DAVID GREENE, HOST:
New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez has been the poster boy for baseball's current doping mess. His scandal has taken attention from another Yankee who's really one of the feel-good stories of the season. He's Number 31, simply known to fans as Ichiro.
Frank Deford hopes the Japanese slugger joins another legendary hitter in getting much deserved recognition.
FRANK DEFORD: In Japan, a noren is a short curtain that hangs to the entrance of a little teahouse or restaurant. It's not solid but made of strips. And so, when you go through it your hand goes first, then your arm, and the rest of you. But quickly the strips fall back into place, and it is as if a wisp, a ghost, a sprite has passed through.
I always visualized Ichiro Suzuki that way, slipping from Japanese baseball to our major leagues so effortlessly, barely stirring the air. As he nears his 40th birthday, Ichiro has played more in the United States than in Japan - nine seasons there, 13 here on his way to, surely, accumulating more hits than anyone who has ever stood in a batter's box. He's a handful short of 4,000 now, with better than 2700 made in our American League. Beyond lies Pete Rose, who holds the record with 4,256, a total Ichiro could very well eclipse only two summers from now.
Of course, should he stay healthy and pass Rose, there will be some patriots who will dismiss the accomplishment, arguing that the 1200-plus hits that Ichiro slapped out in Japan were against pitchers inferior to the American mound cadre. Fair enough, but surely it evens out that Ichiro has managed to achieve his extraordinary success, playing in two continents, two cultures, with two different-sized baseballs, while Rose did it all in a familiar few ballparks. Don't you think that sometimes, even in baseball, with all its sacred statistics, you can round numbers off and call it equal, plus or minus a margin of admiration?
At the Hall of Fame, they're already expecting by far the largest crowd ever when Ichiro is inducted seven or eight summers from now; numbers way in excess of what Mike Schmidt and Cal Ripken drew up the Susquehanna from Philadelphia and Baltimore. Cooperstown will be Little Tokyo that day and Tokyo will be big Cooperstown. It would also be so appropriate at that time for baseball to finally show some mercy to Pete Rose and let him enter the shrine with Ichiro.
The drug cheats have put Rose's offense in perspective. He did not damage baseball one iota as a player, and after he retired, his misdeed as a manager now appears as small beer alongside how those druggies dishonored the game, distorted history and robbed their fellow players. It's become a rather hackneyed mantra how the United States is the land of the second chance. Only the Second Amendment gets more lip service.
Notwithstanding if anyone deserves a pardon after all these years, before the petals fall, it is Pete Rose. And for he and Ichiro to go together through that curtain, that noren would be both proper and lovely.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GREENE: Commentator Frank Deford, always proper and lovely, joins us each Wednesday.
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.