The story of Hammerin’ Hank Aaron’s youth baseball days are often told with broomsticks as baseball bats, and bottle caps as baseballs.
After a game of baseball with the real objects, try tossing a bottle cap and hitting it with a broomstick.
Seems hard, right?
The youth of Japan didn’t grow up with that small of a hitting object, but their baseballs are slightly smaller and lighter than those used in the United States.
As the Japanese baseball prospect made his way up through the Nippon Professional Baseball ranks, they did not have the American-sized ball to compare. They grew up with their baseball sizes, and Americans grew up with theirs.
Nippon Professional Baseball, for a very long time, was the final stopping point for Japanese professionals. Not until the departures of Hideo Nomo and the late Hideki Irabu from the Land of the Rising Sun did the opportunity of jumping across the Pacific Ocean become a reasonable possibility. Some others came, and most went.
The president of Nintendo — who happened to be the owner of the Seattle Mariners — brought Ichiro Suzuki to America in 2001. Then the exports came trickling in a little more. Then, and only then, could one say that NPL has become more of a minor league for Major League Baseball.
Ichiro took the MLB world by storm with his quick motion in the batters box, and the resulting timely hits — and lots of them. Just 4 seasons in, Ichiro broke George Sisler’s record for most hits in a season with 262. As of Sunday’s successful pinch-hitting appearance with the Miami Marlins, he has 2,974 hits in his 16 MLB seasons.
When mentioning the single-season hits record, and old argument comes up similar to that of Roger Maris’s supposed “asterisk” next to his 61 home runs. Sisler had 257 hits in a 154-game season. Through 154 games of the 2004 season, Ichiro had 251 hits.
Ichiro is just 26 hits away from becoming the 30th member of the 3,000-hit club. That very well may come this season.
However, there is a milestone much closer than that.
Combining his NPL and MLB career totals, Ichiro has collected a total of 4,252 hits in 25 professional seasons. This number is just four hits away from Pete Rose.
Ichiro isn’t four hits away from breaking a record. This is simply a numbers game.
Not too long after Ichiro collected his 4,000th hit did Rose make a statement regarding his own hit total. Basically, if Ichiro’s NPL hits are included in some sort of discussed total, then Rose’s 427 minor league hits need to be discussed in the same topic.
Ichiro played most of his first couple of years in the Orix Blue Wave farm system. The hit total he accumulated there isn’t widely known; but if Rose’s minor league hit totals are to be discussed, then so are Ichiro’s minor league totals. (Help, anyone????)
It wasn’t until 1996 when Ichiro expressed desire to play professionally in the United States, after playing in an exhibition series against MLB all-star players. That alone shouldn’t discredit his NPL hits up to that point. Not all NPL players at the time could achieve this golden ticket. The “promotion pool” was a pool of one, or a few, Japanese-born players. The chance of promotion was much tougher than it was for a Triple-A player to make it to the majors.
Critics of MLB-NPL stat comparisons often refer to guys like Randy Bass (54 homers in 1985) and Tuffy Rhodes (464 homers in a 12-year NPL career)— marginal success in MLB, but smash hits in NPL. As mentioned earlier, the baseballs are smaller. The ballparks are also smaller, leading to the lopsided home run totals by foreign-born players. However, first base is still 90 feet from home plate.
How many home runs would be fly outs? Even the MLB field dimensions varied from time to time.
As did the baseballs.
Baseball composition in major league baseball has changed over time. When Ty Cobb racked up 4,191 hits, it wasn’t common for the baseballs that he hit to be made up differently.
There are so many sabermetric variables to be considered to determine how records stand in the present time. The similarity between Ichiro, Rose, and Cobb’s famous numbers each are associated with is that they happened at the highest level of professional baseball available to them and their peers.
Each hit did something positive to their team’s chances at winning ballgames. In essence, Ichiro succeeded in his role at the plate — at the highest level of professional baseball available to them and their peers — at least 4,252 times as of Sunday. Each done by batting the ball in play and reaching base safely.
It’s already an accomplishment to have played professionally — at the highest level of professional baseball available to them and their peers — for one-quarter of a century. Rickey Henderson was the most recent player to do this, joining fellow non-pitchers Cap Anson, Bobby Wallace, and Eddie Collins. Ichiro needs to play in 202 more games (as of this writing) to catch up to Rose’s major league record total.
With five more hits, Ichiro doesn’t become any greater than Pete Rose. Rather, it’s just an interesting numbers game to throw out there — in a statistical world where numbers are running crazier than ever.
Follow Ichiro’s hit counter on Twitter: @ichirohitcount
Marlins schedule (as of this writing):
Monday – at San Diego (9:10 central)
Tuesday – at San Diego (9:10)
Wednesday – at San Diego (2:40)
Friday – vs. Colorado (6:10)
Saturday – vs. Colorado (6:10)