Two-thousand, eight-hundred and forty-four sounds like a big number, but it’s all relative. If it’s $2,844 dollars in your wallet, that’s a nice chunk. If it’s 2,844 bottles of beer on the wall, you’ll be singing for a while. If it’s 2,844 hits in just 14 seasons in Major League Baseball, it’s quite a remarkable feat. Ichiro Suzuki, the former Seattle Mariner and New York Yankee, is now a 41-year old fourth outfielder for the Miami Marlins, cinched with a one-year, $2 million deal that has him dreaming of a milestone. Three-thousand Major League hits– baseball immortality.
Ichiro was slow to the MLB scene, as he spent his age 18-26 seasons playing right field for the Orix Blue Wave in the NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball) in Japan. In those nine seasons, he tallied 1,278 hits over 951 games. Then he signed an international free agent deal with the Seattle Mariners and the rest– seemingly– will be history.
If the Japanese numbers counted, which they don’t, Ichiro would have 4,122 hits in professional baseball, just 132 hits behind the “Hit King” Pete Rose and his 4,256 MLB hits.
Ichiro needs 154 MLB hits for the 3,000 milestone in the MLB.
As of today, there are only 28 players who have reached 3,000 hits in their MLB career. Of the 28, only three remain un-enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame. One is Pete Rose– who was banned from baseball for gambling. Another is Rafael Palmeiro, a Steroid-Era scapegoat who fell off the Hall of Fame ballot last year after failing to get more than 5% of the vote. And the third 3,000-hit member not in the Hall of Fame, retired not six months ago: Derek Jeter and his sixth-best all-time 3,456 hits.
So, if Ichiro get 154 more hits in his MLB career, where does he stand in the history of baseball?
Ty Cobb was the fastest in terms of games to reach the 3,000-hit mark, driving a single on August 19, 1921 at the age of 34 years, 243 days in his 2,135th game. Ichiro won’t ever break the record, having already played in 2204 games in his MLB career. Ichiro had the disadvantage of starting in the MLB at 27 compared to Cobb’s age-18 MLB debut.
If Ichiro Suzuki gets to 3,000 hits in his MLB career, he should be a first ballot Hall of Famer, though not without plenty of arguing and drama from the media and self-proclaimed experts.
Look at a few of his Major League accomplishments, and it’s hard not to like his chances:
- Won AL Rookie of the Year, AL MVP, a right field Gold Glove, and a right field Silver Slugger award in 2001.
- First player in Major League history with 10 consecutive 200-hit seasons (2001-2010); Ty Cobb had 9 total in his 24-year career (albeit it in shorter seasons).
- 10 straight All-Star game appearances (2001-2010)
- 10 straight Gold Glove awards (2001-2010)
- 8 top-20 AL MVP finishes.
- 58.9 career WAR.
Ichiro’s first 10 years in Major League Baseball were historic. His last two years, if he can crest the 3,000 hit mark, will be equally so. So where would he stand, not as a great hitter in his time and in the history of baseball, but as an ambassador of Major League baseball to Japan?
Ichiro is arguably the greatest Japanese-born hitter to play in the MLB. Hideki Matsui, a long-time New York Yankee, had a career .282 batting average and a .822 OPS, but his numbers pail in comparison to Ichiro.
He opened the door to a new venue of talent scouting, of international free agents, of opportunity for players who otherwise may have never seen a baseball diamond in the United States. His success– his continued, historic success– has opened the door for Japanese-born players, and not just of the hitting variety. In recent seasons Masahiro Tanaka and Yu Darvish have joined the MLB ranks as starting pitchers, and aside from injuries, they have excelled in Major League Baseball.
Almost every baseball fan has a different set of criteria for someone’s induction into the Hall of Fame. For me, the question is two-fold: 1. Can the history of Major League Baseball be told without including this player? 2. Did this player have a positive impact on the integrity and spirit of the game? Sure, there are more nuanced pieces to the puzzle, but for a very loose, general ‘smell-test’ for the MLB Hall of Fame, these are my two.
The answer to the first question is: no. You cannot remove Ichiro from the history of Major League Baseball: he was a part of a team that sent eight Seattle Mariners to the All-Star game and tied an MLB record with 116 regular season wins. He has the longest streak of 200-hit seasons in MLB history. He holds the record for the most hits in a single season. He has one of the most distinct and memorable batting stances in baseball (this last one is a bit subjective).
To the second question, Ichiro did have a positive impact on baseball in the U.S. He ushered in an era of successful international free agents, and provided a quiet, confident demeanor on and off the field.
If his career ended today, I would argue Ichiro still deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. But with 3,000 MLB hits under his belt? Treat that one like a slap-shot dribbler down the third base line: a sure-fire hit for Ichiro Suzuki.