During a May segment on the ESPN program ‘Pardon the Interruption,’ hosts Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, former Washington Post sportswriters, were asked to choose if Jackie Bradley Jr.’s 27-game hitting streak or the suddenly blazing form of 42-year-old Ichiro Suzuki, who at the time had reeled off 10 hits in three games, were more noteworthy
Both hosts chose Ichiro, and Kornheiser summed things up thusly, “The answer to every question about hitting is Ichiro.”
The answer to the question of who has the most professional hits is now Ichiro. And even though a large number occurred in Japan, the milestone still matters.
Ichiro now has 4,257 top-flight hits across the majors and NPB — 1,278 in Japan and 2,979 in MLB. No player, not Ty Cobb (4,189), not Isao Harimoto (3,085) and not even Pete Rose (4,256), the Hit King himself, has more. Because his hits are split between MLB and NPB, the record won’t officially count in either — so Rose and Harimoto remain the MLB and NPB career leaders — but attempts to downplay what Ichiro has accomplished are delusional at best.
The biggest detractor, of course, is Rose, who takes umbrage with Ichiro’s NPB hits being counted. This leaves out, of course, that a declining Ichiro didn’t have the option to continuously write his own name into the lineup in pursuit of more hits as an aging Rose could as a player-manager for his last three years.
It’s also lucky for Rose’s ego (which is what he is trying to soothe since, officially, his record is under no threat) that Japanese seasons are shorter than in MLB, or Ichiro might’ve passed him long ago.
Ichiro would have even more hits today if his first manager, Shozo Doi, had thought more highly of his potential.
Doi had been a member of the V9 Giants, playing 115 games in 1965 as a rookie on the first of Yomiuri’s nine-straight Japan Series-winning teams. He spent the entirety of his playing career under legendary manager Tetsuharu Kawakami, aka “The God of Hitting.” But that didn’t help Doi, who became manager of the Orix BlueWave in 1990, look past an unconventional batting form and realize a future hitting deity had been put under his care in 1991.
Ichiro saw little playing time before Doi was replaced by Akira Ogi after the 1993 season.
The rest is history.
Ogi quickly put Ichiro on the field. He also suggested the player change his registered name from Ichiro Suzuki to simply Ichiro in 1994. Ichiro thrived that year, setting the NPB single-season record with 210 hits, a mark that stood until Matt Murton surpassed it with 214 in 2010 — though Ichiro did it in a 130-game season while Murton had 144 games. Ichiro won the Pacific League batting title each year from 1994-2000 and led the league in hits from 1994-98.
He kept it up in MLB after winning over Seattle Mariners manager Lou Pinella, who, like Doi, had been skeptical.
Ichiro set MLB’s rookie record with 242 hits in 2001, and connected on 262 in 2004 to break the single-season mark. He surpassed 200 hits in each of his first 10 seasons and became a hitting icon who will almost assuredly enter the Baseball Hall of Fame one day.
He will always be linked with Rose as fans wonder if he could’ve surpassed Charlie Hustle had he spent his entire career in the majors.
Writer Joe Posnanski tackled the subject on his website in 2013. He reviewed Ichiro’s numbers and leaned toward the conclusion Ichiro would’ve eventually supplanted Rose.
“You can change the numbers any way you like, I honestly do not see how a healthy Ichiro Suzuki, drafted as an 18-year-old in the U.S., does not have more than 4,000 hits right now in the Major Leagues,” Posnanski wrote. That, again, was three years ago.
Marlins manager Don Mattingly, who had 2,153 hits himself, weighed in during a recent interview with the Orlando Sun-Sentinel.
“It’s hard to compare, but it’s a lot of hits no matter how you slice it,” Mattingly said. “I think they’re legitimate. We’ve had a number of Japanese players come over and be really successful. I think the game is getting to be so global at this point. There’s great players all over the world, so I don’t want to downplay that at all.
“I think the fact that he’s going to have 3,000 here, the hits over there are hits against good quality pitching and basically major league-caliber players. So they’re legitimate for sure.”
Rose aside, what Ichiro, the global Hit King, if you will, has accomplished is a testament to his greatness at the simple act of putting the ball in play and making it to first base. The things he’s done with a bat are nothing short of amazing and, official or not, he’s reached a milestone worthy of his unique place in history.