As Ichiro steps on Pete Rose's record, we deep-dive into his Japanese years to consider what he would have been like as an American prospect and young major leaguer.
As he’s done so many times before, Ichiro Suzuki led off Wednesday’s game with an infield single. This particular hit—a dribbler up the first-base line that didn’t make it more than 50 feet from home plate—was his 2,978th in America, which combined with 1,278 hits in Japan gave him a total of 4,256 to tie Pete Rose’s all-time record. He then broke Rose’s record a couple hours later by lining an off-speed pitch into the right-field corner for a ninth-inning double and his 4,257th hit.
Of course, that’s not how the major-league record books work. By this point no one should question the high quality of baseball played in Japan—or the many hitters, pitchers, stars, and role players who’ve thrived in America—but that doesn’t change the fact that different leagues have different record books. To consider Suzuki’s hits in Japan part of his MLB total would open all kinds of doors. Do we then similarly count, say, Jackie Robinson’s hits in the Negro Leagues or Minnie Minoso’s hits in Cuba or Julio Franco’s hits in Mexico? And how do we treat Sadaharu Oh and his 868 home runs or Satchel Paige and his (literally) countless wins? You get the idea.
I’m not clutching my pearls arguing that doing so would ruin the sanctity of MLB’s record books as much as saying it would just be really, really hard to thoroughly account for. And in this specific case, counting hits outside of the major leagues would increase Rose’s total. Rose debuted with the Reds at age 22, but before that he played three seasons in the minor leagues and batted .317 with 427 hits in 354 games. You can argue all day about how Japanese baseball in the 1990s compared to the American minor leagues in the 1960s, but to view Suzuki as having 4,257 “professional” hits likely also means viewing Rose as having 4,683 of the same.
If hope is how we deal with despair, then the presence of hope indicates the presence of despair.
Here we are, in the hoping part. On Wednesday, the Mariners placed Felix Hernandez on the 15-day disabled list. It’s just a 15-day DL stint, in much the same way that it is just his calf and it’s just the beginning of June. Darker, more ominous moments have occurred in pitchers’ seasons. The club has assured fans nervously shifting in their seats that their King will only miss a couple of starts. This isn’t an end. But it is the start of the hoping part.
Can baseball thrive in cities where nostalgia is suffocated?
The Texas Rangers are getting a new ballpark. We’re used to thinking about the stadium question in terms of tax dollars, and it is an obviously smart way to approach it because of all the things tax dollars turn into that aren’t baseball. Tax dollars are schools and roads and recycling bins, and their allocation is a collective expression of what is important to us, or ought to be. It’s an exceptionally boring way of declaring that most of us like this thing more than this other thing, not merely as sports fans or consumers, but as citizens and parents and people. So when the Arlington City Council voted to approve a master plan for a new stadium for the Texas Rangers, they kicked off a process by which voters will decide if they like air conditioned baseball more than whatever else you can buy with $500 million. Like recycling bins or public transit or a comical number of two-foot-long hot dogs. We’re used to thinking of this question in that way, and it is a good way to think about it.
Or: The Mariners fan's guide to watching the Angels.
The thing is, you’re a jerk. Let me back up. I’m a jerk, too. I’m a jerk, and you’re a jerk, and our folks are jerks. Probably not really bad jerks, or scary jerks, or even particularly vocal jerks, but jerks of a sort. You’re not a jerk because you weren’t raised right (although with the influences of those other jerks, who’s to say?). You’re a sort of jerk because being a fan of one team rather than all the other teams means you are quietly rooting for the failure of other human beings. Not exclusively, and not all the time, and maybe not in ways that are really bad, or scary, or particularly vocal, but sometimes, at least a little.