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.
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.