Jeff Sullivan · August 22, 2013 at 5:08 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

On September 11, 1985, Pete Rose broke the all-time hits record before a packed house at Riverfront Stadium. He broke Ty Cobb’s record in his first plate appearance of the game, and in the 15,550th plate appearance of his career. The crowd went wild, and Rose’s teammates poured out of the dugout to congratulate him on his accomplishment. The game, understandably, had a bit of a delay. Rose was up to 4,192 career hits. Cobb was dead and stuck at 4,191 career hits. Cobb got to his total in 2,468 fewer plate appearances.

Sources actually disagree now on Cobb’s real career hit total, and Baseball-Reference puts it at 4,189. That would shift Rose’s real record-breaking day to September 8. In 1979, Rose batted .331 at the age of 38. He kept playing through 1986. Over those final seven years, he was a win above replacement, or a win below replacement, depending on your source. He played in almost 900 games. I’ll also mention here that Rose accumulated 86 career hits in the playoffs. Cobb had 17. Cobb debuted in the year Jules Verne died.

Just yesterday, Ichiro reached something of a milestone — 4,000 combined career hits between Japan and the major leagues. The milestone was long anticipated, and Ichiro did it in front of Munenori Kawasaki. He also did it in front of the world, and after Ichiro reached first base, his teammates poured out of the dugout to congratulate him on his accomplishment. The fans gave him a standing ovation and Ichiro tipped his helmet and bowed. The Ichiro hit meter lady was there.

Of course, you can’t just combine big-league stats with Japanese stats. I mean, you can, it’s easy, they’re numbers and numbers are easy to combine, but they’re numbers without the same units. Japanese baseball is worse than major-league baseball. It’s also different from major-league baseball. These points are inarguable. In Japan, Ichiro faced inferior competition, and he played a slightly different game. If you’re going to combine the numbers, then it follows that you recognize Sadaharu Oh as the all-time big-league dinger king. So what if he didn’t play in the big leagues? He had more homers in Japan than Barry Bonds had here.

You can’t combine the numbers, but then the numbers don’t matter in the first place. Not the specific numbers, anyway. Numbers only exist so we can keep track of what’s happening in the game, and while we like to see them with precision, the numbers are just stand-ins, they’re indicators. Numbers tell you who’s good and who’s not. Numbers tell you who’s been good for a long time, and who’s been a flash in the pan. That’s the greater purpose, and when you argue over a specific number, you’re usually missing the point, because these numbers aren’t being put up in controlled, identical environments. Eras are different. Rules are different. Players are different, nutrition is different, exercise is different, ballparks are different. The hell with the numbers, specifically. That’s not where the significance is.

The point of 4,000 isn’t 4,000. The point of 4,000 is that Ichiro has had a really outstanding and lengthy career as a professional baseball player. That wouldn’t be any less true at 3,998, and nothing’s going to change at 4,001. From the number, we know a few things: Ichiro has been really good. Also, Ichiro has been really good for a while. He’s one of the most talented all-around players of the generation, even if his style has been unorthodox, and even if he’s been a lightning rod for criticism with occasionally racist undertones. Yeah, he’s been a slap hitter, and those hits he’s slapped have been valuable hits. He’s slapped a hell of a lot of them. He also hit that homer off Mariano Rivera. Pity the people who haven’t seen the magic for what it’s been. That’s not Ichiro’s problem.

The number 4,000 mattered because it represented a specific opportunity to recognize Ichiro for all that he’s done since he was virtually a kid on another continent. When a player is piling up impressive statistics, you want there to be a chance to honor him, to appreciate him. The fact of the matter is that we don’t appreciate elite-level talent on a daily basis. We don’t really have the capacity. We need to schedule these things, and so records and round numbers are arbitrary but necessary. In that sense, people got to look forward to their designated moment of Ichiro appreciation. There was a target, and so upon Ichiro’s 4,00th hit, or 2,722nd hit, everybody agreed that was the time to honor his career. If not at 4,000, when would Ichiro have gotten his due? Ichiro deserves these moments — he’s earned these moments — and you have to choose some number, or else the moment won’t ever happen. This number was easy.

Earlier this season, Felix Hernandez picked up career win number 100, and I think I wrote a pretty similar post. It wasn’t about career win number 100 — it was about what that kind of number meant, and what it took to reach that number in so little time. This is about what 4,000 means, and what it took to reach that number over so many years. Ichiro actually has 27 career hits in the playoffs. (Ichiro has been in the playoffs.) So 4,000 isn’t even necessarily accurate. But boy is that ever not the point. This is about taking a moment to appreciate one of the most electrifying players the game has ever seen. There was no mandate to do that right at 4,000. Just make sure you do it sometime, because this is for your benefit, not his. We’re kind of the point of the whole damn thing.


17 Responses to “4,000”

  1. Breadbaker on August 22nd, 2013 5:22 pm

    I cannot overstate how nice it was not only that the Ichimeter lady was at the game, but that Ichiro came over to talk to her and give her an autograph. Little gestures like that, and an acknowledgement of the kind of fan she is, are what makes baseball worthwhile to a lot of us. Ichiro is, despite what we were reading in a certain newspaper in about 2008, a mensch.

  2. Westside guy on August 22nd, 2013 5:25 pm

    Thank you, Ichiro, for everything!

  3. naufrago on August 22nd, 2013 5:36 pm

    Man, there’s no way to describe how great it was to watch Ichiro! play in a Mariners uniform. Remember the rare dekes, the great throws, the cocky at-beat demeanor leavened with pure professionalism (like Edgar), the stolen homers, the unbelievable quotes (favorite offseason activity: baseball, two rats fucking in a wool sock), the sure glove, the savvy steals… I’m sorry he hit his milestone with the Yankees (grrrrr), but yeah, the homer off of Rivera… Ichiro’s play as a Mariner is ours to ‘member and pass on. I’d rather have watched him than two Josh Hamiltons. Ichiro! Never forget!

  4. spuuky on August 22nd, 2013 6:21 pm

    I’ve been a Mariners fan since the early 90’s (so I saw all the Best Mariners Ever), but I think Ichiro! is my favorite Mariner.

  5. MrZDevotee on August 22nd, 2013 6:37 pm

    Ichiro was the only player other than Junior who would dependably deliver highlight reel moments, on any given night, at a Mariner game. Guty sometimes, but not as dependably.

    We were spoiled to have them both in their primes.

    I got a little sad this past week when my 5 year old and a friend were talking baseball and my son asked me “Dad, who was my favorite Mariner, again…? He’s a Yankee now, I can’t remember his name…”

    With a lump in my throat I answered… “Ichiro.”

    And was sadly reminded that he’s gone, forever.

  6. harry on August 22nd, 2013 6:50 pm

    Ichiro has always been the most interesting, exciting player to watch, for me. Clearly devoted to his game in a way few are.

    And there’s the quote about Cleveland.

  7. Dennisss on August 22nd, 2013 6:58 pm

    It brought tears to my eyes when I watched the video and he took off his helmet and bowed. He was just the most fun player to watch.

  8. jordan on August 22nd, 2013 7:00 pm

    I like how you only mention “that home run of Mariano Rivera” and I can immediately replay that exact homerun from one random ballgame in my head.

  9. MrZDevotee on August 22nd, 2013 7:57 pm

    The Mariano homer and the look on Terrence Long’s face when Ichiro gunned him at 3rd.

    I feel confident quoting him on that play as saying (internally): “DAMN!?!?”

    (If you go watch the video– Ichiro literally threw a strike to 3rd base from Right Field… About 2′ high right over the bag… There’s a video angle directly from the 3rd base coach’s vantage… “Strike!”)

    Granted, it was from pretty shallow in right field, but still, that beautiful, fluid, yet nearly mechanical execution that we’d come to know and love first awed us that day… It was absolutely a perfect play, defensively.

    I’ll also always love the Junior/Ichiro commercial… Where Ichiro gets glued to the chair– “ov’ course you did”…

  10. PackBob on August 22nd, 2013 8:58 pm

    It could probably be argued that Ichiro was, and maybe still is, the biggest star in MLB. Not in the U.S., because he didn’t hit enough home runs, but world-wide. I guess some fans and media were upset that Ichiro didn’t adopt an all-American MacDonald/Disney personality, but I found it refreshing.

    Ichiro’s 4,000 hits has to be defined differently, but the accomplishment is every bit as impressive as Rose’s and Cobb’s.

  11. zagfan22 on August 22nd, 2013 9:01 pm

    Although Ichiro wont ever get credited for breaking Pete Rose’s record, it was interesting to read that only five players had 4,000 hits in the majors and minors combined: Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial and Jigger Statz (a player who accumulated 3,000+ hits in the Pacific Coast League).

  12. Slippery Elmer on August 22nd, 2013 9:19 pm

    Hear, hear!

    Can somebody send a link to this post to Colin Cowherd? That dude went off the deep end with anti-Ichironess this morning.

  13. MKT on August 22nd, 2013 10:34 pm

    A Mune-and-Ichi action photo, at the tail end of a bizarre played that involved (according to the article) two blown calls by the umpires.

  14. SonOfZavaras on August 22nd, 2013 11:48 pm

    I love your writing, Jeff. This is my favorite piece of work from you.

    Thorough. Concise. And dead-on in every area I can think of.

    I applaud!

  15. SeattleSlew on August 23rd, 2013 2:16 am

    You don’t have to combine MLB stats with Japanese stats to realize Ichiro’s greatness. Just observe that in his first season in MLB (2001) he won the MVP, RoY, and GG. He recorded at least 200 hits every year in his first 10 seasons in MLB. Also won a GG in his first 10 seasons. Broke the single season record for hits. After 15 seasons he has accumulated 2722 hits. Without a doubt he belongs in the hall of fame.

    This is a player whom in 1998 Mike Hargrove described, “He’s above average as a runner, and he has an above-average arm in right field, still, I would see him as a fourth outfielder on a major league team.”

  16. bat guano on August 23rd, 2013 8:13 am

    Very nicely stated. Bravo!

  17. jonw on August 24th, 2013 9:59 am

    Mensch indeed!!

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