Ichiro Suzuki’s recent trade from the Seattle Mariners to the New York Yankees is, amongst other phenomena, a significant statement about current culture. Having watched The Mariners, and Ichiro, avidly since his inaugural 2001 season, his departure leaves me with a mix of feelings that blend into an overall mood best described as “bittersweet”.
The “sweet” includes memories of watching our new Japanese right field import exceeding my and our wildest expectations, as he blazed his way to Rookie of the Year and MVP honors in 2001. Mariners fans, stung by back to back to back losses of Randy Johnson, Junior, and Alex Rodriguez from 1998-2000, were despondent and could muster scant hope for 2001 Mariner success. But we had not seen Ichiro yet. We underestimated Ichiro. Then manager Lou Piniella underestimated Ichiro. He openly worried that Ichiro might not be physically capable of pulling the ball. Sportswriters, statisticians and scouts all committed grievous errors in their assessments of the unique talent that is Ichiro. The fact that he brought his unique talents to the MLB stage while the steroid era was in full swing, so to speak, renders his sudden impact and excellence all the more remarkable. He slashed and burned. He led, yes I said led the 2001 Mariners to a record tying 116 wins that season. He was the catalyst. He was the consistent one. He proved durable and real, not the steroid inflated players with steroid inflated statistics to be found widespread throughout the league. And all this was ours without the seemingly obligatory accompaniment of DUI’s, allegations of domestic abuse, or other sordid variations of behavior. You see, Ichiro carries himself with pride and dignity. Remember them?
Now for the bitter. Why is it that the Ichiro previously described, was not afforded the respect he so obviously deserved, as he entered the twilight of his career? I don’t remember Baltimore Oriole fans openly calling for the benching of Cal Ripken Jr. during his last years. For that matter, the Mariners own Edgar Martinez was revered despite a dramatic slump in late career production. Edgar was not vocal. Edgar did not speak English particularly well. Frankly, I don’t care if Ichiro was “hard to get to know”. Maybe he didn’t trust people in general and media in particular. Sounds like he’s a sound judge of character to boot. So now he’s gone. He packed up his class act, and joined expatriate Mariners Raul Ibanez, Alex Rodriguez, Rafael Soriano, Freddie Garcia and Michael Pineda, on the New York Yankees. You know what I say? Good for him. I say “GO GO ICHIRO!”. And don’t stop till you get that ring you’ll be wearing at your Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Thanks for everything, it truly has been a pleasure watching you play.
Oh, and the statement about current culture referenced in this post’s introduction? Grace has left the game. It’s definitely “what have you done for me lately” across the board in this country. Is that really what we want? Is that how we would like to be treated? I’m just asking.