This past Sunday in Colorado, a future Hall of Fame outfielder connected on a 2-0 pitch and rapped it off the wall in right-center field, narrowly missing a home run. The 42-year old sprinted around the bases, stopping at third for a triple, one of the most exciting plays in all of baseball.
Triples are hard to come by for most major league hitters.
However, it is most appropriate for this particular player. Especially since he is known by one name: Ichiro. Even casual baseball fans recognize this singular moniker, and this was not just a triple. This was the 3000th hit of Ichiro’s MLB career.
We specify “MLB career” here as a dividing line between what he has done “over here” and what he accomplished “over there”, in his native Japan. In 1992, at the age of 18, Ichiro made his debut for the Orix Blue Wave in the Pacific League. In nine seasons there, he compiled 1,278 hits before making the move to the U.S., signing with the (at the time) Nintendo-owned Seattle Mariners before the 2001 season.
There was certainly some hype surrounding Ichiro as he made his way overseas. The man was a career .353 hitter in Japan, and numbers like that do not go unnoticed. In 2001, the Mariners tied the Major League wins record with 116 victories, with Ichiro claiming both AL Rookie of the Year and MVP honors. He hit .350 with 8 home runs, 69 RBIs and led the league in hits (242) and stolen bases (56). Ichiro brought with him massive fan support that would travel from Japan just to follow him.
In 2004, Ichiro broke George Sisler’s 84-year-record for most base hits (257) in a season by compiling 262 of them. So three years after his MLB debut, he was still piling up the statistics. Ichiro, unlike some of his other countrymen who had tested the MLB waters, was no fluke.
The increased playing schedule of MLB — 162 games compared to Japan’s 144 — and the typical rigors of the game, appeared to have no ill effect on a man who prided himself on staying in shape. Ichiro was no easy out, even on seemingly routine grounders. He would often run out routine grounders to short, helping his statistics greatly, as the import holds the modern record* of 542 infield hits, nearly double the next highest total on the list.
*The term “modern” here meaning since Fangraphs began tracking such things in 2002.
Ichiro was the consummate professional and in 2012, with the Mariners in rebuilding mode (which is pretty much every season since that 2001 watershed year), Ichiro approached the Seattle front office to ask for a trade, as he felt he was taking a roster spot from younger players looking to catch a break. So Ichiro was traded to the Big Apple, New York City, to become a Yankee. By this time, Ichiro’s numbers had started to decline but he was still capable of being a presence in even a Bronx Bomber lineup. He helped the Yankees to the postseason that year, but they were swept by the Tigers in four straight games in the ALCS. Despite playing in the postseason with a Seattle juggernaut and the always-mighty Yankees, Ichiro has never won a World Series ring, the only honor missing from his massive trophy case.
Despite the lack of championship success, Ichiro is a lock for the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, which would make him the first Japanese-born player to reach Cooperstown. There is no denying that his MLB numbers alone warrant inclusion to the Hall, but if you combine them with his Japanese stats, Ichiro has more hits (4,278) in sum than U.S. “Hit King” Pete Rose. However, much like the great Japanese slugger and all-time home run leader Sadaharu Oh (868) before him, Ichiro will have to be satisfied with world records rather than official MLB records.
Regardless of that, Ichiro has been a wizard at the art of hitting and is truly deserving of his greatness.