Ichiro! the anti-celebrity

DMZ · May 24, 2005 at 9:30 am · Filed Under Mariners 

The Hit King Stays Guarded

May be nothing you don’t know as an Ichiro! fan, but one fact jumped out at me — an indirect quote from his agent:

Attanasio figures the 31-year-old Ichiro turns down close to $30 million to $35 million in endorsements each year.

This article also seems to go to the heart of something we’ve written about before — that Ichiro! isn’t interested at all in celebrity, which is a strange and ugly thing (the better you are at your craft, or at least better-known, the more trouble you’ll have eating dinner in public). It’s not so much that he’s image-conscious as that he wishes to have no image beyond his on-field actions, and he’s dedicated to the perfection of his on-field actions.

The one thing that I caught that I don’t at all agree with is this, on Ichiro’s particular interview style, where he always uses his interpreter and thinks about each question:

But when his responses are interpreted back moments later, they are disappointingly devoid of any great insight.

That’s not really true. They’re like zen koans. Take for instance the two paired in the article:

“I think there is another level,” Ichiro says. “Where there’s a possibility, I just can’t see it right now. I think that’s the fun of baseball. You just don’t know if there’s a next level, you can’t see it. You just have to go and work at it.”

Does that mean there is a pressure to be perfect? Again Ichiro pauses.

“You know, I don’t think I know what a perfect player is,” he says. “You don’t know really what to do to get there. But you want to be that perfect player. I sometimes think you know you can’t be perfect as a baseball player. But I think there is always pressure on players to have confidence in themselves, who go out and try to play well. Of course, there is not going to be pressure on those who don’t have confidence. But there is always pressure.”

That’s not devoid of insight. If anything, compared to the easy cliches of a post-game Boone interview, they’re the path to enlightenment. I could write a whole other post on what Ichiro might mean here — and sometimes, I think what’s overlooked is that Ichiro gives the questions the answers they deserve. Talk to Ichiro about a single, and he’ll tell you he swung at a slider and ran it out, or something equally simple. Ask him about the relationship between a player and their equipment, and you might get a treatise (and your time extended).

Anyway, check it out. Ichiro! rules.


34 Responses to “Ichiro! the anti-celebrity”

  1. eponymous coward on May 24th, 2005 10:12 am

    Heh. It’s dueling commentaries!

  2. Russ on May 24th, 2005 10:12 am

    “It has been many years since anyone hit .400,” Ichiro told the Seattle Times after starting this season at a torrid pace. “I don’t know if I’ll ever do it. I just want to be a player people say has a chance. But it is probably best no one does it, then no one expects it can be done.”

    Devoid of insight??? The writer of this article doesn’t appear to have taken even an Intro to Philosophy class. Perhaps the writer is more interested in the stock comments from most athletes. “I just want to win for the team”, “We played hard but didn’t execute when required” or some other garbage toss off.

    I envy his way of living life. He is a person who understands what his greatness is and tries harder because the journey is the interesting part. It would seem that despite his success and despite his knowledge of his place in the world, Ichrio strives for more on the field and seemingly in his personal life.

  3. minneapolis mariner on May 24th, 2005 10:15 am

    I apologize for the following non sequitor, but I dont know where else to ask this.
    [deleted non-sequitor, hijacking a thread this early is bad]

  4. Zero Gravitas on May 24th, 2005 10:28 am

    I was impressed by Lincoln’s comparison of Ichiro! to the Howard Roark character in “The Fountainhead”. I only got about halfway through that sucker before I bailed out looking for the Cliffnotes. That’s a better literary reference than I would typically expect from a baseball executive…

  5. Shoeless Jose on May 24th, 2005 10:30 am

    “Even if there are things that become stressful, I think they’re interesting. Isn’t it because of those things that I am to be struck by the significance of being alive?”

  6. JPWood on May 24th, 2005 10:33 am

    I know you’ve been collecting Ichiro! sayings for a while now, and that you are getting a fairly good insight into the man’s way of interpreting his “journey” as Russ so aptly put it. Have you put any thought into approaching Allan Turner and then Ichiro! about publishing the sayings of baseball’s current philosopher king?

  7. Evan on May 24th, 2005 10:38 am

    I’ve always liked Objectivists. The Howard Roark comparison just makes me like Ichiro more.

  8. DMZ on May 24th, 2005 10:39 am

    David Shields, who I linked to (and who also was one of my profs at the University of Washington), has published a collection of Ichiro quotes that sold really, really well a couple years ago.

  9. minneapolis mariner on May 24th, 2005 10:54 am

    dude who deleted my non sequitor…will no one answer my question?
    I dont mean to hijack the thread, I just dont know where else to put the question!

  10. Dave on May 24th, 2005 10:56 am
  11. JPWood on May 24th, 2005 11:05 am

    … “a couple of years ago” means there have been a few more since. And thanks for giving my sister an idea for a present she can bring me from Seattle this summer.

  12. The Ancient Mariner on May 24th, 2005 11:07 am

    #9: try e-mailing Derek or Dave; if your question is interesting, maybe they’ll give it its own post.

    Back to the thread — I too was amused at seeing two posts on the same article, but given the article, I’m not complaining. As regards Carpenter’s “no great insight” comment and the responses, what strikes me is this: most athletes give answers which are nothing but clichés — dead, routine, predictable, boring, and ultimately meaningless. Some few athletes give real answers, but they’re in a sense still typical — some insight, on a plate with parsley ’round it (as Inspector Japp would say), straightforward and ready to be digested. There’s value there, but they don’t require thought.

    Maybe the difference is between the Western rationalist philosophical tradition and that of the East which tends to be more elliptical (granted it’s not philosophy, but compare Clausewitz and Sun Tzu on war), but when Ichiro’s giving serious thought to things, he doesn’t answer in that way — his answers do require thought, they need to be unpacked, studied, considered, mulled over. If you take them as sound bites, no, there’s no real insight — but that has to do with you, not with him.

  13. DMZ on May 24th, 2005 11:11 am

    I feel sometimes as if Ichiro wraps up his answers like presents for us, and we can either squeal with glee, clip the bow, tear the paper and then hold our gift up, considering it, or we can discard it as not worth the effort to open.

  14. Evan on May 24th, 2005 11:32 am

    Perhaps the reason Ichiro’s answers are dismissed is because Ichiro deems the question too imprecise, or the answer too complicated. If Ichiro doesn’t know the answer, rather than spew cliches at us he’ll explore the issue and then admit that he doesn’t know.

    Uncertainty is a good thing. People shouldn’t deny uncertainty – if you don’t know the answer, say you don’t know. At least Ichiro’s giving the question some thought rather then just spouting something irrelevant.

    I wish more people were like Ichiro; I’d enjoy society more if they were.

  15. DMZ on May 24th, 2005 11:46 am

    Self-awareness is one of the greatest characteristics of intelligence. People who seem certain they know everything almost always turn out to know very little that is correct.

  16. Orion on May 24th, 2005 11:51 am

    Maybe we finally have come across a player whose true philosphy is:

    “It is not about the money but the sport.”

    “It is not about individual achievements but it is about the team.”

    “It is not about baseball but life.” (this in regard to his statement about stress).

  17. Jason Lake on May 24th, 2005 12:32 pm

    Nikku pointed out in the previous post’s commentary that Ichiro does have a fair chunk of endorsement change in Japan. I’m no expert in this, but when I visited Tokyo before Hideki Matsui made his MLB debut, Ichiro’s mug was plastered everywhere, especially for Pepsi. Now it’s all Matsui, all the time. I guess chicks dig the long ball there, too.

    Not that I’m saying Ichiro was a shill in Japan, or conversely that endorsements are evil. I just appreciate his discretion in these matters.

  18. Matt Williams on May 24th, 2005 12:35 pm

    The funny thing is, if you interview a distance runner they often say something very similar to the highlighted quotes. They tend to think in plateaus, you’re stuck on one and up against a cliff that may lead to the next, then all of a sudden something clicks and you’re up on the next one. They tend to improve in (relatively) big jumps and then stick at that new level when something snaps in their brain holding them back.

    It really doesn’t surprise me that the way Ichiro treats baseball would lead to a similar attitude as a sport that requires complete individual dedication and mental control, rather than the American perception of just having a lot of talent, playing the game, and then going out to party.

    If someone in an individual sport puts out quotes like Ichiro’s they look insightful. But, I suppose as the rest of you pointed out, they aren’t the stock phrases we expect from our major team sports.

  19. John in L.A. on May 24th, 2005 12:35 pm

    #13 – DMZ… that was awesome.

    That feels exactly right.

  20. Evan on May 24th, 2005 12:42 pm

    To quote Will Rogers:

    It’s not the things you don’t know that get you in trouble – it’s the things you know for sure that just ain’t so.

    Ichiro’s hesitation might be based in his awareness that he doesn’t know how good a player he can be. Maybe he’s done all he can to improve, and this is as good as he gets. He seems willing to entertain the possibility.

  21. Evan on May 24th, 2005 12:44 pm

    Way to mangle the syntax there, buddy.

  22. Daniel Carroll on May 24th, 2005 12:48 pm

    It still amazes me, a couple weeks ago when Ichiro! put one out, that Ichiro said something to the effect of “I don’t think I can hit a homerun unless I try,” if only because it was so anti-cliche.

    Every other player you talk to will say something like “You’re never TRYING to hit a homerun; I was just up there looking for a pitch to hit, and I put a good swing on the ball.” Except maybe without the semicolon. Something tells me that baseball players rarely speak in semicolons.

  23. wabbles on May 24th, 2005 1:30 pm

    Someone once described Ichiro’s celebrity status in Japan as being similar to Michael Jordan’s. The response was, “No, think Elvis.” It’s good, even necessary, for someone that popular to be subdued and maintain a private side. If you start letting it go to your head or get too intimidated by it, you end up eating peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

  24. JMB on May 24th, 2005 2:26 pm

    PB, banana and bacon sandwiches, fried in a stick of butter.


  25. Dave on May 24th, 2005 2:41 pm

    They teach you how to make that at CIA yet?

  26. Cliff on May 24th, 2005 2:48 pm

    I have often thought that Ichiro was the most precise player I have ever seen, and his answers to questions are also very precise. The fact that sports writers would miss it is not surprising, they stopped listening to atheletes long ago.

  27. Evan on May 24th, 2005 2:48 pm

    There’s a southern barbecue restaurant around here that serves those sandwiches.

    Fried peanut butter and banana is a tasty sandwich. Adding bacon, though, is just wrong.

  28. Evan on May 24th, 2005 2:51 pm

    To quote game designer Derek Becker:

    I like using semicolons; they make me feel smart.

    I agree with Daniel. I expect ballplayers rarely intend semicolons.

  29. Nate on May 24th, 2005 3:16 pm

    If my memory serves me right, Ichiro was the one that negotiated for being able to wear a jersey with his first name on the back. He’s well aware of his celebrity status, and his careful answers suggest he’s very concsious of how much his image matters. The fact that he carries that status with class is to his credit, and it ain’t braggin if you can do it, but he’s not about to become an ascetic either.

  30. wabbles on May 24th, 2005 7:12 pm

    Really. I thought I heard on “Before the Bigs” or some such program that a manager or similar club official suggested it for a publicity edge and Ichiro kinda said, “Okay, whatever.” Maybe not. ‘shrug’

  31. Dead Ball Tim on May 24th, 2005 9:10 pm

    Bless Ichiro for being a thoughtful guy. He’ll never be a big star in the USA with that kind of approach. Yeah, I know there are other reasons he won’t become a USA media darling… culture, language, and his natural tendency to avoid the limelight. When I consider other players who cultivate the media like an ant milks an aphid (AROD) I appreciate Ichiro more. Gar was like Ichiro in this way. He focused on playing baseball and kept his private affairs private. DiMaggio was secretive too and it only made him seem more godlike. It seems that if we know too much about our heroes they quickly lose that status. So please, I don’t want to know what Ichiro eats for dinner or who his girlfriend is or what he does on his day off. I do want to hear him talk about climbing walls and robbing homers though. =)

  32. Daniel Carroll on May 25th, 2005 12:10 am

    doesn’t the story go that there were four Suzuki’s on the Blue Wave, so the team had it so each of them used their first name instead?

  33. Bela Txadux on May 25th, 2005 6:12 am

    Ichiro isn’t just an anti-celebrity, his being recoils in detestation from the culture of celebrity; you can see this watching him. It’s very Ted Williams, in a way, and I use the personal analogy for deliberate reasons. The guy just has such intense pride and dedication to his own effort, and most people watching just don’t really get this about him; they think they do, but they’re just kissing up to ‘winning’ hoping some of that glory will reflect off them. Ichi’s too bound up in DOING, to give a rat’s nether half about the need of insecure people to touch talent for luck and personal attention. I’m completely sympathetic with Ichiro on this one in everyway.

    Ichiro is a thoughtful guy, but in his own dimension. The comments have real meaning if you see the world from his perspective—but most of us don’t, so it seems stilted. I wonder at times, if he’s slyly laughing at his interviewers with the way he shapes his remarks to be just a little flat and off kilter from the ‘good quote’ that the media bows and scrapes for so as to earn their nickel. . . . I think there’s a lot more going on in his head than he chooses to say, quite deliberately so. He just rolls the respone back up the middle for a single rather than nailing the homer, because that’s what he’s decided to do. To me.

    I find Ichiro a fascinating guy to watch.

  34. JPWood on May 25th, 2005 7:36 am

    So Ichiro! is more talented, wholistic, esoteric, imaginative, reflective… than his interviewers and many of his admirerers.
    What amazes me is that his doesn’t change his approach to accommodate those differences. He doesn’t expect people to catch up to his search for the Holy Grail of baseball, but he wants his thoughts to be expressed and his actions to play out on his terms. So he uses a trusted interpreter and talks more about what he imagines himself doing than what we see him do.
    Raul Ibanez had a good thought on this: “Ichiro makes you rethink what’s possible in this game”