It was, in most respects, a typical Ichiro Suzuki hit: The tightly coiled, upright stance; the quick, slashing swing; a low, scorching liner past first base and into the right field corner.

But this particular hitwhich came in the ninth inning of the Miami Marlins’ 6-3 loss to the San Diego Padres on Wednesday—carried extra significance.

It was the 4,257th of Ichiro’s professional baseball career, which happens to be one more than the record-setting 4,256 Pete Rose collected in his storied, controversial big league tenure.

MLB immediately commemorated Ichiro’s achievement: 

There’s a rub, however, as you’re no doubt aware. While Rose tallied all of his hits in the major leagues, Ichiro’s total includes 2,979 MLB knocks and another 1,278 from his days in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB).

Ichiro is a great hitter. Rose was a great hitter. These facts are not in dispute. Still, we’re left with the sticky, unavoidable question of how to view Ichiro’s achievement.

Did he just pass Rose in the record books? Does he deserve any share of the hit record? If so, how big of an asterisk should be tacked on?

We know what Rose thinks, thanks to remarks he made to USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale on Tuesday:

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.

I don’t think you’re going to find anybody with credibility say that Japanese baseball is equivalent to Major League Baseball. 

Despite his insistence to the contrary, Rose is clearly trying to take something away from Ichiro. Namely, the legitimacy of his NPB hits.

And, indeed, NPB-to-MLB is far from an apples-to-apples comparison.

Many players who struggled stateside have gone on to dominate in Japan. In his USA Today interview, Rose cited Tuffy Rhodes, a career .224 hitter in parts of six big league seasons who hit a then-record-tying 55 home runs for NPB’s Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes in 2001.

There have also been accusations from American players that Japanese umpires tend to favor local stars.

“I was always pitching to a smaller strike zone,” Ryan Vogelsong said of his time in NPB, per Eno Sarris, writing for “That’s just the way it is. It’s the unwritten rule of baseball there: The foreigner’s strike zone is going to be smaller.”

Maybe Ichiro benefited from less robust competition and friendly umps. At the same time, to dismiss NPB’s talent out of hand is patently unfair.

Just look at the list of pitchers—from Hideo Nomo to Masahiro Tanaka—who have crossed the Pacific and baffled big league hitters. That’s the cream of the crop, granted, but it’s some pretty sweet cream. And MLB features its share of mediocre fifth starters and gas-can middle relievers. 

Plus, as Ichiro pointed out, there are disadvantages in NPB when it comes to compiling counting stats.

“When I think about it, if somebody was to pass Pete Rose’s record just playing in Japan, that would be a bigger accomplishment because of the few games they play over there,” Ichiro said, per Nightengale. “We play more games here. So for somebody to pass Pete Rose just playing baseball games in Japan would be unbelievable.”

Sure enough, Ichiro surpassed 600 plate appearances in just four of his nine seasons with the Orix Blue Wave. And he reached 4,257 hits in 14,339 plate appearances spread over 25 professional seasons compared to Rose’s 15,890 career plate appearances in 24 seasons. 

A 27-year-old Ichiro made his major league debut in 2001 with the Seattle Mariners and rapped out an MLB-leading 242 hits, becoming just the second player in history to win Rookie of the Year and MVP honors in the same season.

Imagine if he arrived at age 22 instead. An extra five years of 200-plus-hit production would put him within shouting distance of Rose. And based on his current production—he’s hitting .349 after Wednesday’s game—it appears the 42-year-old could stay productive in a part-time role for another few seasons. 

Those are what-ifs that we’ll never answer definitively. We know Ichiro is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. We know he’s one of the greatest hitters of this or any generation.

We also know he’ll never have as many MLB hits as Rose. So there will always be debate.

The other piece of this puzzle, of course, is Rose’s troubled place in baseball history. Recent attempts at redemption aside, Charlie Hustle remains a HOF pariahforever stained by the gambling scandal that tarnished his legacy and got him banned from the game.

Ichiro, meanwhile, is a slender contact hitter who did the bulk of his damage during the steroid era. In that sense, he’s the anti-Rose: A man who stood in stark contrast to the controversy of his day.

It’s easy to favor Ichiro over Rose from an optics standpoint. He’s a cleaner, neater hero and a symbol of baseball’s international appeal to boot.

In the end, the easiest and purest way to celebrate Ichiro’s achievement is to view it as one of a kind. No one has done what Rose did, and maybe no one ever will. But no one has done what Ichiro did either, and his NPB/MLB hits record is probably just as unassailable.

“These discussions are part of why we love baseball,”’s Richard Justice wrote after Ichiro rapped out No. 4,257. “Numbers can be interpreted, dissected, turned this way and that. In the end, though, there’s Pete Rose, and there’s everyone else.”

Fair enough. Ichiro, though, also belongs in a class by himself—and he’s not done yet.


All statistics current as of June 15 and courtesy of unless otherwise noted.

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