You can change the numbers any way you like. I honestly do not see how a healthy Ichiro Suzuki, drafted as an 18-year-old in the U.S., does not have MORE than 4,000 hits right now in the Major Leagues.
Rose could have said that, of course. I like when Pete Rose acts generous. Maybe he doesn’t always mean it, but generosity suits him. He’s at his best when he’s talking about how great a player Johnny Bench was, what a joy it was to be teammates with Joe Morgan, how much he admires Derek Jeter, how much he loved playing in New York when the fans booed him, the kick he gets out of watching Bryce Harper play the game (Harper has met Rose and, in some ways, patterned his all-out style on Rose). I like the Pete Rose who is brash but openhanded enough to say, “Hey, man, I don’t know if he would have stayed healthy, but if Ichiro starts here, whew, I’m sweating.”
He has nothing to lose by saying that. It’s a free shot at generosity. Rose’s hit record is completely safe. Nobody is contemplating a change in the record books to allow Ichiro’s Japanese hits to count. How much better does it make him look if he simply says, “What an achievement. As someone who knows how hard it is to get hits whether you are, I can tell you that getting 4,000 hits around the world is absolutely fabulous and I applaud him?”
Pete Rose was a marvelous baseball player. He lined singles and doubles all over the park, he scored runs like nobody of his time, he played just about every position, he inflamed the imaginations of millions of baseball fans with the way he played, he was the MVP of perhaps the greatest World Series ever played.
Ichiro Suziuki is a marvelous player. He slashed and blooped and beat out singles all over the park, he stole a lot of bases, he unleashed jaw-dropping throws, he inflamed the imaginations of millions of baseball fans with the way he played and, more than that, opened their minds to the idea of just how good a Japanese baseball player can be.
Rose could have paid tribute to Ichiro without reminding people of his own greatness. But, I guess there’s a part of Pete that is always defending his turf. It might not be the best part of him. But it is certainly a part of him.