Ichiro joins select group with 4,000th hit
Outfielder singles off Dickey for milestone two-country achievement
NEW YORK -- Ichiro Suzuki said that he was "overwhelmed" to join a select group of professional hitters on Wednesday as the Yankees outfielder connected for his 4,000th hit between Japan's top professional league and the Major Leagues, a first-inning single off the Blue Jays' R.A. Dickey at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees spilled out of the first-base dugout to celebrate after the hit, a line drive that sailed past diving third baseman Brett Lawrie into left field. Curtis Granderson was the first to reach Ichiro, enveloping him in a hug, and Ichiro bowed to the crowd to acknowledge an extended standing ovation.
"The game was stopped for me and the players came out to first base," Ichiro said through an interpreter. "I kind of felt bad that the game was stopped for me. At first, I was trying to stop them from coming, but it was just because I was so happy and overjoyed with the way they supported me.
"Obviously having the 4,000th hit was important, but what is going to make it a more special moment was the fact that my teammates came out. When I look back on this, that's what is going to make this very special."
The total includes 1,278 hits that Ichiro collected over nine seasons in Nippon Professional Baseball as a member of the Orix Blue Wave from 1992-2000, as well as the 2,722 he has logged in the Majors with the Mariners and Yankees since 2001.
"It's an amazing feat," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "It's a testament to how hard he's worked, how long he's been in the game, how he stays healthy, the way he goes about his business. He's a great player, and he's been a great player for a long time."
Ichiro joined Pete Rose (4,256) and Ty Cobb (4,191) as the only players to reach the 4,000-hit plateau when considering hits from the highest levels in the U.S. and Japan.
A great admirer of the game's history, Ichiro said he does not expect to see his hit total placed alongside those of Rose and Cobb.
"It is a record that is adding two leagues into one; those guys did it in one league," Ichiro said. "I don't think you have to put me in that same category as them."
The single off Dickey also moved Ichiro past Yankees legend Lou Gehrig (2,721) on the Majors' all-time list.
"Obviously I only know him by name, and I'm hoping to go to Cooperstown and learn more about him," Ichiro said. "I think that was a special moment, to be in this Yankees uniform and be able to pass such a great Yankee."
Dickey said that he would have preferred not to be involved in the milestone, but added, "That being said, what an incredible achievement, and the manner in which he has done it is equally as impressive.
"The longevity, the endurance, the durability, having played with him in Seattle -- it was a real treat to play with him, and it couldn't have happened to a more professional hitter."
The Yankees played a video tribute to Ichiro from Ken Griffey Jr. during Wednesday's game, and the Mariners released a statement which read: "On behalf of the entire Seattle Mariners organization and our fans across the Pacific Northwest, we offer our heartiest congratulations to Ichiro Suzuki for reaching 4,000 hits today.
"We are proud that Ichiro's remarkable career started in Seattle as American League MVP and Rookie of the Year in 2001, and that he collected 2,533 of those 4,000 hits while wearing a Mariners uniform for 11-and-a-half years.
"From Japan to the Mariners and continuing with the New York Yankees, Ichiro's historic milestone is testament to his position as one of the greatest hitters in the game of baseball."
As his career enters its latter stages, Ichiro still owns at least 150 hits in each of his first 12 seasons, a feat accomplished only by Paul Waner, Richie Ashburn and Albert Pujols in the live-ball era.
"After I got my first hit, if at that point I said to you guys, 'My goal is to have 4,000 hits,' I think everybody would have called me an idiot," Ichiro said. "Now, after years and years of just getting hits every day, I've come to this point. What is important is just going out there and doing what you can do every single day."
The argument has been made that if Ichiro's NPB stats are added to his Major League stats, then perhaps Minor League statistics should also be credited in tallying other players' hit totals. It's an intriguing point, and one that highlights Ichiro's accomplishments.
For the purposes of this exercise, only three additional players would then reach 4,000 professional hits: Hank Aaron (3,771 in Majors; 324 in Minors), Stan Musial (3,630 in Majors, 371 in Minors) and Arnold "Jigger" Statz, an outfielder who tallied 737 of his 4,093 pro hits with four big league teams from 1919-28.
"That's a lot of hits, man. It's pretty impressive," Yankees captain Derek Jeter said recently. "I don't care if it's 4,000 in Little League. It shows how consistent he's been throughout his career. It makes you look at how many hits he's got here [in the Majors] in a short amount of time. That's difficult to do, so Ichi has been as consistent as anyone."
Ichiro said that he does not have Rose's 4,256 on his radar, but now that 4,000 is crossed off the to-do list, Ichiro is free to focus on joining the 3,000-hit club in the Major Leagues.
"I get asked that a lot, but I can't have that as a goal," said Ichiro, who sits 278 hits shy of 3,000. "What happens today determines what happens tomorrow. I've got to perform every day in order to be in the lineup the next day. I don't make goals that are so far away; what I do is do what I can every single day and really build off that -- see where that takes me."