As Ichiro Suzuki approaches the hallowed number of 4,256 career hits, Pete Rose does not sound like a man ready to abdicate his throne as baseball’s all-time hits king.

“It sounds like in Japan,’’ Rose told USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, “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.”

Suzuki, playing for the Miami Marlins in his 16th MLB season, enters Tuesday night’s game against the San Diego Padres with 4,255 career hits. He’s recorded 2,977 hits in MLB and had 1,278 in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league before coming stateside. 

Rose said Suzuki’s accomplishment cannot be seen in the same light due to NPB’s competition level.

“I don’t think you’re going to find anybody with credibility say that Japanese baseball is equivalent to Major League Baseball,” Rose said. “There are too many guys that fail here, and then become household names there, like Tuffy Rhodes. How can he not do anything here, and hit (a record-tying) 55 home runs (in 2001) over there? It has something to do with the caliber of personnel.”

It is true MLB will not acknowledge Suzuki as the sport’s all-time hit king after he records the two more hits necessary to pass Rose. The former Cincinnati Reds star, banned from the sport and Hall of Fame due to gambling on baseball during his managerial career, will maintain the record.

Since his ban, Rose has created a cottage industry around his hit-king moniker. His website’s tagline is “Home of the Hit King,” and Rose actively promotes himself as such when making appearances at card shows and other events. To put it another way, Rose stands to make money by keeping his record in as high esteem as possible.

Suzuki, who is hitting a remarkable .350 this season at age 42, refused to delve into the situation.

“I would be happy if people covered it or wrote about it,’’ Suzuki said, per Nightengale, “but I really would not care if it wasn’t a big deal. To be quite honest, I’m just going out and doing what I do. What I care about is my teammates and people close to me celebrating it together, that’s what’s most important to me.”

What can be acknowledged is it’s incredible Suzuki has had this level of longevity. He was 27 years old when he made his MLB debut. He spent a majority of his athletic prime in Japan, where he became a renowned superstar but carried the skepticism of someone who could only star in the “minor” leagues.

Suzuki blasted that narrative immediately, winning the AL Rookie of the Year and MVP in 2001 with the Seattle Mariners. He led the AL in hits seven times, won two batting titles and broke the all-time record for hits in a season (262) in 2004.

And Suzuki has three separate campaigns in which he recorded more hits than Rose’s career high of 230.


Follow Tyler Conway (@jtylerconway) on Twitter.

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