On Wednesday, Ichiro Suzuki logged the 2,978th and 2,979th hits of his MLB career. Those numbers aren't particularly important -- a more traditional celebration will come later this summer, when the 42-year-old joins the 3,000-hit club.
But, of course, Ichiro put together an entire portion of his career away from Major League Baseball -- with Orix Blue Wave of the Japan Pacific League for nine seasons leading up to his 2001 MLB debut. All told, Ichiro's 4,257 hits between the two leagues top the 4,256 logged by Pete Rose.
Hits don't translate from the Japanese league to the Major Leagues one-to-one. Ichiro is not baseball's hit king. But he doesn't need to be.
Surely, Rose agrees with that first part. The 75-year-old, who is banned from the game for life for breaking one of the few rules exlicitly stated in every MLB clubhouse, found time this week to diminish Ichiro's career in a way that only he so eloquently could.
"'They're trying to make me the Hit Queen," he said of Japanese baseball fans (via USA Today). "Next thing you know they'll be counting his high-school hits."
It makes sense for Rose to hold on so dearly to his beloved title -- it's the only thing he has left. He's banned from the game, with no chance of getting into Cooperstown, and most recently getting booted from his role as a FOX Sports analyst after several questionable takes (remember him ridiculing Josh Donaldson for coming out of an ALCS game after suffering a head injury).
For decades, ex-commissioner Bud Selig did his best to keep Rose away from baseball. It wasn't until Rob Manfred took office in early 2015 that Rose began appearing around the game again -- which is when it became clear that the game wants nothing to do with him.
Thankfully, hit totals are where the comparisons between Rose and Ichiro begin and end.
To the best of our knowledge, Ichiro hasn't broken one of the game's longest-standing rules -- or any of them, for that matter -- nor has he doubled down on web of lies for 20 years that hardly anyone believed in the first place. Ichiro hasn't served five months in prison for federal income-tax evasion. He hasn't been hit with lawsuits by his daughter for not acknowledging her as such, and he's not an alleged statutory rapist.
So, no, Ichiro isn't baseball's all-time hit leader -- he's nothing like him. And he doesn't need the approval of Rose to be recognized as one of the best hitters the game has ever known. He's not the Hit King, but he's an ambassador, a philanthropist, a worthy role model -- words that don't belong in the same sentence as Rose's name.
When it's all set and done, he won't need the title that Rose so desperately does.
- By John Dorn