|Can Ichiro catch Pete Rose?
Ichiro Suzuki is years from potentially joining MLB's 3,000-hit club, but his fourth-inning single yesterday was his 3,086th career hit between Japan and America, breaking Isao Harimoto's 27-year-old record for Japanese players. Ichiro's combined total puts him 1,170 hits behind Pete Rose's all-time mark of 4,256, although there's certainly room to question whether to count his hits in Japan as part of that chase.
On one hand the level of competition in Japan, while very good, is below the level of competition in MLB. Ichiro batted .353 in Japan while never hitting below .340 in seven full seasons, but in MLB he's hit "only" .331 while topping the .340 mark three times in eight full seasons. Had he been in MLB from the start, Ichiro almost surely wouldn't have racked up his first 1,278 hits as quickly.
On the other hand Japanese seasons are only 130 games long, so playing 162-game seasons in MLB from the start would have given Ichiro another 200-plus games to rack up hits. He's averaged 1.4 hits per game in MLB, so that may have added around 300 hits to his total to cancel out much of the impact from better competition.
I'm of the opinion that his hit total shouldn't be combined for what has always been an MLB-driven record, because it's not needed to appreciate his greatness and doing so opens up a can of worms for other professional leagues and even the American minor leagues. Still, 3,086 hits two weeks into his age-35 season is pretty amazing any way you slice it.
Here's the all-time MLB leaderboard for career hits through the age of 35:
H Ty Cobb 3264 Hank Aaron 2956 Robin Yount 2878 Rogers Hornsby 2855 Tris Speaker 2794 Stan Musial 2781 Pete Rose 2762 Mel Ott 2732 Lou Gehrig 2717 Sam Crawford 2711
If you count his combined total, Ichiro ranks second all time through the age of 35 behind only Ty Cobb. And he's still got another 150 games to go before he's actually "through the age of 35." Ichiro could easily rack up the 178 hits needed to pass Cobb by season's end. However, if you count only his 1,808 hits in America he ranks just 215th all time through the age of 35 and needs another 1,192 knocks to reach 3,000.
With eight straight 200-hit seasons another 1,192 hits may seem like a lock for Ichiro, but the only players in MLB history with more than 1,150 hits after the age of 35 are Pete Rose (1,709), Sam Rice (1,574), Honus Wagner (1,288), Paul Molitor (1,233), and Carl Yastrzemski (1,152). Even counting Ichiro's combined total makes him a similar underdog to get the 1,171 hits needed to pass Rose.
Of course, that we're even having this discussion is among the many reasons why Ichiro is one of my all-time favorite players.