Baseball fans are obsessed with records. Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, Cal Ripken Jr.’s 2,632 consecutive games played and Nolan Ryan’s 5,714 career strikeouts are just a few of the magic numbers that have fascinated fans over the years. Recently, Pete Rose’s career record of 4,256 major league hits has come into the spotlight, as legendary outfielder Ichiro Suzuki recently passed Rose’s record by recording his 4,257th career hit last Wednesday.
However, there is an asterisk — 1,278 of Ichiro’s hits came in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball, or NPB, before he entered MLB in 2001.
In Rose’s eyes, Ichiro’s hits from Japan should not count toward the record.
“It sounds like in Japan, they’re trying to make me the Hit Queen. I’m not trying to take anything away from Ichiro, he’s had a Hall of Fame career, but the next thing you know, they’ll be counting his high-school hits,” Rose said in an interview with USA Today.
In my opinion, Rose is right to say that he should be considered Major League Baseball’s all-time hit leader, but that is where my agreement with Rose ends. His comments display a nasty combination of fallacious reasoning and lack of grace.
NPB is widely acknowledged to be slightly below MLB in terms of quality of play. Many players who could not carve out regular playing time in MLB have gone on to have successful careers in Japan, and several successful Japanese players have failed to meet expectations when transitioning to MLB.
However, completely dismissing Ichiro’s Japanese hits is irresponsible. NPB is widely acknowledged to be the world’s second-best baseball league. It has produced several stars, including Hideki Matsui, Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka, who have gone on to have successful MLB careers. To liken Ichiro’s Japanese hits to high school hits, as Rose did in his comments, is a classic example of a straw man argument — a fallacy in which an opponent’s argument is misrepresented in order to be more easily attacked or refuted.
Another factor to consider is that Ichiro played fewer games per season in his seven full seasons in Japan. During that time, the NPB season was 130 games per season. If he had played 162-game seasons, as he does now in MLB, and continued the same rate of hitting, Ichiro would have recorded an additional 315 hits over those seven seasons. So even if the Japanese league is acknowledged to be slightly inferior and thus conducive to a higher batting average, Ichiro would have had more at-bats if he had spent those seasons in America.
In addition, even if MLB is considered superior to NPB, Ichiro had no problems whatsoever with the transition from NPB to MLB. In his rookie season in MLB in 2001, he recorded a .350 batting average with a league-leading 242 hits, and earned the American League Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year awards.
He continued that excellence over the next 16 seasons, posting an MLB-record 10 consecutive seasons with 200 or more hits, earning an All-Star Game selection in each of those ten seasons. He also set the all-time record for hits in a single season with 262 in 2004, a record that is still unbroken and may remain that way for several years, as hitting stats have been decreasing throughout MLB over recent years.
Ichiro is still going strong, as he boasts a batting average well over .300 for the Miami Marlins as a 42-year-old this season. He could easily add many more hits to his total, and he seems like a lock to pass 3,000 MLB hits for his career, an incredible achievement for someone who began his Major League career at age 27.
In addition to his hitting, Ichiro was, and still is, a fantastic defender in the outfield. He won 10 consecutive Gold Glove awards, and consistently displayed a cannon for an arm, despite his slight stature. He also impacted the game on the bases, as he has over 500 stolen bases in his career, including at least 25 in 11 consecutive seasons at the beginning of his MLB career.
Rose was a phenomenal baseball player who was revered for his consistency, hustle and hitting ability. In my view, he is still baseball’s hits leader, at least officially.
Still, Ichiro should be receiving more credit for his tremendous accomplishments than he has gotten in recent days. In my eyes, Rose’s comments come across as bitter and lack the class that has been displayed by many MLB legends as their records have been passed.
Ichiro may not be the official “Hit King,” but Rose’s comments do nothing to diminish his tremendous achievements.
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