Slices of Japanese business, politics and life
The Hit Parade
Ichiro Suzuki has reached 2,000 career hits in 1,402 MLB games — the second-fastest pace ever — while over his nine seasons in MLB the Seattle Mariners star has ended on base once in about every three trips to the plate, based on his career batting average.
Add in his 1,278 Japanese hits, in shorter seasons, and Ichiro at 36 is pointing his bat at very rare professional air, including 3,000 career MLB hits and — on a cumulative basis — Pete Rose’s record 4,256 hits. He already set the MLB season hit record with an amazing 262 in 2004 and will likely be the first player, in a matter of days, to ever record 200 hits in nine consecutive seasons.
Still, when I asked Robert Whiting, author of “The Meaning of Ichiro”, at mid-season if the Japanese hitting phenomenon was a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame, he wasn’t certain. He cited the failure of Roger Maris, whose feat of 61 home runs in a season was not deemed worthy enough, adding that Ichiro would likely need to break the 3,000 hit threshold to be a first ballot inductee.
That means another four to five seasons, eminently do-able for arguably the greatest baseball export Japan has produced, but a deep line in the baseball sand that may make it hard for compatriots to join him at the Hall, at least with current rules on mandated domestic team service before free agency.
Last week was the 45th anniversary of Masanori Murakami’s debut with the San Francisco Giants, the first Japanese to play briefly in MLB. Murakami, a pitcher not in the Hall, waited three decades for Hideo Nomo to follow him across the Pacific, and his basic message to Japanese players now is go if you can, because the best measuring stick for greatness is MLB — and a better salary doesn’t hurt.
Ichiro, who has put no end on how long he wants to play or what he wants to achieve, will be paid until 2032 under his current $90 million contract, not surprisingly a record for a Japanese player.
Photo credits: REUTERS/Kevin Bartram