Battle of the Hit Kings: Rose vs. Ichiro

I grew up in Northern Kentucky, just south of Cincinnati. As a kid, I was a huge Reds fan and why shouldn’t I be? After all, I was born in 1976, the year the Big Red Machine won their second championship. By the time I was old enough to really understand the sport, Pete Rose, a key member of the Big Red Machine, had returned to Cincinnati as player-manager and I was a huge fan. He had grown up in the small town of Anderson Ferry, KY (named after the local ferry that took people across the Ohio River to Cincinnati), which was about ten minutes from my home. Growing up playing baseball, every kid wanted to be number 14. Pete Rose was, to us, the quintessential hometown hero. And, of course, we has an incredible player. He was not the biggest, strongest, or most athletic, but he worked harder than everyone else and had such a passion for the game.

As Pete Rose neared Ty Cobb’s career hits record, I vividly remember watching every game on TV, in the hopes that that would be the game where he did the impossible. On September 11, 1985, in a home game vs. the San Diego Padres, he hit his 4,192nd hit, a single to left-center field and all of us Pete Rose fans couldn’t have been happier (Coincidentally, Ty Cobb’s last game also occurred on September 11, 57 years earlier in 1928). Pete Rose would retire in 1986 with a total of 4,256 hits.

Iconic picture of Pete Rose, celebrating his record-breaking 4,192nd hit. Getty Images

Ichiro Suzuki
But, by some accounts, Ichiro Suzuki is the real hit king. As of the end of the 2017 season, Ichiro had a total of 4,358 hits in his professional career, 102 more than Rose. The key difference is that 1,278 of those hits occurred when he played in the Japanese Pacific League. Ichiro did not join Major League Baseball until 2001, at the age of 27, and over the course of 17 years in the MLB, he has racked up an impressive 3,080 hits. In 2004, he broke George Sisler’s record for the most hits in a single season with a total of 262. And, on June 15, 2016, he surpassed Rose’s career hits mark, hitting the 4,257th hit of his professional career. While this is not an official record, there are many people who believe that he should be honored as the true hit king.

Ichiro celebrates his 4,257th hit. Getty Images

I thought it would be interesting to create a data visualization showing each player's hits over time, comparing each by age. Here’s a screenshot of the visualization; you can click on the image or this link to get to the fully interactive version. After that, I’ll let you be the judge as to who is the real hit king of professional baseball (I’ll keep my opinion to myself since, after all, I’m a bit biased).

Update 10/01/2017: This visualization and blog post has been updated to include the full 2017 season.

Ken Flerlage, April 27, 2017

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