Note: This column was printed on Aug. 2 when Ichiro Suzuki’s hit total was 2,998.
Former Seattle Mariner Ichiro Suzuki is one or two games away from joining an exclusive club — the 3,000 hit club.
The Japanese star is currently at 2,998 hits as of press time, but once he achieves his 3,000th hit he will join 29 other players on the list, including former Mariner Alex Rodriguez as well as legends like Derek Jeter, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron.
Suzuki, who is 42 years old, has been a well-known and popular player among American fans since he debuted with the Mariners in 2001. He’s accumulated many accolades in his Major League career such as being a 10-time All-Star and winning 10 Golden Glove awards. He was named both American League MVP and Rookie of the Year in 2001. The only thing that seems to be missing from Suzuki’s trophy case is a World Series ring.
One title that has been linked with Ichiro recently is “Hit King.”
In June, the Japanese media labeled Suzuki as the all-time “Hit King,” saying his hits from the Nippon Professional Baseball (NBP) league — the highest level of baseball in Japan — should be counted among his overall hit total.
Suzuki played in the NBP from 1992-2000 as a member of the Orix BlueWave — which later merged with the Kintetsu Buffaloes to form the Orix Buffaloes — and racked up 1,278 hits. If the MLB did add those hits to Suzuki’s stats, it would bring his overall hit total to 4,276, which would surpass the all-time hitting record of 4,256, currently held by Pete Rose.
Of course this didn’t sit well with critics and players, including Rose. Although he took nothing away from Suzuki’s career — calling it “Hall of Fame” worthy — Rose said, “next thing you know they’ll be counting his hits from high school.”
While Suzuki has done great things in his career, it wouldn’t be fair to combine his hits from the NPB with his Major League stats. The MLB would have to do that for every player who competes in the Major League and has played — or currently plays — in other professional baseball leagues in Japan, Cuba and other parts of the world.
If Suzuki had spent the first eight years in the Major League instead of the NPB and produced the same number of hits, then there’s no question he would be the all-time “Hit King.”
However, there is a chance of Suzuki breaking the all-time hitting record in the future.
In an interview with ESPN Magazine, Suzuki said he plans to continue to play baseball until he is 50 years old.
Suzuki’s hitting was strong in the beginning of his Major League run, having over 200 hits in 10 consecutive seasons.
His bats have gotten quieter over the years. From 2011-2014 he had over 100 hits. In 2015 he only had 91. Suzuki didn’t attribute his hitting decline to his age or physical condition but rather having to learn a new role and not playing every day.
“I believe that as an athlete, how you got to the age of 42 makes a big difference,” he said in the interview. “I have learned about my body; I haven’t gone off only talent until I was 42. Those are two different things; I took a different route.”
Over the years, Suzuki has averaged 187 hits per season in the MLB. If he can maintain that average for the next eight seasons, he would have 4,494 hits, which would surpass the all-time hitting record.
If Suzuki really wants the “Hit King” title he might have to step up his game, something he believes he can do. Suzuki said he feels as good now as he did in 2004, when he led the league in hits with 262 and had the most singles (225).
But not many professional baseball players play into their 50s — in fact only six players have done this: Jack Quinn (50), Minnie Minosos (50), Jim O’ Rourke (54), Nick Altrock (57), Charley O’Leary (58), and Satchel Paige (59).
But Suzuki isn’t just an average baseball player. He’s currently the longest active player from Japan in the MLB.
Even if Suzuki doesn’t claim the all-time hitting record before he retires, he has enough career accomplishments to be proud of.