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BARRY LEVINE COLUMN: Ichiro’s phony 4,000-hit milestone a travesty to baseball

Barry Levine

Barry Levine

Only Major League Baseball could attempt to make something that doesn’t exist.

According to MLB, Ichiro Suzuki became the third player in history to collect 4,000 hits when he singled in the first inning Wednesday night off knuckleballer R.A. Dickey in the New York Yankees’ 4-2 victory over the visiting Toronto Blue Jays.

The opposite-field hit was the 4,000th of Suzuki’s illustrious career, enabling him to become the third professional to reach that milestone, so MLB claimed.

Pete Rose tops the list with 4,256 hits, while Ty Cobb is second with 4,191.

But of Suzuki’s 4,000 hits, 1,278 came while he played in a Japanese Major League from 1992 to 2000, and 2,722 came while playing in the American League since 2001.

Rose collected his hits while playing for the Cincinnati Reds (1963-78, 84-86), Philadelphia Phillies (1979-83) and Montreal Expos (1984). Cobb, nicknamed the “Georgia Peach,” amassed his total with the Detroit Tigers (1905-26) and Philadelphia A’s (1927-28).

MLB established Suzuki’s status when he signed a free-agent contract in November 2000 with the Seattle Mariners when it was determined that he was a rookie because he was playing his first season in the Major Leagues. In essence, MLB decided to ignore his achievements in the Japanese league.

He won the 2001 Rookie of the Year Award, batting .350 while leading the American League with 242 hits. Suzuki also won the Most Valuable Player Award, becoming the second player to win both accolades in the same year. Outfielder Fred Lynn of the Boston Red Sox was the first to accomplish the feat in 1975.

His Major League total following his rookie season was 250, not 250 plus 1,278 from the Japan League.

Now, because he was approaching 4,000 as a professional, baseball executives opted to co-join the numbers to get him to 4,000.

Ask baseball fans who has hit the most home runs in Major League history, and they probably would answer Barry Bonds with 762. If they prefer B.S. (Before Steroids), they would answer Henry Aaron with 755.

Do you think anyone would mention Japan’s legendary slugger Sadahara Oh, who blasted 868 homers during his 22-year career from 1959 to 1980?

No!

Oh never played in the Major Leagues here and, as a result, his accomplishments are basically ignored.

If baseball executives were so intent on claiming Suzuki had amassed 4,000 career hits, then they should be consistent.

They’re not.

New York Yankee outfielder Alfonso Soriano became the 16th active player to amass 2,000 career hits when he homered off Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers on Aug. 11 at Yankee Stadium.

Before the Dominican native signed with the Yankees in September 1998, he played in the Japanese Central League from 1995 to 1997, collecting 174 hits.

If MLB’s leaders were so willing to allow Suzuki to co-join his hits from Japan and the U.S. to reach 4,000, why didn’t they allow Soriano to combine his hits from Japan and U.S. and reach the 2,000-hit milestone in 2012 instead of this year?

Because adding the hits would have made it a phony milestone.

Suzuki, unquestionably, is a superb all-around talent who should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. However, he is not the third player to collect 4,000 hits.

The unfortunate thing about the 4,000-hit blarney surrounding Suzuki is that the hit enabled him to pass New York Yankee Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig on the all-time hit list.

Now that’s a milestone worth celebrating.