Twelve years ago, Ichiro came to the United States faced with the task of being the first Japanese-born position player in Major League Baseball history. It was a huge jump, smothered with uncertainty. Nationally, people doubted he'd be able to hit the way he did back home. Locally, people wondered how a short, skinny slap hitter could replace a strong, power-hitting franchise legend as their new right fielder.
If Ichiro didn't hit, the pundits explained, it would because he couldn't make the adjustments to major league pitching. His seven consecutive Nippon batting titles were earned against inferior arms. But if Ichiro did hit -- and boy, did he hit -- it would be credited to serving several years in a minor league equivalent to hone his craft. Regardless of the ensuing outcome, narratives had already been written.
Certainly, we'd be engaging in a war of futility if we tried to convince anyone that Ichiro has joined Pete Rose and Ty Cobb in the 4,000 hit club. And, yeah, the talent in Japan is inferior than that of it's American counterpart. But Ichiro was the same hitter here that he was there. He adapted immediately and didn't discover decline until a decade later.
As those 12 years have passed, a trophy case has been filled with awards and accolades; the asterisks faded, the doubts erased. An appreciation of an unconventional hitter for our times has been mostly formed. But, he still has his naysayers.
When Ichiro won the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 2001, some argued that he had spent nine seasons in Japan. He was hardly a rookie, they opined. Today, the positioning is that Ichiro's hits in Japan don't count.
In about eight years from now, Ichiro is going to be enshrined in Cooperstown. Most likely, he'll become the second player to enter with a compass rose on his cap, behind Ken Griffey, Jr., and probably in front of.
He might not be considered to have accumulated 4,000 hits and he might not even have 3,000 of them stateside, but he'll have undoubtedly busted through the all stereotypes and doubts.