After 10 astonishing seasons with the Seattle Mariners, Ichiro Suzuki has proven mortal in 2011, and whether it's a blip on the radar or the end of an era, it's produced a fascinating transition.
Not just for Ichiro, but for his fans - and those who've never respected his game.
Sitting on 49 wins, the Mariners are likely headed for another 100-loss season that would be their third in the past four years. Seattle fans have found targets to boo most of the season: Milton Bradley, Jack Cust, Chone Figgins. And they have booed, indeed.
Now that Bradley and Cust are gone and Figgins is out of sight on the DL, Mariners fans are searching for their next-best option. It is the nature of sport that, in disappointing seasons, someone becomes the focal point - and fans can't boo a front office from the stands.
Recent e-mails have sharply criticized catcher Miguel Olivo, the hitting of Franklin Gutierrez and Justin Smoak, but they weren't burdened with the same expectations. After all, Mariners fans had seen Olivo before, and Guti? Well, he's still a marvel in the outfield.
Which had led quite a few fans back to Ichiro. Expectatons? Only that he hit .330 or so, produce 225 hits, pile up stolen bases and play Gold Glove defense. That, amazingly, has been Ichiro's average year in Seattle.
As of today, he's batting .269. In the field, he's been, well, adequate - and that's not what Ichiro is known for. In short, Ichiro has not been an impact player in 2011, and any human who slides in a year like this one, and carries an $18 million salary, is going to be noticed.
The e-mails have run hard against the Mariners right fielder in recent weeks, and while his defenders are equally passionate, they've been outnumbered.
Let's have a conversation about this. Not just how you feel about Ichiro - although I'd love to read that - but whether he deserves to be saddled with the responsibility for 2011.
Ichiro has always been something of an emotiional lightnening rod. For every fan who bristled had any criticism of him, there has always been someone willing to de-value his contributions. Has it gone beyond that now?
Is Ichiro the bad guy in the 2011 season for the Seattle Mariners?