Ichiro Suzuki: 'He Needed to Be Traded'
It's been two weeks weeks since Ichiro left town with the Yankees and only now do I feel I've had enough time to process what has happened.
No, it's like I had a boyhood crush on him or believed he would get the Mariners to the World Series.
Instead it has more to do with the reaction of someone very near and dear to me upon hearing the news.
When my wife found out she seemed incredulous and rattled off a series of questions that took me a moment to process...
"How could this happen?"
"He asked to be traded?"
"Why the Yankees?"
"And you're OK with this?"
All fair and technically easy to answer, yet the funny thing is explaining the situation and answering her questions proved far more difficult than I had imagined.
Everything leading up to the moment itself seemed so clear. Ichiro had outlived his usefulness in Seattle and was taking up space on a ballclub that desperately wanted to turn the page.
It was so clear that even he understood it well enough to ask out prior to the All-Star break.
Yet to have the questions posed by someone who is certainly in it (by knowing her baseball backward and forward having watched the M's struggle for years going back to the days of Alvin Davis and Harold Reynolds at the Kingdome, but not of it in the sense of caring each and every day whether the team wins because deep down she knows they probably didn't), forced me to think long and hard about what had happened exactly.
How did Ichiro go from legend to lead weight seemingly overnight?
Well it wasn't quite that fast, but for anyone not paying attention on a daily basis or from the outside looking in, it might appear as such. For years you could set your watch to Ichiro tallying 200 hits, a trip to the All-Star Game, and a Gold Glove.
Then last year it didn't happen, any of it. Depending on your perspective it was either a blip on the radar or the beginning of the end, but as this season began most of us saddled up to the foolish idea that Ichiro would not only rebound, but change his stripes hitting in the No. 3 spot.
In hindsight it was pure fantasy, the kind you would attribute to a certain enigmatic 38 year old wide receiver that another local team just signed. At the end of the day though it seemed all innocent enough and hopefully Ichiro would ride off into the sunset this season having helped the Mariners turn the page towards a bright future...The End.
Ehhhh, scratch that.
Ichiro just wasn't cut out for the No. 3, No. 1 or any spot in the Mariners' batting order, and it became clearer and clearer with each passing day.
As the frustration mounted over the Mariners' hapless season, Ichiro became a bit of a lightning rod by simply doing the same thing he always did except without the stats to back him up.
It was more than missing a step here and a swing there, it was the fact that he never owned up to any of it or tried to help the youngsters who were struggling mightily while the team slowly continued to sink. Going back to last season, for the better part of a year now Ichiro simply looked like he'd had enough of being a Mariner.
So while it came a surprise that he requested a trade and actually went through with it, it ultimately wasn't really a shock after the initial news broke.
What did sting a bit was the fact that he was headed to the Bronx, but oddly that worked out well. Usually when a player gets traded all traces of his existence are erased in a matter of minutes as bags are packed, his locker emptied, and a car waits to race them off to the airport.
In a way though it almost seemed fitting that he wouldn't receive the standard treatment by instead getting the chance to briefly say goodbye with what would perhaps be his final series in Seattle while playing as a Yankee.
I'll confess, when I saw Ichiro come up to the plate as a Yankee for the first time, it got a little dusty in the room. Then, like that, it was time to play baseball and a few days later he was gone.
The days that followed we're actually quite nice as the M's put together their best stretch of the season by winning seven in a row before paying Ichiro a visit in the Bronx this past weekend. Naturally the wheels fell off, with the lone exception being Felix Hernandez's masterpiece on Saturday afternoon, but such is life.
For better or for worse the perpetual wet security blanket that was Ichiro is now a memory. No longer can the organization count on the mostly good, the occasionally bad, and the sometimes ugly he brought to the table. I actually find it refreshing as it simply means...no more excuses.
Manager Eric Wedge can do just about whatever he likes with his lineup.
General Manager Jack Zduriencik no longer needs to worry whether his bosses would want to re-sign Ichiro after this season and eat up a ton of money...one would hope.
And Ichiro can play for a contender. Everyone goes home happy. It's not a fairy tale ending, but it will have to do.
But what's next?
Are the Mariners Better Off Without Ichiro?
The winning streak is over, the team's top prospects really aren't ready to contribute, the youngsters we have playing each night still aren't clicking, and the pitching staff is brilliant one night and bumbling the next.
It would be tempting to shift gears at this point knowing the Seahawks are preparing for a new season, but I tend to believe that would be short-sighted given we still have two months of baseball left to play.
I'd like to take that time to try and answer both the big and small questions the team is facing the rest of the way and extend the opportunity for each of you to pose questions to me in the comments section.
Finally before we finish up with Ichiro, I do have a few miscellaneous random questions/thoughts...
First and foremost, I wish him all the best, but seeing him in a Yankee uniform is hard to take. (By the way, my wife still feels very much scorned.)
Meanwhile am I the only one who wishes that someone had taped one of his legendary pre-game All-Star Game speeches for the sake of posterity?
Whether it would have been mop up duty in a horrendous blowout or even better in the umpteenth inning of a game where all of the Mariners' options were spent and it would have been his game to win or lose.
Last but not least, some day assuming the M's invite Ichiro back to celebrate his career, I'd like to think that instead of building a standard statue outside Safeco made of metal or granite, they'll instead construct a giant bobble-head in his honor?
If so, would Jay Buhner become ill at the thought of it?
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