First things first how many baseball fans knew Ichiro was even still playing? At 42 he is the second oldest player in baseball, just a few months younger than Bartolo Colon. In spring training Ichiro declared he wants to play until at least 50. While this may be a bit far-fetched he has shown that he still has some life in his bat as a fourth outfielder for the Marlins. Over his past three games he has collected 10 hits, giving him a total of 2,960 and just 40 shy of 3,000.
Now think about how hard it is to reach 3,000 hits. In the history of baseball dating back to the late 1800s only 29 players have ever done it. Cap Anson was the first. Alex Rodriguez was the most recent. The other players that have reached the milestone this millennium are Cal Ripken Jr, Rickey Henderson, Rafael Palmeiro, Craig Biggio, and Derek Jeter. Reaching 3,000 hits takes a combination of hall of fame talent, longevity, and durability. The fact that Ichiro did not begin his MLB career until he was 27 makes his accomplishment that much more ridiculous.
Technically Ichiro surpassed 3,000 hits a long time ago. He broke into Japan's Professional League at just 18 years old and was an everyday player starting in his age 20 season. Over his nine seasons in Japan (seven playing everyday) he won seven gold gloves while batting .353 and collecting 1,278 hits. Adding these to his MLB hits total would give Ichiro 4,238 for his career, which would be the second most all time behind Pete Rose's record of 4,256. So while Ichiro is just 40 shy of 3,000 MLB hits he is also 18 shy of the all time hits record if his Japanese stats are included.
Ichiro hasn't been an all-star since 2010 so it's easy to forget how dominant he was when he first came over to the United States. In his 2001 rookie year Ichiro won Rookie of the Year, AL MVP, the batting title, a gold glove, a silver slugger, and was an all-star. He led the Mariners to a record 116 wins. In the 10 year span from 2001 to 2010 Ichiro appeared in 10 all star games, won 10 gold gloves, two batting titles, and led the league in hits seven times. In all 10 of those seasons he hit at least .300 with at least 200 hits. He stole at least 30 bases in every season but one.
It's always bittersweet when players reach these milestones past their prime but that's usually how it goes. Hopefully fans will use this as a chance to remember Ichiro's greatness. It's difficult to say he's hanging on too long though. After hitting .229 last season he's up to .417 in limited action this year. Manager Don Mattingly has said Ichiro played too much last season and that he would only serve a complementary role in 2016. This will surely delay the time it takes for Ichiro to reach 3,000 but if he stays healthy there's no reason it shouldn't happen this summer. Regardless of how long he plays for, five years after Ichiro finally retires he will become the first Japanese born player to be inducted into Major League Baseball's hall of fame.