Ichiro: The Best Member of the 4,000 Hit Club
Rose, Cobb, Suzuki. Those three names are now forever associated with hitting expertise and consistent production at the plate.
On a warm August 21st night against knuckleballer R.A Dickey, Ichiro Suzuki became only the third player in all of baseball history to record 4,000 hits in a career, joining only Pete Rose and Ty Cobb to reach that illustrious mark. 1,278 of those hits came during his days as a player in Japan, the other 2,722 came in a Major League uniform.
It was vintage Ichiro, as the 39 year old slapped a single the other way, past a diving Brett Lawrie, that sent the New York crowd into a frenzy. His Bronx Bomber teammates came onto the field to congratulate him on the accomplishment, and staying true to his Japanese roots, Suzuki bowed to the crowd to show his appreciation for their support and enthusiasm on his special night.
It is that courtesy and admiration, not only to the fans, but to his fellow ballplayers, that sets Ichiro apart from Rose and Cobb.
Pete Rose has the most hits out of any person to ever put on a professional baseball uniform. While no one can deny his passion and love for the game (he was, after all, nicknamed 'Charlie Hustle'), he is also one of the most scorned figures in baseball. His involvement in gambling on the game while a manager for the Reds led to his banishment from baseball. Now, Rose is known more not for being the all-time hit king, but rather as a black eye for the sport.
The other member of the 4,000 hit club, Ty Cobb, is not banished from baseball or anything of that nature and was certainly passionate about the game, but that passion crossed the boundary and turned into aggressiveness. Cobb was known for sliding into bases with his spikes aimed at players, for his extreme racism, and even at times became violent with others on the field. So while there is no denying Cobb’s credibility as a remarkable ballplayer, that legacy is tarnished by his cruel personality.
That's why Ichiro is different for all the right reasons. He's been known as a player who has shared that same desire for the game without crossing the line. He's legged out countless infield singles, and in my season of covering the Yankees, I have never seen him not run out a groundball. Also, his play in the field his spectacular, and he always gives 100% to make the catch (he actually had an amazing sliding catch later in the game).
But he does all of this respectfully. He keeps to himself and does his job. He never plays dirty or causes controversy off the field.
Some people may question the legitimacy of this celebration, since over 1,200 of his career hits have come from a Japanese league that is generally accepted as inferior to MLB. While that may be true, 4,000 hits over a career (and counting) is a remarkable feat and his time in Japan should not dampen his overall level of skill.
To put it this way, say MLB is twice as hard as playing in Japan, and thus he would have only gotten half of the hits he has now. That still gives him 639 hits and a new total of 3,361, putting him 9th all-time in MLB history. Another thing to consider - Ichiro passed the legendary Lou Gehrig on the Major League hit list with that single. Anytime a player passes Gehrig for anything, you know they are doing something right.
This was a feat that was desperately needed, more so this year than maybe ever before. In a time where records are being tarnished and superstar athletes are constantly being questioned for PED use, it is a breath a fresh air to see a respectable player fairly reach such an amazing feat.
His time in Japan may have cost him the chance to be Major League Baseball’s all-time hit king, but the man still deserves much credit for the 4,000 hits he does have, and it has not happened to a better person.