For Ichiro Suzuki, getting to 3,000 hits wasn’t a matter of if, but when.
For nine agonizing days, Ichiro, a baseball treasure and one of the most universally beloved players in the sport today, sat on 2,998 hits. Eleven at-bats passed before Ichiro finally legged out an infield hit for 2,999 Saturday at Coors Field. The next day, Marlins manager Don Mattingly gave his 42-year-old outfielder a rare start to see if he could make history.
He didn’t disappoint. In his fourth at-bat of the afternoon, Ichiro delivered a long fly ball to right field. The ball caromed off the fence, landing just out of the reach of right fielder Gerardo Parra. Ichiro made it to third before putting on the brakes, becoming only the second player to triple for his 3,000th hit. The future Hall of Famer is now fourth among active players (if you consider free agents Carl Crawford and Jimmy Rollins “active”) with 93 career triples.
With steroids out of the game (for the most part) and specialized pitching taking a more prominent role (see the Yankees’ pre-trade-deadline bullpen of death), 3,000 hits has become an increasingly elusive milestone. But that’s not what makes Ichiro’s feat so impressive. Alex Rodriguez, the last player to reach 3,000 hits before Ichiro joined the club, was 18 when he arrived in the big leagues. Ichiro didn’t debut in the majors until 27 after already playing nine years in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball League.
Ichiro’s career in Japan has sparked an interesting but mostly meaningless debate. Some have tabbed Ichiro as the all-time hit king, arguing that his combined total between the majors and Japan (4,278) is more impressive than the 4,256 hits Pete Rose tallied during his 24-year career. Rose has publicly dismissed this argument while Ichiro took a subtle jab at Rose in an interview with ESPN last month. “What I’ve noticed is that in America, when people feel like a person is below them, not just in numbers but in general, they will kind of talk you up,” said Ichiro in acknowledgment of Rose’s recent criticism. “But then when you get up to the same level or maybe even higher, they get in attack mode.”
Putting Ichiro’s accomplishment above Rose’s seems like a big leap because it forces us to accept that MLB and the leagues in Japan are on equal footing, which is patently untrue. Ichiro certainly could have made a run at 4,256 if he had spent more time in the big leagues instead of overseas but it doesn’t make sense to dwell on it.
Ichiro’s march to 3,000 has stirred up plenty of old memories, from his pitching stint last year to his single-season hits record in 2004. There was also his MVP campaign in 2001 (which happened to be his rookie year) and the legendary batting practice sessions, which convinced Barry Bonds that Ichiro could win the Home Run Derby if he wanted to. The Ringer just ran an article on this exact subject, reimagining Ichiro’s career if he had chosen to hit for power instead of average. Even this season, Ichiro has been a hitting machine, batting .317 with more walks (24) than strikeouts (22).
Ichiro has always been a fan favorite, a quirky goofball who like to wears Tom and Jerry sweatshirts while trash-talking his opponents in Spanish. Even Sunday he couldn’t resist clowning one of his teammates. “In my first three at-bats, my body felt like Justin Bour’s, so heavy,” he said through an interpreter. “But after that hit, Bour was lifted off.” When it comes to making memorable quotes, Ichiro might be this generation’s Yogi Berra. Ichiro will also be remembered as a pioneer, paving the way for other Japanese position players to find success in the major leagues.
It’s natural to get nostalgic about a player’s career when he reaches a big milestone but Ichiro isn’t riding off into the sunset yet. Ichiro has no plans to retire and said he’d play until he’s 50 if anyone will still have him. Now that Ichiro has climbed the latter to 3,000 hits, he can finally enjoy the pennant race. The Marlins have been one of the year’s biggest surprises and are now a game ahead of St. Louis for the final Wild Card spot in the National League. With Giancarlo Stanton rounding into form (this home run still hadn’t landed yet), the Marlins are going to be tough to beat down the stretch. If the Marlins do make the playoffs, it will be the third time in 16 seasons Ichiro has been to the postseason.
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A-Rod Says Goodbye
We don’t all get to go out in style. For Alex Rodriguez, there won’t be a retirement tour full of Flavor Flav clocks or rocking chairs made from broken bats. But there will be one more game Friday night at Yankee Stadium. After that A-Rod will trade in his cleats and batting gloves for a role in the Yankees’ front office where he’ll work as a team ambassador and special advisor.
The news of A-Rod’s impending departure came during a Sunday morning press conference at Yankee Stadium. The decision to finally cut A-Rod loose had been in the works for weeks. Rodriguez has been in the starting lineup just once since July 22 and has only logged one at-bat this month. Rodriguez found new life last season when he produced 33 jacks (or A-bombs, as John Sterling would call them) and 86 RBI, but the well has run dry this year with A-Rod hitting only .204 with nine homers in 216 at-bats.
It’s a little surprising the Yankees aren’t going to let A-Rod stick around to reach 700 homers (he’s only four away) but sometimes that’s the cost of rebuilding. The Yankees dealt three of their best players (Carlos Beltran, Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller) for prospects last week while Mark Teixeira announced Friday that he’ll be hanging up his cleats at the end of this year. With the Yankees headed in a new direction, there just wasn’t room for A-Rod anymore.
A-Rod didn’t rule out the possibility of continuing his career with another team but it’s hard to envision that happening. The market for struggling 41-year-old designated hitters who make $20 million a year is pretty much non-existent and GM Brian Cashman admitted as much when he said the Yankees haven’t received any calls about A-Rod.
Assuming that Friday is the last chapter in his storied career, Rodriguez will leave behind a complicated legacy. His longevity and incredible counting stats surely put him among the all-time greats, but Rodriguez’s admitted use of performance enhancing drugs casts a dark cloud over his Hall of Fame chances. From the glove-slapping incident in the 2004 ALCS to his alleged centaur paintings (not to mention this iconic photo), it’s hard to know who the real A-Rod is. But he’s a brilliant baseball mind and should transition easily into whatever post-playing career he desires, whether it’s coaching (he’ll be an instructor at Yankees spring training next year) or working as a television analyst.
It’s pretty remarkable that Rodriguez will soon join a front office that he was once at war with. Rodriguez and the Yankees were not at all on the same page during his recovery from hip surgery in 2013 and the team seemed ready to wash its hands of A-Rod multiple times during his Biogenesis scandal. However, time seems to have healed most of those wounds. When asked about A-Rod’s legacy, Cashman answered in the simplest way possible by placing his 2009 World Series ring on the table.
Expect the Yankees to pull out all the stops on Friday. Mariano Rivera’s last game at Yankee Stadium was a tearjerker with Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte both coming to the mound to take the ball from Mo one last time. A-Rod has been limited to DH duty this year but there’s a good chance we’ll see him at third base for Friday’s finale. Also, don’t be surprised if he draws a start when the Yankees visit Fenway Park for a three-game series against the Red Sox this week.
AL Quick Hits: Manny Machado had himself an afternoon Sunday against the White Sox. He homered three times in the first three innings, becoming the first player to accomplish that feat since 1930. His seven RBI were a career-high … Sonny Gray is headed to the disabled list for the second time this year. This time he’s out with a strained extensor muscle in his right forearm … Carlos Beltran wasn’t in the Rangers’ starting lineup Sunday because of a bruised left quad, though he did make an appearance as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning. He lined out to center field in his lone at-bat … Brian McCann passed through waivers and can now be traded. McCann is expendable now that Gary Sanchez has arrived in the major leagues, though he carries a full no-trade clause … The Twins activated Trevor Plouffe from the disabled list ahead of Monday’s series opener against Houston. He was sidelined for a month with a broken rib. Minnesota made room for Plouffe by optioning Byron Buxton to Triple-A Rochester … Sunday was a day of highs and lows for James Paxton. He became the first pitcher to ever strike out Mike Trout four times in a game but exited in the ninth inning after taking a line drive off his left elbow. Fortunately his X-rays came back negative.
NL Quick Hits: Yasiel Puig went 2-for-4 with three RBI Sunday in his first game for Triple-A Oklahoma City. Puig was demoted last week after the Dodgers were unable to move him at the trade deadline … Adrian Gonzalez clubbed his 300th career homer in Sunday night’s win over the Red Sox. He’s the 140th player to reach that milestone … With his pregnant wife in attendance (she’s due in less than two weeks), Rob Segedin contributed two hits and four RBI in his major league debut Sunday against Boston. He plated two of those runs on a bases-loaded double in the fourth inning and also added a two-run single in the fifth … Clayton Kershaw resumed throwing on Sunday. The three-time Cy Young winner hasn’t pitched in a game since late June … Rich Hill is aiming to return Friday against Pittsburgh. Hill hasn’t pitched since July 17 while dealing with a nagging blister … Hunter Pence didn’t start Sunday’s game after fouling a ball off his eye (seriously) during Saturday’s contest. He struck out as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning … The Phillies pulled off a 5-4-3 triple play in Sunday’s win over the Padres. It was the Phillies’ first triple play since 2009 and the 32nd in team history … David Peralta is back on the disabled list with a right wrist injury. Peralta hurt his wrist when he crashed into the right field wall on Friday night. This will be his third DL stint of the season.