On the first Sunday in August, the month that ushers in baseball’s dog days when even the pretenders still have to play through the swelter of historically the season’s hottest month nearly every day, 42-year-old Ichiro Suzuki became the 30th player in baseball history and first Japanese-born player to enter one of the Major League’s most exclusive clubs by tripling to right at Colorado’s Coors Field for his 3,000 hit since his first as a 27-year-old rookie in 2001.
The man who has become known, as others in the pantheons of pop culture and sports, by just his first name won the American League’s MVP in that inaugural season by hitting .350, collecting his first 242 hits, a gaudy number but one he topped in 2004 with 262 more, the most for a single season in the sport’s history.
While there are those who point out the fact that were his 1, 278 hits as an Orix Blue Wave in Japan added, the supremely conditioned Miami Marlin, who has told reporters that he would like to play until he’s50, he’d have already surpassed Pete Rose’s 4,256 hits, the most of all time, there are more of those who are purists who scoff at the notion of adding those hits, that real baseball is played only in the United States. After all, this is a country that named its professional baseball championship set of games the World Series despite the fact that it would take until 1992 before a non-American baseball team would grab the sport’s ultimate team prize when the Toronto Blue Jays won the first of their back-to-back titles.
Of course, there were other sports stories in the 48-hour spin cycle besides Ichiro’s feat. The NFL totally embarrassed itself on its sports biggest weekend when the Hall of Fame induction Sunday night exhibition game was canceled due to hardened paint on a field that league officials had a full year to ready. Jim Furyk became the first pro golfer ever to fire a 58 in a PGA event (yet, somehow, still didn’t win the tournament). Michael Phelps pushed his all-time gold-medal total into the stratosphere in Rio for his role in a relay win and solidified his position as the greatest Olympian swimmer of all time. Alex Rodriguez announced he would no longer be a Yankee by week’s end. And, if we’re talking numbers that reflect a team’s perennial instability, Robert Griffin III was named the 25th starting quarterback since the Browns returned in 1999, named by its ninth head coach, Hue Jackson, in the team’s 17-year trail of rebirth tears.
But, for me, it’s Ichiro’s 3,000 that was the big story. The fact that he tripled for the historic hit, becoming only the second, along with Paul Molitor, to do so isn’t typical. He enters the club with fewer extra base hits than any of his fellow 3,000 mates. Of his first 3,000 hits, 81.5 percent have been singles, and an astonishing 679 of those never even left the infield.
When it comes to the “Club of 30,” one started by 19th century Cap Anson, a White Stocking and, sadly, an avowed racist, who once threatened to forfeit a game because the opposing team, the Toledo Blue Stockings of the American Association, had a black player, Moses Fleetwood Walker, capitulating only when he was told that he’d also be forfeiting that game’s gate receipts as well, there are several interesting nuggets.
While Ty Cobb, the first player to reach 4,000 hits, later joined and surpassed by Rose, has the highest batting average at .367 of any of the 30, iron man Cal Ripkin, Jr., has the lowest, an even hundred points less, at .267.
The club includes, as one would imagine, some of the all-time greats whose preternatural skills catapulted their names to the top of the sport’s other sacrosanct lists. If we’re talking about members of the 600-HR Club, besides the steroid-tainted Rodriguez, there are the icons of my youth, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. If we’re talking all-time speed merchants, there would be number one and two on the all-time stolen-base list, Ricky Henderson and Lou Brock.
Except for Ichiro, who most feel is a Hall of Fame shoe-in and those unlikely ever to be enshrined because of their either proven or alleged involvement with PEDs like Rafael Palmiero and Rodrigeuz, every other member in the 3,000 Club have their plaques in Cooperstown.
Three players, all former Yankees, homered for their 3,000th — Derek Jeter, A-Rod and Wade Boggs — the last of whom did it as a Tampa Bay Devil Ray, before the “Devil” was dropped from the team name. Boggs also added, perhaps, the most histrionic flare, by culminating his home-run trot by kneeling down and kissing home plate in similar fashion as NASCAR drivers who’ve won at Indianapolis have kissed the bricks.
If we’re talking the greatest overall game that included a 3,000 hit, two names stand out, Craig Biggio, whose game included four other hits in a 5-for-6 performance, and Jeter, who went a perfect 5-for-5. Biggio also, incidentally, became the only one of the 30 actually to also make an out on his 3,000th, when he was thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double.
Of the hallowed 30, for me, Stan Musial stands out. Not only did he play every one of his marvelous 23-year career for the same team, the St. Louis Cardinals, and not only is he the only member of the club whose 3,000th hit was a pinch hit but he also did something I find fascinating. Of his 3,630 hits, fourth behind Aaron, Cobb and Rose, Stan “The Man” got precisely half, 1,815, at home and the other half on the road.
Without question the saddest story associated with the 3,000 Club belongs to the great Pirate, Roberto Clemente, who recorded his 3,000 on the last day of September in 1972, three months and a day before, on New Year’s Eve, he perished in a plane crash while delivering relief supplies to victims of a devastating earthquake in Nicaragua.
For those who knocked on the door of the 3,000 Club, but not quite loudly enough, Frank Robinson left his Hall of Fame career with 2,943 while Bonds couldn’t find another job as, perhaps, the Steroid Era’s poster child and will remain in perpetuity at 2,935.
As for how long we’ll need to wait for the 31st member, that largely depends upon a series of unknowable circumstances, determined only by a player’s ability to do what many believe to be the hardest thing in sports, hitting a 90-plus mile-an-hour round ball with a round bat both squarely and frequently.
The three likely to crash the 3,000 party are the Rangers’ 37-year-old Adrian Beltre, closing in on 2,900; the Angels’ 36-year-old Albert Pujols, closing in on 2,800; and the player some believe to be currently the greatest hitter on the planet, the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera, who, at 33, will most likely pass 2,500 by season’s end.
While different numbers in sports are special to different people, such as, no doubt, Jim Furyk’s 58 was for golfers, for baseball fans savvy enough to realize it takes 15 seasons’ worth of 200 annual hits to reach 3,000, Ichiro’s accomplishment is indeed monumental. With his seminal Coors Field moment, he not only punched a triple to right. He also, most likely, punched his ticket to Cooperstown … that is, if he ever retires.
John Grindrod is a freelance writer and regular contributor to the Lima News and Our Generation’s Magazine. He is an editor as well as an author of two books. He can be reached at [email protected]