Ichiro and the failure of Seattle
Ichiro! is my favorite Mariner. I may have seen better seasons (I think of Randy Johnson’s 1995-1997 run, in the days I would cut out of school and bus down to the Kingdome) but Ichiro… I would go to games and see him play dead ball baseball in the 2000s and do it so well he was a star. Ichiro! did the impossible. He would climb a wall, seem to hang there, and then turn to turn a home run into an out. He could be fooled by a pitch a swing and then somehow slow the bat to punch a single into shallow right. I could watch some of his replays over and over and shake my head.
I saw him swing right-handed, and it his swing was perfect.
I have a friend who wouldn’t cheer for Ichiro! this post-season, because he thought he was an example of a player who didn’t perform until he was on a contender. That’s been a constant criticism of Ichiro! — that he cared when he was on the Japanese national team, but showed no emotion in the regular season.
I know. And yet, let’s say Ichiro! plays best when he feels challenged, that his contributions are meaningful. Even Griffey said that he reserved his greatest plays for when he thought it mattered, didn’t he?
Isn’t this a failure of Seattle?
We had one of the greatest players ever, Japanese or otherwise, and the franchise wasted him. He saw the playoffs once, in his first year, and then never again. And yet he contributed throughout. Some contend he was overpaid, but did he ever seek free agency? Did he ever sulk and seek a trade? Did he not always seek to stay here first?
Ichiro! was a great match for Seattle. He is intensely private, contemplative, and we are, generally, a fan base that respects our players. There is not the media blitz of other markets, though he has certainly had issues on that front.
He has his choice of where to go this year. By all indications, he is going to New York, where already he can enjoy headlines like “Youkilis and Ichiro are fine, but can you picture them in the Canyon of Heroes?”*
How did we get to this point? Since 2001, it has, essentially, been Ichiro, King Felix, and a collection of incompetents. Ichiro! wishes to compete, and given his druthers, he thinks that’s New York. Even being able to learn from the coverage Matsui, and a decade of experience with Seattle, where you probably know or could easily find out where he lived but did not, he appears ready to sign with our arch-enemy.
Ichiro! is exactly the kind of player the Mariners should have an advantage in recruiting and retaining, and we wasted his career. No matter who the GM was, who the manager was, no matter what the extenuating circumstances — we had Ichiro, a Hall of Fame, impossibly talented player, every year since 2001, and he saw the playoffs once.
That the franchise had this opportunity and could make nothing of it doesn’t just reflect badly on the last decade, it will take a lot to overcome in the future.
I hope it happens.
* you would be honored to have Ichiro! in your stupid canyon