If you know baseball numbers well, you already know the implication: Ichiro "passed" Pete Rose in career hits. Rose's 4,256 hits are the MLB record. There's a big asterisk though: 1,278 of Ichiro's hits came in Japan before he joined the Seattle Mariners and made an indelible impact on Major League Baseball. This makes Ichiro's passing of Rose completely unofficial. But it's still being celebrated around baseball, not as the MLB record but as an important achievement for one of the game's greatest hitters.
Pete Rose has said Ichiro is great, but not in his class. We turned the question over to some of The Stew's pundits: Who's baseball's true hit king, Pete Rose or Ichiro?
MARK TOWNSEND: As much as Ichiro's accomplishments in Japan and now in MLB should be respected, we'd be doing a great disservice to Pete Rose if we acknowledge Ichiro's hits in Japan, while completely dismissing Rose's 427 hits in the minor leagues.
In my opinion, there's no way to justify weighing Ichiro's hit total prior to MLB more than Rose's, which also came against professional competition. That's not a slight on Nippon Professional Baseball, either. It's a quality professional baseball league that has produced several proven MLB talents, but its depth and overall prestige falls more in line with MLB's minor-league system, rather than the big leagues.
With that said, we also can't rewrite history based on what we think might have happened had Ichiro's circumstances been different. We can only go by what has happened, and what still needs to happen. That means Ichiro still needs 427 hits in professional baseball to be considered its new and true hit king.
CHRIS CWIK: The only reason this is a debate is because Pete Rose is a lying jerk and Ichiro is generally thought to be awesome, right? MLB isn't going to change their definition of a hit any time soon, so Rose is officially the Hit King. That said, Ichiro certainly deserves credit for his accomplishments. The NPB may have a slightly lower level of competition, but it's pretty clear Ichiro could hack it over here. And since we've seen Quad-A players in MLB go to Japan and succeed, I feel confident saying the level of competition in NPB lies somewhere in between the majors and Triple-A. It's also worth noting that the season isn't as long in Japan, making Ichiro's accomplishments slightly more impressive.
As such, I give Ichiro partial credit for all the hits he had in Japan. I have no precise number and, honestly, it doesn't matter and shouldn't diminish what either player has done. Ichiro will reach 3,000 career hits and go into the Hall of Fame here and in Japan. That's one hell of a career and legacy.
KYLE RINGO: Count me among those who find it painful to be complimentary of Pete Rose. I have nothing but respect for how he played the game, but I lost all respect for the man when he disgraced himself by betting on the game. Having said all that, it would be easy for me to jump on the Ichiro Suzuki achievement and name him the new hit king, but I just don't believe that to be true. All of Rose's hits came at the highest level of professional baseball. That isn't the case for Ichiro. Their achievements are both substantial, but they are not the same.
ISRAEL FEHR: I grew up in the Pacific Northwest and consider Safeco Field one of my happy places – no, the Mariners haven't done much winning there but it is a beautiful ballpark – so it should come as no surprise that Ichiro was a big part of my formative years watching baseball. His talent was so unique that he was the only player one of my Little League coaches barred us from imitating in the batter's box. And even then I can't in good conscience call him baseball's hit king. It's not to take anything away from what he did in Japan, and we can discuss what his hit total might look like had he come over to the major leagues earlier, but the numbers in the majors are what they are and that means Pete Rose remains on top.
MIKE OZ: There's no doubt in my mind that Pete Rose is MLB's hit king. Just by definitions alone, that seems simple enough. But if we're talking about the hit king in all of baseball, throughout time, you could at least make a case for Ichiro being considered baseball's true hit king. Putting aside the grand total, Ichiro's 10 straight seasons of 200+ hits is pretty darn amazing. Like my colleagues, though, I just can't put Ichiro's entire body of work in the same class as Rose's.
Here's what is most fascinating to me in this debate: What if Ichiro had come to the U.S. sooner? He was racking up 200-hit seasons in MLB in his prime. In Japan, he was getting close to that, but he only hit 200 hits once. So you argue that he actually got better when he came to MLB. Could he have done just as well earlier in his career? It makes you want to put Ichiro in a time machine, send him to MLB 10 years earlier and see if he can match Rose hit-for-hit in MLB. It might have just happened.
YOUR TURN: Pete Rose vs. Ichiro, who's the true hit king?
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