Everybody wins in Ichiro divorce
It only took a moment for the news to spread from New York to the home clubhouse at Safeco Field.
Ten-time All-Star outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, the former Most Valuable Player and future Hall of Famer, had been traded to the Yankees in exchange for, uh, somebody and something. That part didnt matter.
What mattered was that for the first time since he showed up from Japan as a spring-training curiosity in 2001, Ichiro and the Mariners no longer were as synonymous as sushi and fish.
Its a big, big, big deal, shortstop Brendan Ryan said as he was putting on his uniform in the mostly empty locker room, and its just kind of settling into place with everybody. But my first reaction is that both sides win. Ichiro gets a chance to compete in the World Series, while were still going young over here.
Its win-win for everybody. No hard feelings anywhere. A good day in general.
When the surprising departure of a franchises leader in hits, runs scored, triples and at-bats is described by a former teammate as a good day in general, it suggests Ichiro had distanced himself from the rest of the Mariners players.
Well, duh. Sure there was a distance, a distance that had been established for years. The distance didnt matter when the Mariners were going to the playoffs with Ichiro in his prime, but it has been 11 years since the Mariners went to the playoffs, and two years since Ichiro was in his prime.
An amicable, no-fault divorce is, as Ryan put it, a win-win for everybody.
The Mariners win because theyve been spared the burden of re-signing an unproductive 38-year old outfielder to a contract extension, and then having to figure a way to use him without stifling the progress of such younger outfielders as Michael Saunders and Casper Wells.
The Yankees win a phrase youve heard before, perhaps? because it cost them little to find a replacement for injured left fielder Brett Gardner, whose speed had been a key to their ability to run on those occasions they arent trotting home after hitting a bomb.
And Ichiro wins because, as he explained with the assistance of interpreter Antony Suzuki, I go from the team with the most losses to the team having the most wins.
That Ichiro has lost a step or two cannot be disputed he began Monday nights game at Safeco Field with an on-base percentage of .288 but Mariners president Chuck Armstrong pointed out how the acquisition of veteran leadoff man Vince Coleman provided a late-season jolt for Lou Piniellas Refuse to Lose club of 1995.
Five years later, Rickey Henderson, who by then was 41 and long removed from his Hall-of-Fame prime, showed up in Seattle and gave the Mariners what Armstrong recalled as a spring in our step. They won a wild-card berth with the help of Henderson, who scored the winning run in the division-series playoff clincher against the Chicago White Sox.
The tears that welled in Armstrongs eyes during the Monday afternoon press conference at Safeco Field underscored the sincerity of his hopes that Ichiro regain his potential to ignite rallies in New York.
Still, despite the solemn expressions of Armstrong and CEO Howard Lincoln, it was a good day, and for that they both can thank Ichiro. During the All-Star break, he contemplated the youth-movement direction of the Mariners how it was at odds with the direction of his declining career and asked agent Tony Attanasio to get busy working out a trade.
Despite finding themselves in the awkward position of keeping a player who wasnt a good fit for their future, the Mariners were not thinking trade. They were thinking contract extension, lobbing offers to Ichiro during the winter, during spring training and as recently as early June.
In other words, Ichiro spared the Mariners from making a baseball decision they were bound to regret, for it wouldnt have been a baseball decision. It wouldve been a marketing and public-relations decision similar to the fiasco of re-signing Ken Griffey Jr. to one final season in 2011. Griffey didnt last through the first week of June.
As for Ichiros improbably achieved destination, he appeared comfortable Monday in pinstripes the ones on his suit coat, which he wore over a pressed white shirt and navy blue, polka-dotted tie knotted at the collar. Never has Ichiro looked more distinguished.
Ichiros adjustment to the Yankees specifically, their fans and traveling media horde depends on how often he reaches base, of course. But he seemed to understand what his wishes had wrought.
With the Mariners, Ichiro was regarded as the face of a franchise that has never won a pennant. With the Yankees, winners of 27 world championships, hell defer wearing No. 51 out of respect to former center fielder Bernie Willliams. (Ichiro on Monday night was assigned No. 31, among the handful of jersey numbers the Yankees havent retired.)
With the Mariners, Ichiro said, Ive been using two lockers, as a veteran. Ive got a feeling Ill have only one locker in Yankee Stadium.
Ichiro got a sampling of the kind of scrutiny hell be under when MLB Network analyst Harold Reynolds, the ex-Mariners infielder, asked if he foresees any difference in media attention between Seattle and New York.
We dont have enough time, Ichiro replied, for questions like that.
It was the Japanese version of thats a clown question, bro.
Ichiro laughed. So did Reynolds, and everybody else in the interview room.
The time had come for another Mariners legend to move on, but the mood at Safeco Field wasnt somber. To the contrary, it was a good day, a win-win day.
Then again, for the New York Yankees, arent they all?
email@example.comICHIRO, BY THE NUMBERS
Number of players to win rookie of the year and MVP in the same season, Boston’s Fred Lynn (1975) and Ichiro (2001) Number of seasons Ichiro had at least 220 hits, most in major league history Consecutive 200-hit seasons for Ichiro (2001-10), the longest streak in major league history Ichiro’s hitting streak from May 6-June 3, 2009, a team record Ichiro’s hits in 2004, the major league record for a single season Ichiro’s combined hits in Japan and MLB, third-most all time in pro baseball (Pete Rose, 4,256, and Ty Cobb, 4,191) Ichiro’s career Seattle statistics