Goodbye Again, Ichiro

marc w · May 3, 2018 at 5:08 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Ichiro spent nearly 12 years with this franchise, beginning at the franchise’s short peak, and sticking around to see a series of missteps, from developmental to scouting to trades, cripple the team. For several years, he was the M’s greatest player, and his ten year run at the beginning of his career is clearly Hall of Fame worthy. He clearly loved playing here, which is what made the M’s decision to trade him back in 2012 both a necessary act of compassion and heartbreaking at the same time. It’s what made the M’s decision to bring him back this season both an obvious feel-good story and also fraught with danger on how to handle things if his skills had eroded too much.

Today, the M’s announced that Ichiro will become a special assistant to the Chairman, effective immediately. Ichiro is stepping away from the field – for now, his agent hastens to add – and into the front office. It’s an odd move that prevents the team from announcing a final game, one final announcement, one final at-bat against Shohei Ohtani, say. That may be part of the calculus, of course, along with keeping Ichiro in the org to work with the young players who might listen to him more than the ones who foolishly spurned his advice a decade or more ago.

I think it also highlights one of the many mysteries about Ichiro: who actually made this decision? Ichiro may not want a big send-off with on-field announcements and ceremonial first pitches and stirring video tributes. The M’s have every reason to want one, but they’ve opted to keep the focus on their remaining players and on Ichiro’s new role. For all we’ve been through with Ichiro, and for how many miles Ichiro’s logged with the M’s, I love that there’s still so much we don’t know. I don’t know that I’ve ever encountered a superstar so different, so apart, from the dominant culture. I both can’t imagine an Ichiro twitter account, and would love to try to imagine an Ichiro twitter account. His lack of traditional athlete cliche-speak was partially due to the language barrier, but also I think a testament to how different his mind works. For a variety of reasons, including a simple desire for privacy, we got fleeting glimpses of how his mind worked, and it always left us wanting more.

There are so many ways to talk about Ichiro’s tenure in the org, from the clear story of the M’s failing to capitalize on their acquisition of his singular services to the old saw that he was just a complementary player, and not capable of carrying the team on his back. But that just diminishes Ichiro, by referring to him only in relation to the mediocrity the team often put around him. I just want to say how lucky I feel to have been an M’s fan for his career. He played like a brilliant anachronism, spoke like a philosopher, dressed like Russell Westbrook, and essentially embodied the know-it-when-I-see-it term “cool.”

He’s confounded fans and writers and teammates and opponents. He broke projection systems, broke a tacit, racist embargo on Asian ballplayers playing here, and was the engine behind the greatest team in M’s history. At a time when sabermetrics was fighting a number of battles – the irrelevance of strikeouts, the importance of walks, HRs, etc. – here was a living, dominating challenge. There was more than one way to dominate. It’s a lesson I think about often, and a reminder not to let one way of doing things blind you to other, stranger, cooler options.

Thank you again, Ichiro.


7 Responses to “Goodbye Again, Ichiro”

  1. heyoka on May 3rd, 2018 6:17 pm

    Good bye, Ichiro.
    Oh, hello, Ichiro.

  2. MKT on May 3rd, 2018 7:37 pm

    “I think it also highlights one of the many mysteries about Ichiro: who actually made this decision? Ichiro may not want a big send-off with on-field announcements and ceremonial first pitches and stirring video tributes.”

    I think the second sentence answers the question raised in the first sentence. Ichiro clearly doesn’t want to retire; he’d rather keep playing. So he wants no send-offs, at least not yet.

    But he recognizes that if the M’s release to let him be a free agent, his major league career is probably over. This way he gets to keep kinda sorta playing, except for the part about actually getting on the field. Maybe some team will eventually pick him up as a 5th outfielder or something. If not, at least he’s not just sitting at home doing his workouts for a team that never ends up calling him. This way he has a team, and possibly a route or glimpse of what post-retirement life might be like.

  3. mrakbaseball on May 3rd, 2018 7:46 pm

    What exactly is “Special Assistant to the Chairman”? This is an odd arrangement as Ichiro apparently will still accompany the team on road trips take BP etc. He will no longer be allowed in the dugout during games however. Thanks Ichiro.

  4. Stevemotivateir on May 3rd, 2018 8:05 pm

    Great post, Marc. It was a great run!

  5. Dennisss on May 3rd, 2018 8:57 pm

    The first time I saw Ichiro was several games into the 2001 season. I did not get every game on TV back then. I think the game was in Anaheim. I had heard he was fast, and I perked up the first time I saw him bat. Grounder to short, which the shortstop took a step toward third to backhand.

    Given what I had heard, I expected the play to be close, but I figured he would be out. Ichiro was 1.5 steps past the bag and decelerating when the throw got there. I was hooked. Never got unhooked.

  6. Goob on May 4th, 2018 9:32 am

    Amen, all around.

  7. Westside guy on May 4th, 2018 1:54 pm

    Little-known fact: When they say “Special Assistant to the Chairman”, they’re actually referring to the Chairman on Iron Chef America.

    That’s right… Ichiro is coming to the Food Network!

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