An article on Ichiro in the New York Times caught our eye today. An excerpt:
Suzuki had 1,278 hits over nine seasons in Japan, and entering Wednesday’s game against the Chicago White Sox, he had 2,710 as a major leaguer. That total, 3,988, left him a dozen hits from becoming the third player to reach 4,000. Only Ty Cobb (4,189) and Pete Rose (4,256) are ahead of him, and Suzuki said he thought he could catch them both.
Suzuki turns 40 on Oct. 22, but he said Wednesday that he had no plans to retire.
“If I can play in games,” he said through his interpreter, Alan Turner, “if I am able to play in enough games, I think I can do it.”
To match Rose’s total, Suzuki will need 2,978 hits in the majors. At that point, he would need just 22 more to become the 29th player to reach 3,000 hits strictly in the United States. The last player to do so was Derek Jeter, in 2011.
Ichiro turned 28 shortly after his first year in MLB with the Mariners. He played nine seasons in Japan, but really seven full seasons. We had always read about his big-time batting averages in Japan, but we'd never really taken a look at his seasons there.
The thing is, a full season there is shorter than an MLB season. In those seven seasons in Japan -- years in which he turned between 21 and 27 at season's end -- he never had more than 546 at bats in a year. He averaged 177 hits per season in those years.
In his first TEN seasons in the majors, Ichiro had at least 200 hits (average per year: 224) and never had FEWER than 639 at bats. Based on how good Ichiro was in Japan during those first seven seasons, it stands to reason he could have averaged, say, 215 hits a year in the majors during that time. (Less than he averaged when he came over in his prime, but let's also realize he was still banging out 200-plus hits a year past what is considered an MLB prime).
Had that happened, he would have had 1,505 hits in those seven years to go with the 2,710 he entered Wednesday with. That would put his total at 4,215 in the majors -- just 41 short of tying Rose.
Long story short: Ichiro is amazing, and he'll probably reach 3,000 hits in the majors and combine to have more hits in MLB and Japan than Rose had in MLB. But with an entire career here, he would have had a very good chance to be the all-time hit leader, a record he might have broken this season.