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Could Ichiro Suzuki be the MLB Hit King if he played sooner?

Ichiro Suzuki Pete Rose MLB Hit Record

The Seattle Mariners have unofficially retired Ichiro Suzuki last week. The hall of fame bound outfielder has been designated to an off-the-field coaching position. At 44 years old, Ichiro just can’t keep up any more. His body is breaking down. Regardless, the Japanese sensation had a legendary MLB career. Just imagine if Ichiro would have came over sooner. A likely threat to break into the 4,000 hit club and possibly even breaking the record. Nobody has come close to the record since Pete Rose broke it in 1985. Could Suzuki have been a candidate to break the record?

When Ichiro made his MLB debut for Seattle in 2001, he dominated at the plate and never looked back. He finished his rookie season with 242 hits, .350/.381/.457 splits, and 56 stolen bases. He racked up the awards as well, taking home AL MVP and Rookie of the Year honors. Suzuki also won the Silver Slugger award and a Golden Glove along with being an all-star. That season sparked a journey that would lead him to MLB greatness. Ten straight 200 plus hit seasons as well as breaking the single-season hits record held by George Sisler that stood for 84 years. Pete Rose also put up ten 200 hit seasons in his career so that puts Ichiro among the best to ever play in the majors.

Ichiro Suzuki Seattle Mariners

In 2001, Ichiro Suzuki took the MLB world by storm proving that position players overseas could handle big league pitching.

Another impressive feat that Ichiro achieved was batting over .350. four times in his career. Something that Pete Rose never did. However, Rose did go on to bat over .300 in fifteen seasons compared to ten by Ichiro. If you noticed, Rose played six seasons more than Suzuki so we may be looking at a trend here. If you compare their first ten MLB seasons, Ichiro stands 322 hits above the Hit King. After ten seasons, Rose kept cruising on while Ichiro started slowing down at 37 years old. So it’s safe to say that age was catching up to him. But that may not be a good excuse though. From 37 to 45 years old, Rose had 1,290 hits. Ichiro had 825 hits which show that Rose was by far more productive in the later years of his career.

In my opinion, Ichiro Suzuki would not have broken Pete Rose’s career hit record if he played in the MLB earlier. However, it would have been close. And by that, I mean extremely close. I think Ichiro would have ended up with right around 4,200 hits, falling just short of the record. Suzuki would have been younger and probably wouldn’t have put up the numbers he did when he first came over. It’s fair to say that 240 hits at 22 would be highly unlikely. They still would’ve been great numbers though. Instead of saying he would have broken the record, it’s safer to say he would have knocked Ty Cobb down to third.

Pete Rose Reds

Pete Rose played every game like it was his last. He gave it his all and was productive even at 45 years old.

One thing that keeps coming up in debates about this is people want to add in Ichiro Suzuki’s Japanese League hit totals. That’s not a fair assessment. If you’re going to add in his numbers from Japan, you have to factor in how many hits Rose had in the minor leagues. That’s basically the same thing. Japan has great talent on the diamond, but it isn’t the MLB.  Saying that Ichiro is the hit king because of what he did before entering Major League Baseball is like saying Josh Gibson is the home run king over Barry Bonds. It doesn’t make any sense. To break MLB records, you have to play in the MLB period.

Ichiro Suzuki Seattle Mariners

As one of the first successful position players from Japan, Ichiro has set the bar high for future players from that area.

What comparing these two great hitters does show is how phenomenal Rose’s record is. It’s a feat that no one has remotely come close to in 33 years. To even have a shot at the record, someone has to average 177 hits over a 24-year span. To put it in perspective, Ichiro averaged 171.6 hits in his career.  It’s a feat that will be no easy task to accomplish. Mike Trout may have a legitimate shot, but he would have to play until he’s 43 to even get close. So for now, the MLB career hits record will stay with Pete Rose and it’s a record that may never be broken.