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Ichiro Suzuki - Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Ichiro Suzuki – Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Ichiro 4278, Pete Rose 4256, Ty Cobb 4191

Those are the all-time numbers of base hits for three of the very greatest baseball players to ever live.

Last night Ichiro – like Tiger, the Babe, and The Rocket, that’s all the identification he needs – tripled off the right field fence for his 3000th US major-league base hit. Added to his Japanese league record, he now surpasses both Rose and Ty Cobb.

The boo-birds, who have been waiting for this, are out just as they were when Maris passed Babe Ruth’s record and then, of course, Barry Bonds passed Hank Aaron’s lifetime homers after Aaron passed the Babe and so on.

There are always plenty of reasons why the record is not really “the” record and there are usually people like me who say “who cares”, it’s a helluva lifetime performance and everyone can only be the best of their era.

The argument about Ichiro is the usual one – Japanese ball was and remains inferior to American ball, especially the pitching. So it’s said by two American Major Leagues which have no intention of testing that proposition in any meaningful way.

I for one think it’s bullshit. I was fortunate enough to see some Japanese baseball some years ago at a time when some pretty fair American ballplayers went to Japan thinking they would be stars playing against those funny bandylegged little buggers and it turned out that they were no more than “pretty fair” Japanese league players.

The baseball played in Japan was superb and as noted, the American Major leagues teams are in no hurry to play any kind of serious post season games with a Japanese team and it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out why.

I watch a lot of baseball and I’m no longer even mildly surprised at the number of Japanese players, especially pitchers, in the big leagues are doing very well. There are not more because, we should perhaps note, they have two major baseball leagues in Japan, where they live.

One of the first things I noticed about Ichiro is his rather strange and perhaps floppy swing which looks more Little League than one for the Bigs. However, those who know baseball better than I say that this is a swing that should be copied, not deprecated, which made me do a tiny bit of research and I came up with this bit of delicious trivia:- since 2002 — Ichiro has hit 31.3 percent of his batted balls to the pull side, 35.3 percent up the middle, and 33.4 percent to the opposite side.

I personally consider it my enormous great fortune to have seen Ichiro play in his years in Seattle.

Let’s talk a little bit about records because I believe they are vastly overblown. There are so many factors to be taken into consideration not least of which is the type of play extant with the era played in. Homerun Baker, for example, never hit more than 12 homers in a season whereas Barry Bonds hit 73 in 2001, one of which I saw. It may be that Homerun Baker was the best of the lot considering the kind of ball he had to hit and the lack of any performance enhancing drugs in his day.

The meaningless of records was rather amusingly exposed in August 19, 1951 when a player named Eddie Gaedel came to bat for the old St Louis Browns (now the Baltimore Orioles) against The Detroit Tigers and walked on four pitches. Mr.Gaedel, you see, was only 3’1″ and almost impossible to pitch to. After the walk he was replaced by a pinch runner.

This was the idea of Browns owner Bill Veeck, one of the more fascinating and inventive owners in baseball, who was hated by other owners for his antics but quite often had pretty good ideas such as interleague play. (His autobiography, Veeck As In Wreck, is available and a fun read.)

Veeck had been careful to ensure that Gaedel was properly registered (he did it on the Friday prior to the Monday game so there would be no opportunity to check him out) so when the umpire was challenged he could do nothing.

Will Harridge, the president of the American League, went ballistic at this heresy and immediately declared that the incident was to be struck from the record books.

Well, Bill Veeck, always wanting to be helpful, pointed out that Mr. Harridge would have to find a way to get rid of the player Gaedel pinch hit for, eliminate the four pitches and the base on balls, eliminate the pinch runner, erase the fact he made it to third, and on and on it went.

There it was. If happened on the baseball field during the legitimate time of play, it bloody well happened, and that was that.

This is why baseball is stuck with whatever records Bonds and any other user of illegal drugs set. If Baseball couldn’t unravel one at bat with only four pitches thrown can you imagine trying to unravel the career of Bobby Bonds, Mark McGuire or a number of other miscreants.

The last thing I want to do is spoil the fun of arguing who was the greatest, when, by what margin, and why your argument is full of crap. That’s an essential part of any game. The fact remains that the goals stored by Howie Morenz, Rocket Richard, Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky, were all very different under different circumstances and impossible to compare as totals. They all scored brilliant goals under the most difficult of circumstances and were memorable for that alone.

How many they scored depended on so many factors such as the length of their career, the number of injuries, the style of hockey played, the linemates they had, the teams they played for and so on. And it gets pretty abstruse – did The Rocket’s record reflect his good luck in playing for the powerful Canadiens or was the Habs record based on the luck of having players like Maurice Richard?

Ichiro has been and still is a great baseball player who has distinguished himself on two continents and has dominated the game. In fact on any decent fans list of, say 25 best ball players of all time, Ichiro would be there. For some he might be close to number 25′ for others closer to number one but it doesn’t matter –what does matter is that his career performance in baseball is for the ages.

Where Ichiro stands with Cobb and Rose, Hank Aaron or Bobby Bonds, is for the Pub, some friendly suds, and lots of good argument about what I maintain is the greatest team sport in the world.

And we’ll hoist a pint to ’em all, and a special one tonight to Ichiro.

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