 3,000 career hits in the United States, and will be the second oldest person to ever reach 3,000 hits in major league history.
There is little debate as to who was better at hitting the baseball Ichiro or Rose, with Ichiro taking that distinction handily. Even though Ichiro was 27 when he came over to the United States, he has a career average of .314 which bests Rose’s batting average by 11 points and he didn’t have the benefit of years of MLB pitching prior to his prime baseball age. Ichiro will always be best known for slapping a ground ball between the shortstop and third baseman and already being three quarters of the way down the base path by the time the ball reached the infield.
Ichiro created his own style of batting, slapping at the baseball more than driving it and using the momentum created from his swing to start him down the first base line. You see most players take a massive swing and if they make contact with the ball they have to take a moment to center their body before taking off down the line; that was never the case with Ichiro. When you average less than ten home runs a year but are amassing 200 hits a year, clearly your goal isn’t to hit it over the fence.
I will never forget the fervor created by Ichiro during my one visit to Safeco Field in Seattle. While sitting in the stands during a meaningless regular season game, the stands were packed with fans that would ooh and ahh every time Ichiro came into the batter’s box. The chant of “I-Chi-Ro!” would pound through the stadium with seemingly every fan joining in. He ended that night 2-4 with two singles, the perfect Ichiro game.
The disappointing part of Ichiro’s career is that he was rarely ever on championship contenders. He has never played in the World Series and has only played in the American League Championship Series twice, in 2001 for the Mariners and 2012 for the Yankees. He batted .346 in the postseason and it would have been wonderful to see him playing in the World Series, but the downside of spending the vast majority of your career in Seattle is that you are rarely playing on a contender. For years, the Seattle Mariners relied on Ichiro getting on base and Felix Hernandez throwing a no-hitter to be able to win baseball games.
It’s too bad Ichiro played on the west coast until he was 38 years old because if he had been playing for the Yankees or the Red Sox his entire career his legacy would be quite different. As it stands, he will be regarded by many as the all-time hits leader, and that isn’t too shabby.