I remember all the sports media outlets going gaga over the potential that Ichiro Suzuki would bring to the United States and Major League Baseball back in 2000-2001. When he was ultimately signed by the Seattle Mariners in '01, he was already a superstar in Japan where he spent nine seasons with the Orix Blue Wave and gained an incredible following. When I say "incredible following," it makes Ken Griffey, Jr.'s, our own Tony Gwynn's, and Cal Ripken Jr.'s seem feeble and embarrassing. Ichiro WAS, and still very much IS, baseball over in Japan.
This guy was the real deal. He had, and still very much has, such an elegant swing of the bat that would've made Gwynn, Ted Williams and Ty Cobb proud. He had some admirable speed when on the bases, though not a mind-blowing pace. What really impressed scouts, agents, and teams altogether, as well as fans like myself, was his powerful arm in the outfield. I remember it like it was yesterday when, only in his 8th career MLB game, Suzuki picked up a routine base-hit from an Oakland Athletics player, and fired an absolute rocket to third base, assisting in putting out A's outfielder Terrence Long trying to go from first to third.
There was no touching this guy, even if he failed to reach base. Suzuki is a consummate professional. He rarely, if at all, raised his voice to umpires when in disagreement over a play in the field, on the bases, or arguing balls and strikes. Whenever he was playing a game, the media would follow him like moths to a flame and they would not relent. It was out of need to get good pictures, video or an excellent interview of the man. He is a human after all. The Japanese and other international media had so much respect for this man.
On Wednesday, June 15, 2016, Suzuki surpassed Pete Rose with the most hits achieved in professional baseball. This is a weird record to have because many have stipulated that Suzuki's record combines his 1,276 hits in Japan and 2,979 here in Major League Baseball in the States. I am okay with the record having an asterisk next to it, but something else must be recognized. Suzuki is not only a legend in the game of baseball and certainly one of the great ambassadors for it, and he will undoubtedly be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. I stand firm with that prediction. Who cares if he did it in two different leagues? Barry Bonds is the MLB's home run king (Hank Aaron in my book, for obvious reasons), but Sadaharu Oh hit 868 home runs in Japan and you barely hear his name mentioned, but I digress.
Pete Rose did spend his entire professional career in Major League Baseball. He was Charlie Hustle. He would not be stopped. He not only surpassed Ty Cobb's 4,189 hits in 1985, coincidentally against the Padres' Eric Show, Rose destroyed the record by accruing 66 more hits. Okay, that might not be destruction at its finest, but much like Babe Ruth's home record, nobody really felt that anyone could challenge, and Hammerin' Hank proved the doubters wrong. I think it's great for the game of baseball, and any other sport for that matter, that records are meant to be broken. That's part of the spectacle of the game that attracts more and more fans, in my humble opinion.
It's a hilarious coincidence that Suzuki "breaks" Rose's record against the Padres, because us Padres fans laugh at it and say, "Of course this happened against us." I truly wonder how much longer Suzuki will plan on playing Major League Baseball. It's hard to believe he's been in this league for 16 seasons already. That's 25 seasons of professional baseball. He has a .349 batting average (granted, he doesn't have enough at-bats to be considered in the running for a batting title, but still...) and he's 42 years old. It's like watching history in the making. I'll be sad when he retires from baseball, and I hope those who watch the game appreciate him for the player and man he is, because we won't see another Ichiro Suzuki for quite some time.