Tigers debate who’s ‘Hit King,’ Rose or Ichiro?

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Hit King has arrived at Comerica Park. Or, has he?

Well, that depends who you ask these days.

Ichiro Suzuki this month picked up his 4,257th career hit — including 1,278 from his time in Japan — to pass Pete Rose on the leaderboard. Of course, Rose remains the recognized hits leader by Major League Baseball, which is about all it recognizes of Rose these days.

Ichiro, meanwhile, is at 4,262 hits overall, including 2,984 in 16 major league seasons.

Ichiro, having a heck of a renaissance at age 42 with a .336/.412/.377 slash line, was to lead off for the Miami Marlins on Tuesday night at Comerica Park, as he continues his march toward 3,000 hits in the States.

“We’re trying to keep him 16 away (from 3,000) when he leaves here,” Tigers catcher James McCann said, smiling.

Rose came out recently strongly shooting down the notion that Ichiro is the Hit King.

What else would you expect from Rose, who never met a microphone he didn’t like?

The Tigers aren’t sure how to break it down.

“You could make that argument, for sure. He’s been a tremendous hitter for a long time in two countries,” manager Brad Ausmus said.

“I’ll tell you this, when he came over to the United States, he immediately was one of the best players in Major League Baseball. He was an impact player from the first day he stepped on a baseball field in the United States. Whether he’s the hit king or not, that’s not really my place to decide.”

Ichiro joined the Seattle Mariners in 2001, at age 27. His first season he was American League rookie of the year and Most Valuable Player — the only player to do that other than Boston’s Fred Lynn in 1975, as Ausmus, a Red Sox fan growing up, noted to the media.

“Ummm, I say you gotta put them in different categories,” Tigers catcher James McCann said of Ichiro and Rose. “One, they played different eras, so what Pete Rose did when he played was incredible and what Ichiro has done in his era is incredible. I don’t think you can take away either of their successes.

“Regardless of how you count hits, the pitcher’s still throwing a ball that’s small over the plate and you’ve gotta hit a round ball with a round bat and you’ve gotta hit it squarely. The number of times they’ve done it successfully, that’s impressive.”

Ichiro was a Gold Glove winner and an All-Star in each of his first 10 seasons in the majors, topping 200 hits each time.

He hasn’t been a Gold Glove winner or an All-Star since, including two-plus seasons with the New York Yankees and the last two with the Marlins. But he’s found the fountain of youth this season, a big reason the Marlins entered Tuesday at 41-35, despite losing standout second baseman Dee Gordon to a PED suspension.

“It’s amazing to see that,” Ichiro’s new hitting coach, Barry Bonds, said of his late-career revival. “It’s unbelievable. I just love it.”

Bonds said Ichiro’s baseball IQ is off the charts.

Ausmus agreed, and said that’s the key to being successful into your 40s.

“He’s passed me. I stopped playing when I was 41,” Ausmus said. “You end up using your brains a lot more than your physical ability (when you’re older).

“He’s got a lot of information in his head that he can use to his advantage, a lot of experience.”

Suzuki always was a favorite of late Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell, who was in awe of the Japanese star’s skill set. He could run like blazes, throw darts from the outfield, and seemingly do it all.

Yes, do it all. McCann even called Ichiro a “five-tool talent,” even though one of the tools is power, and Ichiro only has 113 homers States-side. (Rose had 135.)

McCann, who had family in Seattle and saw a lot of Mariners games growing up, said that’s deceiving, however.

“In game, he just makes contact so well, but then in batting practice he can put on the best home-run shows of anyone,” McCann said. “A guy that you look at as sometimes a slap hitter, a guy that’s gonna take his singles, take his singles, watch how far he hits the ball in batting practice.

“That’s pretty incredible.”