Column: Who is Baseball’s Real Hit King?

Wednesday afternoon in San Diego, Miami Marlins outfielder Ichiro Suzuki collected two hits in the Marlins’ 6-3 loss to the Padres.  The pair of singles moved Ichiro’s career hit total in Major League Baseball to 2,979, as the Japanese star chases the milestone of 3,000 hits, and would become the 30th player to do so.

But if you include the 1,278 hits Ichiro accumulated in nine professional seasons in Japan to his hits in MLB, the pair of hits on Wednesday would give 4,257 total professional hits, one more than Pete Rose’s MLB record of 4,256.

The MLB record belongs to Rose, and I don’t think anyone would argue that Ichiro’s hits in Japan should count towards an MLB record (MLB, appropriately, does not recognize numbers compiled in other leagues towards their own records).  However, I do believe that it would be fair to say the “professional hits record” belongs to #51.

First of all, while the Nippon Professional League in Japan is not necessarily considered equivalent to MLB, which is the best baseball league in the world, the NPL is still considered by many scouts to be at a level higher than AAA in the American minor leagues.  The level of play is obviously strong considering how many Japanese players have come to the U.S. and played superbly in MLB with little trouble transitioning.  Therefore, I have no problem combining a player’s statistics from MLB and NPL into their “professional” stats.

Secondly, the seasons are shorter in the NPL.  During Ichiro’s Japanese career, which began when he was just 18 in 1992, the NPL season varied between 130 and 140 games, much shorter than the 162 played in MLB.  Therefore, it is likely that if Ichiro had played in the U.S. his entire career, he would have already passed Pete Rose’s MLB mark, as he would have had 25 or more additional games per year, compared to the games he played in Japan.

Furthermore, about 70 percent of Ichiro’s hits came in MLB.  Sure, that means nearly a third of his hits were not in MLB, but to me that doesn’t diminish the accomplishment.  Even if you don’t want to dig deeper into Ichiro’s NPL years, he has 2,979 hits in 9,488 at-bats in MLB, while Rose needed 9,593 at-bats to reach the same hit total.  Keep in mind that, while both reached 2,979 in their 16th MLB season, Rose’s first 16 MLB seasons were from age 22-37, while Ichiro’s have been from 27-42.

Regardless of your opinion on his hit total, Ichiro has had an exceptional career, and is the greatest Japanese player in MLB history.  Ichiro won the American League MVP award in his first season in 2001, becoming just the second player to win MVP and Rookie of the Year in the same season, joining Fred Lynn in 1975 (I actually disagree with players from foreign leagues being eligible for Rookie of the Year, but it was still a remarkable feat to win both).

Ichiro joins Rose as the only players with 10 seasons of 200 or more hits, although Ichiro, whose had 10 consecutive such seasons from 2001-10, is the only player to even do it eight straight times, and Rose never did it more than three years in a row.  Ichiro is one of four players to lead the league in hits seven times, and in 2004 set the single season hit total with 262.

Many see Pete Rose’s MLB hits record as unbreakable.  But while Rose still has that record, there is, at least in my opinion, a new name with the title of overall professional hits leader, and for Ichiro Suzuki that title will be the feather in the cap of one of the greatest careers the game of baseball has ever seen.

 

 

 

MLB All-Time Hit Leaders (as of June 17, 2016)
1. Pete Rose 4,256
2. Ty Cobb 4,191
3. Hank Aaron 3,771
4. Stan Musial 3,630
5. Tris Speaker 3,514
6. Derek Jeter 3,465
7. Honus Wagner 3,430
8. Carl Yastrzemski 3,419
9. Paul Molitor 3,319
10. Eddie Collins 3,314
11. Willie Mays 3,283
12. Eddie Murray 3,255
13. Nap Lajoie 3,252
14. Cal Ripken Jr. 3,184
15. George Brett 3,154
16. Paul Waner 3,152
17. Robin Yount 3,142
18. Tony Gwynn 3,141
19. Alex Rodriguez 3,115
20. Dave Winfield 3,110
21. Craig Biggio 3,060
22. Rickey Henderson 3,055
23. Rod Carew 3,053
24. Lou Brock 3,023
25. Rafael Palmeiro 3,020
26. Cap Anson 3,011
27. Wade Boggs 3,010
28. Al Kaline 3,007
29. Roberto Clemente 3,000
30. Sam Rice 2,987
31. Ichiro Suzuki 2,979

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One thought on “Column: Who is Baseball’s Real Hit King?

  1. Pingback: Stiles on Sports’ Best of 2016 | Stiles On Sports

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