Pete Rose gets the same amount of respect as a Swizz Beatz bar. That’s what you get when you pull a George Costanza and tell a lie for so long that you actually believe it.
Rose kept up the charade for way too long that he never bet on baseball back when he was the Cincinnati Reds’ manager, and committing baseball’s ultimate sin has kept him out of the Hall of Fame for more than a quarter century—where the man truly belongs for the 4,256 hits he amassed over his 24-year career, 67 more than the immortal Ty Cobb.
Where do we draw the line? What about the career minor leaguer who compiles numbers? They’re playing professional ball, aren't they?
Yeah, Rose will make your skin crawl when you hear about him shamelessly signing baseballs for bucks basically anywhere, dressing like Craig Sager's worst disciple, doing those awful Sketcher’s commercials, or making crude jokes on pregame shows now that he’s dabbling in TV.
But that doesn’t mean we should be celebrating Ichiro Suzuki as the new Hit King and shading the one who actually, you know, got those hits in the majors and not in an entirely different league.
It might have slipped under your radar yesterday, but the Marlins reserve outfielder—yeah, he’s been on the Marlins for two seasons now—notched his 4,257th hit as a professional ballplayer Wednesday. It was an eighth inning double into the right field corner that pushed Ichiro’s combined hit total between MLB and Nippon Professional Baseball past Rose’s.
A lot of people lauded Ichiro and they even stopped the game in San Diego to acknowledge the moment. That's fine. Give him some props. But anyone going as far as to call him the Hit King needs to slow their roll.
Before Ichiro burst onto the scene in 2001 and began a surefire first-ballot Hall of Fame career, he played nine seasons in NPB, amassing 1,278 hits. But all hits are not created equal. If you’re not familiar with Japanese baseball, know that the ball is smaller, the starting pitchers throw once a week, stadium’s tend to be tinier, and the game, frankly, doesn’t come close to featuring the talent that it does here. Know that guys who can’t hack it here often go over there and thrive.
Rose, predictably, was in defense mode when asked about the milestone, telling USA TODAY Sports:
“It sounds like in Japan they’re trying to make me the Hit Queen. I’m not trying to take anything away from Ichiro, he’s had a Hall of Fame career, but the next thing you know, they’ll be counting his high-school hits.”
Funny line, but Rose is right. Where do we draw the line? What about the career minor leaguer who compiles numbers? They’re playing professional ball, aren't they? Should Hector Espino, with his 484 career dingers in the minors, be considered a greater home run hitter than Stan Musial, Chipper Jones, and Mike Piazza? GTFOH.
Yes, you can make that case that Ichiro is actually the better hitter, and that's all well and good if you want to go down that road. For the record, Ichiro put up 10 straight 200-hit seasons when Rose had 10 for his entire career. Ichiro has a .314 career batting average, Rose batted .303. Ichiro led the majors in hits seven times, Rose three. But Ichiro is not the Hit King.
Another baseball pariah, Alex Rodriguez, agrees. A-Rod was a teammate of Ichiro’s and worked with Rose last postseason on Fox’s pregame shows, so he’s got a decent perspective on both guys and, if you haven’t heard him analyze baseball, the game itself.
“With all respect, this is the greatest league in the world,” Rodriguez told reporters in Colorado Wednesday.
Right. Basically, what happened in Japan stays in Japan. Ichiro has authored an amazing professional career spanning two different leagues, continents, and cultures and he deserves a ton of props for his incredible consistency over 25 years. He's an all-timer, for sure. He’s only 21 hits away from reaching the 3,000 milestone and when that happens, he should be celebrated and lauded for reaching one of the game's most exclusive clubs. But let’s not shade the real Hit King just because he’s got all the charm of a used car salesman and lied with a conviction as consistent as his swing.
Ichiro is not the Hit King, never will be. Pete Rose is.