These days, Pete Rose is little more than the human embodiment of a comments section. A topic is proffered. He offers an answer that breaches the limits of obnoxiousness. The offended pounce. His defenders swarm. And all of it devolves into something ugly and nasty and so very typical when it comes to Rose. His act is Sleeping Beauty-level tired.
This will not fall down that wormhole of ignorance. This will be a rejoinder to it. Because even if Pete Rose is correct that the 4,257th hit of Ichiro Suzuki's professional baseball career, laced down the right-field line on Wednesday afternoon, doesn't place Suzuki in Rose's all-time company because the first 1,278 came in Japan – and he is – making this about Rose is exactly what he wants.
So forget the previous two paragraphs. Let's make this about Ichiro.
Let's marvel at the singular way he plays baseball. The game is so full of sameness. Ichiro is Version 1.0 with 2.0 a physical impossibility. He is what it would look like if a swan could swing a bat. He is graceful and dexterous and powerful well beyond what his 5-foot-9, 170-pound body ought generate. He never tapped into that power, though, because it belied who he believed he was, and nobody knew Ichiro better than Ichiro himself.
Let's respect how he stayed true. Ichiro belongs in the black-and-white films of a bygone era, slapping and dashing and causing havoc. He is of another era, and yet he refused to bend his game – his principles – to the one in which he played. He earned that conviction. He was that good that it was impossible to question him.
Let's remember 262. Think about that: One season, 161 games, 262 hits. He whacked 50 or more hits in four of the six months he played in his record-breaking 2004. In the last 10 years, there have been four 50-hit months. Yes, over the course of a single season, Ichiro matched what it took every other player in baseball combined a decade to do.
Let's respect that at 42 years old, not only does Ichiro look neck down same as ever – there's enough salt amid his pepper to give away his true age – but he's playing like some Benjamin Buttoned version of himself, too. His two hits Wednesday pushed his season average to .349. Among hitters with at least 125 at-bats, only Daniel Murphy and Xander Bogaerts can claim better batting averages.
Let's hope Terry Collins can find a spot on the National League's All-Star Game roster so he can give his famous pep talk one more time.
Let's curse the unfairness of Ichiro not having seen a single pitch in the World Series. He played for the winningest 162-game regular-season team ever, the 116-46 Mariners. He spent three years with the winningest franchise ever, the New York Yankees. Nothing. Not a measly plate appearance. And the Marlins, though improved, aren't likely to play in October this season, either. Which means barring a trade, Ichiro will have gone to the plate more than 10,000 times in the major leagues without having advanced past the ALCS.
Let's bust a spleen laughing at Ichiro's way with words. (Note: If you're at work, plug in those headphones before watching.)
Let's try to be more like him. Ichiro has no deep connection with the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, but after visiting he felt a kinship with the players who were pioneers. Soon after his visit, he wrote a check to a museum that struggles to find modern players willing to help keep it strong through donations. Ichiro has made more than $100 million in his career. Still, to earmark even a fraction of that to a museum that so deserves it showed Ichiro's respect for history and the game.
Let's applaud, in fact, the risk he took in coming here. Ichiro was on his way to being the most beloved player in Japan since Shigeo Nagashima – and, in all likelihood, surpassing him. And at 27 years old, after nine years spent making mincemeat of Pacific League pitchers, he packed up and signed with the Seattle Mariners for three years and $14 million. And even though he looked nothing like any other player in the game, this waif waggling his bat and guiding it like he was Luke and it was his light saber, it convinced everybody that the underestimation of elite Japanese position players was wrongheaded. The depth of the Japanese player pool lessens the ability to translate those 1,278 hits one for one; the top of it is no different than that in the United States or Dominican Republic or Venezuela or Cuba or Puerto Rico or anywhere.
Finally, let's celebrate 3,000. Let's really celebrate 3,000. Let's delight in the improbability of a man arriving in the big leagues at 27 years old and 15 years later not just chugging toward 3,000 hits but bum rushing it. Let's tune in during Ichiro at-bats because they're less likely than any to end in a strikeout and the visual of him plugging down the first-base line even at 42 is worth watching. If we're not going to give 4,257 the gravitas those in Japan are assigning it, let's at least make 3,000 special enough to keep anyone from thinking to ask some old man with a bad dye job what he thinks about it.
Baseball is better for having Ichiro Suzuki, better for what he brings, better for how he conducts himself, better for his sense of humor, better for his empathy, better for who he is and what he strives to be. Maybe his 4,257 hits aren't as good as those of the guy with 4,256. Everything else more than makes up for it.
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