Ichiro Suzuki Is Great, But He's Not Baseball's Newest Hit King

Ichiro Suzuki is one hit away from tying Pete Rose for the most hits all-time in professional baseball. Is it fair to call him the new hit king?

No one likes to admit that Pete Rose is right. It just feels wrong.

As the great Ichiro Suzuki inches ever closer to 3,000 Major League hits (just 23 away entering play Tuesday), he's even closer to another milestone that no one thought would ever be approached. With one more base hit, Suzuki will match Rose's all-time record of 4,256 career hits as a professional baseball player.

His 2,977 hits in the Majors, combined with another 1,278 in the Nippon Professional Baseball League in Japan, puts him at 4,255. I don't care where you got 'em; that's a lot of hits. But as Rose said this week, Suzuki's totals and his own are not the same.

“It sounds like in Japan,’’ Rose told USA TODAY Sports, “they’re trying to make me the Hit Queen. I’m not trying to take anything away from Ichiro, he’s had a Hall of Fame career, but the next thing you know, they’ll be counting his high-school hits.

“I don’t think you’re going to find anybody with credibility say that Japanese baseball is equivalent to major-league baseball. There are too many guys that fail here, and then become household names there, like Tuffy Rhodes. How can he not do anything here, and hit (a record-tying) 55 home runs (in 2001) over there?

“It has something to do with the caliber of personnel.’’

Setting aside the misogynist "Queen" reference for a moment, Rose may have a point. Most observers believe the level of play in Japan is somewhere between Triple-A and the Majors, although there are a few out there who believe the Nippon League is MLB caliber. But if the Japanese league is of a lower quality than the Majors, then 1,278 of Ichiro's hits should not be counted as being the same as Rose's.

Still, that should not take anything away from the incredible season Ichiro is having at 42 years old, slashing .350/.414/.392. That's good for an OPS of .805, which would be his highest since 2009. He made his MLB debut in 2001 at 27 years old and has just never stopped hitting.

His 2,977 hits are the most in baseball by any player who made their debut after turning 27, more than the 2,051 accumulated by second-place Bob Johnson.

Seriously, you can't get him out right now.

But don't be fooled, there are no imitations. Well, maybe there's one.

When Ichiro crosses the 3,000 MLB hits barrier, it will be celebrated with great fanfare. And when he "breaks" Rose's record, it should be noted for the terrific accomplishment it is.

But for most baseball fans, it will rightly not be recognized as being on the same level as Rose's hits total.

Pete Rose is right, and boy does it feel weird saying that.