In this photo (courtesy of Getty Images) Ichiro speaks with Isao Harimoto before the game. Harimoto is the all-time hits leader in Japan with 3,085 in his career. Ichiro has 3,083. So Mr. Harimoto is here to follow Ichiro's quest to break it.
We spoke with Harimoto and he said that he hopes Ichiro breaks the record soon, like tonight.
"As soon as he could do it, I'd be happy," he said. "People are almost too crazy about this. So if he'd could do it today, I'd be happy."
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Back in Japan, this is major news. Harimoto and Ichiro are the only two professional players to ever amass more than 3,000 hits. Harimoto of course did his all in the Japan professional league. Ichiro had 1,278 hits in Japan and now has 1,805 in the major leagues.
Harimoto thought that Ichiro would break his record.
"Actually when he was in Japan, I told him that he was going to break my record," Harimoto said. "That was proably like 15 years ago. I don't remember telling him that, but Ichiro remembers very well. He reminded me about it."
While Harimoto always thought Ichiro would break the record, he said if Ichiro had stayed in Japan it would have taken longer.
"If you hit that many, pitchers are always going to walk you," he said. "Here Ichiro could have five hits and they're still going to pitch to him. In Japan, if you have two hits in the game, they are going to walk you."
Or even worse … as he simulated a ball going toward his head.
Harimoto maintained that the record isn't the true Japanese hits record because he didn't do it all in the Japanese professional leagues. And he also did it playing in seasons with about 130 games. But he recognizes the accomplishment still.
I talked with a few Japanese reporters and this is major news in Japan. Think about when Pete Rose approaching Ty Cobb's record. But they aren't debating about the legitmacy of the record because Ichiro did it in two different leagues. Most Japanese fans recognize that the major leagues are a better level of baseball, and that more than half of Ichiro's hits came in the US is even more telling.
Think about if it were in the US and this situation was happening. I'm sure Jay Mariotti's head would explode on Around the Horn as he was screaming his opinion and sports talk radio would have day long debates. But in Japan, its just the excitement of the accomplishment.
So watch Ichiro, if he gets 3 hits, he'll have the most hits of any Japanese professional baseball player.