A Japanese writer approached me over the weekend at Great American Ball Park and asked for an interview about the Pete Rose-Ichiro Suzuki Situation.
For the next 45 minutes he asked me about Rose and his 4,256 hits, because I saw most of them, and he asked me about Suzuki, a player I seldom witnessed in person.
When Suzuki’s current team, the Miami Marlins, play the San Diego Padres in Petco Park, Suzuki is one hit shy of 4,256 professional hits.
THE WRITER WANTED to know my opinion of when Suzuki passes Rose would I consider him as the new Hit King. He didn’t put it in those words, but I could tell that was his point.
Not wanting to create an international incident, I was as diplomatic as I could be and said, “What Ichiro has done is absolutely amazing, an incredible accomplishment.” I never reached the point where I said, “Yes, he will be the new hit king.”
Why not? Well, Ichiro’s first 1,278 hits came during a nine-year career in Japan, before he came to the United States.
And this is not to disparage Japanese baseball. It is high quality and many players from the Pacific Rim have succeeded in the U.S.
THAT ICHIRO IS A great hitter, one of the all-time best, right up there with Rose and Tony Gynn, is undeniable. He is only three hits shy of 3,000 in the majors and he has a pre-punched ticket to Cooperstown.
He broke the all-time major league record for hits in one season with 262 in 2004. He is 42 years old hitting .347 this year as a fourth outfielder for the Marlins.
Like Rose and Gwynn, the man can hit.
But, the fact 1,278 of his hits were not in the U.S. has to carry weight – some heavy weight – in Rose’s favor as the hit king.
There are few American journalists trailing Ichiro’s chase right now. There are about a dozen Japanese writers following him and NHK, Japan’s national public broadcasting system, is broadcasting every game. Yes, it is a big deal in Japan and Ichiro has been a national celebrity for a long, long time. It is understandable that Japan considers it a big deal.
THE NATIONAL BASEBALL Hall of Fame says it will recognize Ichiro and accept all his memorabilia, including everything involving his latest hits as he chases down Rose.
That’s fine, that’s acceptable — as long as it is noted that the first 1,278 hits were accomplished in the Nippon Professional League.
Question: Who is the all-time home run leader? Barry Bonds, right? He hit 762, no matter how he did it. He is the acknowledged home run king. But Sadharu Oh hit 868 in Japan for the Yomirui Giants, and he isn’t acknowledged as baseball’s all-time home run king. He never played in the U.S. and his 868 home runs have not been transferred to the U.S. So why should the majors subjectively transfer Ichiro’s hits in Japan to the U.S.?
What Ichiro has done in the U.S. is absolutely incredible. And those 2,997 hits (and counting) plus his 262 single season hits should be acknowledged – and they will when he is inducted into Cooperstown.
But it isn’t fair to Pete Rose to have baseball recognize hits accumulated in another league, in another country, as the equal to his accomplishments.
Barry Bonds said it best to USA Today: “They should blame his country for keeping him there for nine years.”
To me, Pete Rose will remain ‘The Hit King’ and Ichiro Suzuik is a first-ballot Hall of Famer.