On Wednesday, August 21, 2013, Ichiro Suzuki of New York Yankees singled in the first inning in the Yankee Stadium for his 2,722th hit in MLB. The game was stopped, the fans gave them astanding ovation, and his Yankees teammates came out from the dugout to give him hugs.
That’s becuase combined with his 1,278 hits in Japan, that was his 4,000th “proffesional” hits.
This has generated some interesting discussions among fans around the baseball. One baseball email list that I subscribe, some people even started saying “Ichiro is overrated.” Because he doesn’t hit for power? Because they think hitting in Japanese League is a joke? I don’t know.
I personally think he is, even without Japanese stats, Hall of Fame worthy and indexes in Baseball-Reference.com and the awesome “Hall of Stats” seems to agree. The man has hit 2,722 hits in the Majors. That’s good enough for 59th all time, passing Lou Gehrig.
In Major League history, only Pete Rose (4,256 hits) and Ty Cobb (4,191) have hit more than 4,000. Rose, though he does think Ichiro should be headed to the Hall, says “When you compare yourself to me, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker and Nap Lajoie, we all did it in the states.” He also says Ichiro will never be the all-time hit king. “If people consider him to have the record if he gets to 4,257 hits, I’ll come back and play if I’m reinstated. I’m sure even at my age I can hit a 15-hopper up the middle and crawl to first base for a hit.”
Perhaps it is a reaction to some of glowing appraise for Ichiro from the media, like: Ichiro joins select group with 4,000th hit (It is actually a very well written, fair story and falls under oversimplified headline problem) and ESPN’s Jim Caple’s The incomparable Ichiro’s 4,000 hits (Also very very good story).
But then, on the other side of Pacific, one writer even picks up on Joe Girardi’s comment “I didn’t have 4,000 hits in my entire career, and you can go back to tee ball” and say “They are comparing Japanese Baseball to kids Tee-Ball.” Which is completely false.
I think the true value of Ichiro’s accomplishment falls somewhere in between. I agree that mixing in stats from other league will lead to slippery slope, and some say they should separate stats from pre-integration of MLB, or include Negro League stats (This is hard because records are not as accurate). Similar argument also goes to Sadaharu Oh‘s world home run record of 868 (Played for Yomiuri Giants from 1959-80, MLB record is Barry Bonds’ 762), or lesser known record by Hideki Matsui, who played 1,250 consecutive games after joining the Yankees in 2003. He had a 518-game streak in Japan, and if combined, his 1,768 games would trail only Cal Ripken (2,632) and Lou Gehrig (2,130).
SABR’s Asian Basebal Committee, which I am part of, released this statement: “Despite the fact that sports historians and writers have debated the significance of Ichiro’s combined career hits on both sides of the Pacific, his 4,000 hits is an incredible record worth appreciating.”
At a recent SABR Asian Baseball Committee Meeting done over Teleconference/Webinar, Michael Westbay, who produce The Pro Yakyu Report podcast mentioned that his number of hits in Japan could/should translate to even more considering Japanese Baseball only play 130 games a season, compared to MLB’s 162. My friend and very talented data visualization guru Isao Matsunami who created this amazing visualization of pace of his hits by age, and points out that despite having 4,000 hits, his name is nowhere to be found when looking at NBP all time hits list (Ichiro’s 1,278 will not crack list of top 100, as 100th player Ken Hirano has 1,551 hits).
The best write up that I’ve seen so far may be Scott Simkus on SABR site. To Rose’s point earlier (“Hey, if we’re counting professional hits, then add on my 427 career hits in the minors. I was a professional then, too.”) He added all available hits together — MLB, Minor League, Pacific Coast League (Jigger Statz’ 3,356 hits), Cuban League, Mexican League, Negro League (Minnie Minoso for those three) and MLB post season games (Julio Franco, Derek Jeter).
Thus he created the all-time “professional” leaderboard:
- Pete Rose, 4,769
- Ty Cobb, 4,379
- Hank Aaron, 4,245
- Jigger Statz, 4,093
- Julio Franco, 4,074
- Minnie Minoso, 4,073
- Derek Jeter, 4,059
- Ichiro Suzuki, 4,027
- Stan Musial, 4,023
Note: Taken straight from here and this list may not be comprehensive.
That is an amazing, impressive research work.
Check out the Limited Edition Commemorative Bat.
Ichiro Suzuki’s Japanese stats in detail (1992-2000)
Here is the gif animation of the hit:
And, also Ichiro congratulated Ken Griffey Jr. on his induction into the Mariners Hall of Fame in a video, which got a lot of tweets.