A lot has been made over the past few days about Ichiro Suzuki reaching 4,000 career hits during his “professional” career. However, let’s not get excited yet as he has a long way to go here in the United States and Major League Baseball still.
Suzuki played nine years in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball League. During that time he collected 1,278 hits, hit 204 home runs, stole 199 bases, drove in 529 runs and scored 658 runs. Those are great numbers for a nine-year career.
When Suzuki came to the United States and the Major Leagues in 2001, he started with nothing. No hits, no runs, no stolen bases, nothing. He was considered a rookie. In fact, he went on to win the 2001 American League Rookie of the Year Award with the Seattle Mariners.
So how is it all of the sudden Suzuki is being celebrated for reaching 4,000 career hits in only 13 years? Last time I checked, Suzuki had 2,723 career hits (through Aug. 23) in Major League Baseball.
Don’t get me wrong, 2,723 is a lot of hits in 13 years. Suzuki has more hits in 13 years than Ted Williams had in 19 seasons (2,654), Jimmie Foxx had in 20 seasons (2,646), Reggie Jackson had in 21 seasons (2,584), Joe Morgan in 22 seasons (2,517), or Carlton Fisk had in 24 seasons (2,356). All five players are currently in baseball’s Hall of Fame. And to be honest, I have no doubts that Suzuki will join them there one day.
The talk around Suzuki continues that if he reaches 3,000 hits in Major League Baseball, he will be Professional Baseball’s All Time Hit King. If Suzuki reaches 3K in MLB, it will give Suzuki a combined 4,278 hits or 22 hits more than Major League Baseball’s career hits leader, Pete Rose, who has (4,256). But, all of Rose’s hits are in MLB.
Look at it this way. When the phrase Home Run King is mentioned, the first names that come to your head are Barry Bonds (762 homers), Hank Aaron (755 homers) and Babe Ruth (714 homers), right? Surely you don’t think of Sadaharu Oh and his 868 home runs in Japan.
The quality of play has been said to have risen in Japan over the years, but I hold little value in that thought. An easy way to see that is to look at the foreign born players playing in Japan and what they have done there as opposed to what they have done in MLB.
Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes is a prime example of the drop in competitiveness.
Rhodes played six years in MLB and hit a grand total of 13 home runs in a season’s worth of at bats (590). His best year came in 1994 when he hit three home runs on opening day, but finished the year with eight homers in 269 at bats. Yet in 2001, Rhodes tied the single season Japan home run record with 55 homers and is 10th all time on the Japanese home run charts with 474 dingers.
In 2007 I was on hand to witness Suzuki hit the first ever inside the park home run in MLB’s All Star Game in San Francisco. He is a 10-time MLB All Star. Suzuki holds the record for most hits in a season (262 in 2004) and he had 10 straight seasons of 200 or more hits, something no player had accomplished in MLB history. He has won the AL MVP and the AL ROY (which is a debate for another day).
If Suzuki plays two more seasons in MLB, he has a CHANCE to reach 3,000 hits. If Suzuki can do it, he will be the fastest player to attain the 3K hit mark, reaching the magic number in 15 seasons. Rose is currently the fastest player to get 3K hits, doing so in 16 seasons.
I am all for the greatness that Suzuki has been and is. But until he has 4,000 hits in Major League Baseball, then and only then will I consider him in the top three players in base hits. Until then, Hank Aaron (3,771) is still No. 3 on my list.