In many corners, Pete Rose’s 4,256 hits represent a record that never may be broken. In some corners, it already has been.
The Marlins’ Ichiro Suzuki beat out an infield hit in the first inning Wednesday and lashed a double to right in the ninth inning of a 6-3 loss at San Diego. That gives him 2,979 hits since he came to North America to play baseball in 2001 at age 27. Before that, he logged 1,278 hits as a pro in Japan. Together they total 4,257.
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Rose, 75, staunchly defended his “Hit King” title Tuesday to USA Today. “It sounds like in Japan they’re trying to make me the Hit Queen,” he said. He added, “The next thing you know they’ll be counting his high school hits.”
He underscored his point by mentioning how Tuffy Rhodes, never more than a bit player in six big-league seasons, went to Japan and became one of its great power hitters.
The Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez still leaves the crown on Rose. “The major leagues is the major leagues. This is the greatest league in the world,” he said. “All due respect to any league out there — including all of them — (but) to me the major leagues? There’s only one.’’
Mets broadcaster Ron Darling was a 13-year big leaguer who pitched to Rose. “I’m not orthodox on this,’’ Darling said. “I’m very open-minded. I think that you can incorporate a lot of players — a Julio Franco who had professional hits in the Dominican leagues — and put them on the list.
“Now, Pete did it in the highest league in baseball. Pete also played with a lot of great teams, which didn’t hurt him as far as getting pitches. I just think it’s absolutely up for discussion.”
The Mets’ Terry Collins managed two seasons in Japan and said there are other factors to consider. He said the caliber of pitchers that Suzuki faced once he came to North America were consistently “more dominant” than those in Japan, but that he got fewer chances to get hits during his six full seasons in Japan.
“One thing about Japan: If they don’t think they can get you out, they don’t pitch to you,” Collins said. “I am sure he had to deal with being pitched around a lot. Here, because he’s more of a singles guy, you don’t walk those guys.
“So Ichiro deserves all the credit he’s had. It’s a great accomplishment and I think they all count. . . . Do I think that if Ichiro Suzuki would have played his entire career (here) would he get 4,000 hits? Yes, probably.”
Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of Ichiro: “He’s had a remarkable career. It would have been interesting if he had played here his whole professional career to see where he would be at.”
Darling was astonished by Suzuki’s ability to beat out routine ground balls to shortstop for hits. A-Rod said he could remember feeling the pressure as a shortstop whenever Suzuki came to bat. He could have been doing that for many more years as a younger player in MLB. As Darling mused, “If he got to play (here) at the same age he played in Japan, would he have 4,256 now? I’d be very surprised if he didn’t have more.”
But he also wondered whether Suzuki would have gotten the chance to play in an era in which power was valued over fundamentals and corner outfielders were expected to hit 30 home runs.
“You could see this discussion happening: ‘You can’t put him out there, a corner outfielder has to be someone who hits it out of the ballpark,’ ” Darling said. “You know that discussion would happen.”
With Eric Boland in Denver