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Pete Rose, not Ichiro Suzuki, the ‘Hit King’ but latter will surpass him to MLB Hall of Fame

Ichiro's hit count surpasses Rose's record of 4,256 but does not make him new official 'Hit King', but it does make for lively debate about whose is more significant feat, writes Gregg Patton.
Ichiro Suzuki of the Miami Marlins, who has enjoyed success in NPB as well as the MLB, is a cultural icon in his native Japan. Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images / AFP
Ichiro Suzuki of the Miami Marlins, who has enjoyed success in NPB as well as the MLB, is a cultural icon in his native Japan. Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images / AFP

Pete Rose has been known to sign his autograph with an additional bit of self-aggrandising information: “Hit King”.

The former Cincinnati Reds star’s moniker refers to his career record of 4,256 hits.

This past week, that tag came into question when Ichiro Suzuki of the Miami Marlins reached a peculiar milestone of his own. His combined total of hits from MLB and Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan surpassed Rose’s MLB number.

Don’t worry, Pete. Your autographs are still relevant.

In pictures: Ichiro Suzuki becomes baseball’s hits king

Although a few pundits suggested that Ichiro’s achievement puts Rose into second place, there really isn’t any fair way to mix and match numbers from the two leagues.

“I don’t think you’re going to find anybody with credibility say that Japanese baseball is equivalent to MLB,” Rose told USA Today.

And as much as we like to see the controversial and pugnacious Rose squirm, we have to agree. NPB and MLB are apples and oranges. The talent isn’t the same. The MLB season is longer. Even the size of the baseball was slightly smaller when Ichiro played his nine seasons in Japan.

Ichiro was typically nonchalant about his combo “record”.

“This wasn’t something I was making out as a goal,” he said. “It was just a weird situation to be in.”

In fact, the milestone that the 42-year-old outfielder really wants is approaching fast. He began play on Monday just 20 hits shy of the 3,000 mark in MLB, a number achieved by only 29 players in history.

No matter how the debate is shaped, the two will end up looking rather similar in their approaches. It was always about making contact, getting on base with a single or double, and leaving the long ball to others.

Rose played 26 seasons until he was 45, including his fateful final three as a player-manager from 1984-86. He led the league in batting average three times, and in hits seven times. His career batting average was .302.

The switch-hitting Rose, with his hunched over, crouched stance at the plate, didn’t mind taking a walk, and then racing to first base. Hence his “Charlie Hustle” nickname. He was in the top 25 in walks 18 times in his career.

Ichiro liked to hack at any ball he could put in play. He squeezed into the top 25 in walks just once in his career. His trademark batting style from the left side, in which he stood upright and leaned toward first, and his blazing speed, has earned him an astounding 694 infield singles in his career, according to Baseball-Reference.com.

He won seven consecutive batting titles in Japan, then put together 10 consecutive 200-hit season in MLB from 2001-10, leading the league seven times. He won two batting titles, and has a career average of .314.

If Rose can still claim to have the most MLB hits in a career, Ichiro owns the single season record with 262 in 2004.

Perhaps the biggest difference between the two is that someday Ichiro will get a plaque in the Hall of Fame. Rose has spent the last 30-plus years destroying that chance. He broke one of MLB’s strictest rules by betting on the sport while managing the Reds, then denying it for decades.

Rose also spent a few months in prison on tax evasion charges in 1990, stemming mostly from unreported autograph sales, further tainting his reputation.

Ichiro is a cultural icon in Japan, but he has determinedly kept under-the-radar in the United States. The chance of him ever signing a ball “Hit King” is nil.

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Published: June 20, 2016 04:00 AM

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