The Miami Marlins' Suzuki is making a drive toward the celebrated milestone of 3,000 hits. Just 20 hits shy entering play Saturday, it will be a phenomenal accomplishment because he didn't start accruing major league hits until he debuted for the Mariners at age 27 in 2001.
This big-league balderdash got some real momentum when he got hit No. 2,977 early in the week and hit its apex on Wednesday when Ichiro had a single and a double in a loss at San Diego to give him 2,979. That gave him a combined total-- between the big leagues and his seven full seasons of professional ball in Japan -- of 4,257. That is a number that is one higher than Pete Rose's all-time MLB record of 4,256.
Now the seemingly ageless Ichiro never indicated that he would be thinking of himself as having surpassed Rose, the "Hit King" as so much of his memorabilia reminds us. But the idea that his combined total is a "record" was in large part and curiously fueled by coverage on MLB.com. Everyone knows that Rose was banned from Major League Baseball for gambling on it and has never had a shot at election to the Hall of Fame, but it felt a little like his all-time hit mark -- a record that many think may never fall -- was being diminished by the coverage.
Rose was interviewed by USA Today on Tuesday about Ichiro approaching his record. All he did was become defensively offensive and prove again to the baseball-loving world that he's a lout.
"It sounds like in Japan, they're trying to make me the Hit Queen," Rose said. "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."
It's nice that he said he wasn't trying to take anything away from Ichiro.
But Rose did try to underscore the distinction between the sports best league and second-best league. He mentioned Tuffy Rhodes, who had a blip of a big-league career and then went on to become one of the greatest power hitters in Japanese professional baseball.
And Rose does have a point. No one believed that Sadaharu Oh's 868 career homers in Japan made him a greater home run hitter than Hank Aaron, who was the MLB all-time leader at the time.
"Japanese baseball is very, very good, but you don't see the consistent dominant pitching that (Suzuki) faced over here," said Mets manager Terry Collins, who managed two seasons in Japan. "One thing about Japan, if they don't think they can get you out, they don't pitch to you. I am sure he had to deal with being pitched around a lot. Here, because he's more of a singles guy, you don't walk those guys."
The only interesting thing about this fictional conflict is what came next: the idea that if Ichiro had started his career in North America he would have surpassed Rose.
"Can you imagine if he were to come here (to start)?" Angels slugger Albert Pujols mused to the Los Angeles Times. "I think he would have easily broken Pete Rose's record."
"If he got to play at the same age he played in Japan, would he have 4,256 now? The answer is resounding: I'd be very surprised if he didn't have more," said broadcaster Ron Darling, a 13-year big league veteran.
But in the same breath, Darling raises something that adds to the Apples vs. Oranges aspect of this debate. Would Ichiro have gotten to the majors right away? The 1990s belonged to power hitters and corner outfielders were expected to hit 30 home runs. Suzuki would have been outside the box in that era.
"With Ichiro and the way he plays, would it be judged fairly by the scouts and the people who ran the game back in that day?" Darling said. "You could see this discussion happening: 'You can't put him out there -- a corner outfielder has to be someone who hits it out of the ballpark.' You know that discussion would happen."
Here's one other thing to gnaw on. During Pete Rose's age-27 season through age-42 season, he had 3,091 hits. Suzuki won't have done that.
But the whole thing is malarkey because both of these players -- Rose and Ichiro -- are special players. Each deserves to be applauded for his accomplishments. They do not have to be pitted against each other or ranked. Rose was Rose, the iconic hustling player whose impressive hitting helped win three World Series. Ichiro was a singular sensation because he thrived on speed and fundamentals at the height of the steroid era in baseball and changed the game.
Like Rose's hits record, Darling believes what Ichiro is doing may not be seen again.
"We do have success stories in the major leagues with people reaching it at 26 or 27," Darling said. "But because of starting so late, they will never have a Hall of Fame career. That's the reality of it: it might take you a while to get to the majors and, though you might be great, because you start so late you have no chance of reaching the Hall of Fame. But Ichiro's going to do it."