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The Hot Corner: Put Rose, Ichiro in perspective

by Jim Allen (Sep 16, 2010)

Pete Rose, banned from baseball for gambling, was given one day to celebrate setting his career hit record with his fans in Cincinnati on Saturday.

In America, the story was about whether Rose deserved to be banned for life.

Rose owns the all-time major league hit record of 4,256. He surpassed Ty Cobb's 4,191 on Sept. 11, 1985, when he was player-manager of the Cincinnati Reds.

ESPN.com's Rick Reilly asked Rose about Ichiro Suzuki's qualifications, whether the Seattle Mariners star was a worthy heir apparent and whether Ichiro's 1,278 hits in Japan should be counted.

Rose said Ichiro was lucky to have so many hits (2,219 as of Tuesday in the United States) and that Japanese ball was Triple-A level and thus his hits here not worthy of discussion.

"Do you realize that Ichiro has had three or four seasons where about 27, 28 percent of his hits are infield hits?" Rose said. "The guy has to be the luckiest guy in the history of the world to get that many infield hits!"

In a sense, Ichiro has been lucky. He was lucky to have developed an extremely quick bat and a style that emphasizes making contact and allows him to use his speed.

How about the assertion that Japanese ball is Triple-A level?

Japan's level of play is lower than in the majors because the minimum talent level needed to earn a roster spot in the Central or Pacific leagues is lower than that in the American or National leagues. That being said, one rarely sees any of the world's best players in Triple-A, but it is common in Japan.

Any comparison of Rose and Ichiro is complicated by the fact that their opportunities were not equal. Cincinnati was able to give Rose a major league job when the club felt he was ready, and he began his major league career six days before his 22nd birthday.

Ichiro was bound to the Orix BlueWave until they made him available to major league clubs through the posting system in November 2000, a few weeks after he turned 27.

While Ichiro was racking up 1,278 PL hits before his 27th birthday, Rose had 903 NL hits in 763 games before turning 27. The box scores needed to tally Rose's hits were found on Retrosheet's amazing site: www.retrosheet.org.

Between the ages of 27 and 34, Rose had 1,886 hits. Ichiro, with a higher average and 250 more at-bats because he walks less, had 2,030 hits.

After turning 34, Rose amassed 1,467 hits in 11 seasons.

His offensive numbers didn't begin to decline until he turned 41, the last year of his career in which he played in all 162 of his team's games. In 1982 and 1983, his last two seasons in Philadelphia, Rose was a singles-hitting first baseman with on-base percentages under .350.

Major league teams rarely carry players like that, and Rose was released in October 1983. He signed with Montreal in 1984. In August of that year, he was traded to Cincinnati, where Rose was named the Reds' player-manager. Rose had 159 hits in his final two seasons, but played regularly because he failed in his job as manager and wrote himself into the lineup every day when better hitters were available.

In discussing Rose and Ichiro, ESPN.com's Rob Neyer pointed out that while Ichiro's Japan hits shouldn't count, the fact he was prohibited from playing in the majors until he turned 27 should figure into the equation.

Ichiro's hit total in the majors is far ahead of what Rose accomplished during the same span. Can Ichiro match or exceed Rose's total of 3,333 after turning 27? If he does, the two will deserve equal billing in any discussion about who was better at putting hits on the board.

In this year of the pitcher, Ichiro is having his worst major league season so far. Still, because he disdains the walk, he is just 11 hits away from extending his record for consecutive 200-hit seasons to 10.

If Ichiro averages 139 hits for the next eight seasons--tough but not impossible--he could match Rose's 3,333 hits after turning 27. As he ages, Ichiro will lose some of his "lucky" ability to get infield singles.

Of course, if Ichiro gets Rose's kind of luck and one day gets carte blanche to write his own name in the lineup simply to pursue his hit total, who knows how many hits he could finish with.


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