Ichiro Suzuki is one hit away from Pete Rose’s all-time hits record. Well, if you count his 1278 total career hits in Japan. And at least one person involved in this discussion does not think that that should be included, and that’s Pete Rose himself.
"It sounds like in Japan, they're trying to make me the Hit Queen," Rose told USA Today Sports. "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.
"I don't think you're going to find anybody with credibility say that Japanese baseball is equivalent to Major League Baseball. There are too many guys that fail here, and then become household names there, like Tuffy Rhodes. How can he not do anything here, and hit [a record-tying] 55 home runs [in 2001] over there? It has something to do with the caliber of personnel.''
Of course, Rose sounds a little bitter about this most recent comparison, but he is absolutely right. Why would anyone count Ichiro’s Japanese league hits as equivalent to the hits garnered in the majors? The Miami Marlins outfielder is just 23 hits shy of the 3000-hit mark, a spectacle that is amazing given his age when he started in the big leagues back in 2001. It is amazing Ichiro has even gotten to this point.
So why bother talking about what amounts to a fake record? The Japanese league is considered at a level somewhat above Triple-A but below the majors, and with good reason. The level of competition is worse enough in the Japanese league that the statistics should be held separately. You would not count Triple-A hits onto a player’s Major League ledger, you certainly shouldn’t consider other leagues.
The concept of other leagues being at a lower level is a constant consideration. In the recent flood of Cuban free agents who were able to secure regular free agency, there was always a concern about translating numbers from their leagues to the majors. Cuban leagues are at about the level of High-A baseball in the US (an aspect we have discussed here before), and we would never consider adding those numbers to what guys like Jose Abreu or Yoenis Cespedes have done down there to what they have done so far in the majors. Just because Japan is closer to the big league level does not mean it should count.
And none of this should even matter. Ichiro is on the verge of a Major League career milestone, one that he has a decent chance of reaching this season. Thanks to Giancarlo Stanton’s injury last season, Ichiro garnered enough playing time to get himself close to the 3000-hit club, and now he stands 23 hits away. There should be no reason to discuss but this most amazing of accomplishments. If Ichiro gets those 23 hits, I’m going to celebrate it and shout it from the rooftops. But like Pete Rose says, this artificial addition of two different worlds’ worth of hits is unnecessary. If Ichiro gets two more hits, it will mean he will be two hits closer to that magical 3000 mark to me.