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Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2016 — #13: Ichiro Becomes the All-Time Hit King

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We’re a few short days away from 2017 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2016. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were creatures of social media, fan chatter and the like. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

Yes, I phrased that headline in a provocative manner. In my defense, annoying Pete Rose and Pete Rose fanboys is kind of fun, and a good 60-65% of the enjoyment from this story was derived by Pete Rose and Pete Rose being annoyed.

To be sure: no one claims that Ichiro holds the record for most career hits. But he notched 1,278 in nine NPB seasons with the Orix Blue Wave and entering play against the Padres on June 15, he had 2,978 hits in the United States. That made the double he smacked down the right field line in the ninth inning of that game his 4,257th career professional hit, which put him past Pete Rose if you combined both U.S and Japanese safeties.

That such a thing is worthy of note should not be controversial, but it was to some all the same. A lot of people felt it necessary to correct those of us who called Ichiro the “Hit King,” as if we didn’t know that Rose was still the MLB record holder and as if we weren’t simply congratulating Ichiro for a great accomplishment. Even Rose himself got snippy about it, wondering if people would now think of him as “the Hit Queen,” to Ichiro’s “King,” which Rose took to be disrespect.

For his part, Ichiro was amused at it all and drew a pretty decent insight from it. Here’s what he said to ESPN The Magazine:

I was actually happy to see the Hit King get defensive. I kind of felt I was accepted. I heard that about five years ago Pete Rose did an interview, and he said that he wished that I could break that record. Obviously, this time around it was a different vibe. In the 16 years that I have been here, 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. But then when you get up to the same level or maybe even higher, they get in attack mode; they are maybe not as supportive. I kind of felt that this time.

Yup.

The hits kept coming for Ichiro in 2016. Less than two months after the hit which put him past Rose, he notched his 3,000th career hit in Major League Baseball with a triple in Coors Field. He finished the season with 3,030 in his big league career. His 2016 line: .291/.354/.376 in 365 plate appearances. Not bad for a guy a mere three months younger than the old man writing this story.

And good enough for the Marlins to exercise his 2018 option. Which means the hits will keep on coming.

Steven Matz likely to start season on DL; Zack Wheeler to adhere to innings limit

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Mets manager Terry Collins said on Wednesday, “It’s unlikely that [Steven Matz] will start the season with us.” The final spot in the Mets’ starting rotation will go to either Zack Wheeler or Seth Lugo, Newsday’s Marc Carig reports.

On Wheeler’s innings limit, assistant GM John Ricco said, “There’s going to be some number but we don’t exactly know what that is.” Wheeler missed the last two seasons after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Neither Wheeler nor Lugo have had terrific springs as each carries a 5.11 and 5.56 Grapefruit League ERA, respectively. However, Carig notes that Wheeler has impressed simply by appearing healthy and brandishing a fastball that once again sits in the mid- to high-90’s. Lugo, meanwhile, proved crucial to the Mets last year, posting a 2.67 ERA across eight starts and nine relief appearances.

Rockies sign 30-year lease to stay in Coors Field

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Nick Groke of the Denver Post reports that the Rockies agreed to a $200 million, 30-year lease with the Metropolitan Baseball Stadium District, which is the state division that owns Coors Field. As part of the deal, the Rockies will lease and develop a plot of land south of the stadium, which will cost the team $125 million for 99 years.

As Groke points out, had the Rockies not reached a deal by Thursday, March 30, the lease would have rolled over for five more years.

Rockies owner Dick Monfort issued a statement, saying, “We are proud that Coors Field will continue to be a vital part of a vibrant city, drawing fans from near and far and making our Colorado residents proud.”

The Rockies moved into Coors Field in 1995. It is the National League’s third oldest stadium. In that span of time, the Rockies have made the playoffs three times, the last coming in 2009 when they lost in the NLDS to the Phillies. The Rockies were swept in the 2007 World Series by the Red Sox.