DENVER – On the day Ichiro amassed a career total of 4,527 hits in top-flight pro baseball, Alex Rodriguez called his one-time teammate a legend and “as unique a player” as he’d ever been around.
Speaking in Denver, where the New York Yankees were preparing to play the Colorado Rockies, Rodriguez, the only active player with more hits in the big leagues than Ichiro, looked back on Ichiro’s impact. According to MLB.com, Rodriguez is 20th on the all-time list with 3,098 hits, while Ichiro is currently at 2,979 and ranked 31st.
“I remember how stressful it was to play shortstop against him, because you had like one nanosecond to catch it and throw it all in one motion otherwise he’d be safe,” Rodriguez said.
“I remember how shallow as an infielder you had to play him. You had to play him in the middle of the infield dirt, which I’d never done in my entire career. That was challenging. He was as graceful as any player I’d ever been around and as unique a player I’d ever been around.”
With Ichiro’s career hit total surpassing the 4,256 of Pete Rose, who holds the MLB record, much talk has centered around the meaning of Ichiro’s combined total.
While Rose has become more respectful in his tone toward Ichiro, calling him a Hall of Famer and a tremendous player, talk of comparing Ichiro’s hit total to his own has rubbed him the wrong way. Rose said, “In Japan, they’re trying to make me the ‘Hit Queen.’ “
Asked to give his opinion on the subject, A-Rod was tactful.
“I think that the major leagues are the major leagues. It’s the greatest league in the world,” he said.
“I don’t want Pete to get mad at me. You never doubt legends. Pete and Ichiro are both legends.”
Yankees manager Joe Girardi wondered what Ichiro might have been capable of had he played his entire career in the majors’ much-longer seasons.
“He has a unique ability of just getting the barrel to the ball and finding ways to get hits,” Girardi said. “I remember when he first came over here, in spring training. A guy said, ‘I think we can pound this guy in, but he started turning on balls. ‘OK. We can’t do that, so we’re going to have find other ways to get him out.’
“He’s a remarkable hitter. He’s had a remarkable career. It would have been interesting to see if he had played here his whole professional career to see where he’d be at.”
Ichiro didn’t play in the majors until he was 27, and A-Rod, too, tried to put that in perspective.
“It’s hard to fathom. I know Edgar (Martinez’s) first day in the big leagues was about 27. He’s another guy who would have had 3,000 hits if he’d started at 22 or 23,” said Rodriguez.
“It’s hard to comprehend. I remember having dinner with Ichiro back in 2002, 2003 in his house, he told me he wanted to play until he was 50, and I almost fell out of my chair. But he has tremendous passion and focus. It’s awesome.”