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Ichiro Suzuki, meet Pete Rose

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In October, 1973 Pete Rose and Bud Harrelson tangled at second base during that year’s National League Championship Series. That brawl remains one of baseball’s most recognized moments. It was also the month that the Nixon administration began to completely fall apart.

At the same time half a world away, Ichiro Suzuki was born in Aichi, Japan. More than 40 years later the  names of Rose and Suzuki are coming up in the same sentence.

No one who ever played Major League Baseball had more hits than Rose, who helped the Cincinnati Reds win two World Series and four National League pennants in the 70s. His 4,256 hits remain an MLB record seemingly destined to stand for decades, if not longer.

On Wednesday, Ichiro, who now plays in Miami for the Marlins, cracked a double in San Diego for his 2,979th career hit. Barring injury, he is poised to become the 30th major leaguer to record the magic number of 3,000.

The sports world is abuzz about his hit totals when combining those he accumulated during nine seasons playing with the Orix Blue Wave of the Japanese Pacific League. From 1992-2000 Suzuki had 1,278 hits bringing his combined professional hit total to 4,257 – one more than Rose.

This is all well and good to talk about, or even to throw out a few “gee whiz” comments. Just to be around long enough to have that many hits is remarkable enough.

Ichiro will be 43 in October. Rose garnered his final hit in 1986 at the age of 45.

Hopefully, comparisons are being made just for the sake of having something to talk about. For those actually making a serious comparison, please get a grip.

Make no mistake, they play entertaining, quality baseball in Japan. I have had the pleasure of attending several games in Japan.

Some quality players have made a significant mark in both the Central and Pacific Leagues. In addition to Ichiro, others like Hideo Nomo, Yu Darvish, and Hideki Matsui — just to name a few — have left their mark in the U.S.A.

While Suzuki would hit against some quality pitching, Rose and his contemporaries frequently faced Hall of Famers and hard throwers on the mound. While adding hit totals from Japan to his MLB totals is questionable, there is no question that Ichiro was among the best pure hitters of his era in MLB.

For 10 straight years he collected at least 200 hits, including 2004 when he had 262. Rose had ten 200-hit seasons spread out from 1965-79.

How is Rose taking all of this? Pretty much like one might expect. In other words, not very gracefully.

“I’m not trying to take anything away from Ichiro,” Rose was quoted as saying by USA Today. “He’s had a Hall of Fame career, but the next thing you know, they’ll be counting his high school hits.”

For his part, Suzuki played the role of foreign minister quite well.

“To be honest, this wasn’t something that I was making out as a goal,” he said. “For me, it’s not about the record. It’s about my teammates and the fans.”

Suzuki will go into the Hall of Fame in a few years because of the 3,000-plus hits he earned while playing in the U.S. While so many believe Rose should be in there as well, he will have to be content with the knowledge that he is still the hit king.

 

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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