BY Art Thiel 09:59PM 07/23/2012

Thiel: Whew! Ichiro saves Mariners serious ugly

The Mariners were fully intent on extending the contract of Ichiro until he requested a trade. His final act was one of his most important: Saving face for the club.

Before his first at-bat as a Yankee, Ichiro acknowledges the ovation at Safeco Field Monday night. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Hard to say where it will end up in the litany of his baseball accomplishments, but Ichiro did the Mariners a big, fat, final, tuna-roll-flavored favor Monday: He asked out.

He asked out, before the Mariners surely would have asked him back.

Despite the fact that Ichiro, in his contract year, is on a fade nearly as fast as newspapers, the Mariners were trying to get him to sign an extension. Club president Chuck Armstrong reported Monday the most recent effort was in June.

As late as mid-July, according to Japanese baseball sources, Mariners owner Hiroshi Yamauchi inquired about the status of the extension for his star player. Yamauchi, who has never seen the Mariners or Ichiro play in person, apparently had no idea or no concern that Ichiro was in the way of franchise progress.

His return as a 39-year-old would have sent up public howls from the dwindling knot of Mariners fans, not to mention private growls from general manager Jack Zduriencik, manager Eric Wedge and every knowledgeable baseball person in the organization.

Ichiro knew. As comfortable as was his situation was in Seattle for more than 11 seasons, he decided finally it was no longer comfortable. After the All-Star Game break, he took the initiative. Through his agent, Tony Attanasio, Ichiro asked to be traded before the off-season, when he and the franchise would have embarrassed themselves again in front of God, country and all the ships at sea by stepping on another upturned rake.

With stealth worthy of an airborne drone, the Mariners searched the baseball landscape and found, of all places, New York and the Yankees. Once the Mariners answered Yankees GM Brian Cashman’s question, “What’s he got left in the tank?” the clubs pulled off a shocker.

Doesn’t matter that you’ve never heard of the two middling pitching prospects the Mariners received in return. Doesn’t matter if they ever make it. All that matters is Ichiro,  with his pending free agency that would have been epically awkward for Seattle, has moved on, and in a way that offers a little bit of dignity.

Surprising as was the deal, it was even more remarkable that Ichiro decided to break away from a club that accommodated his every wish, in exchange for being just a guy in New York. When asked, even Zduriencik seemed caught off-guard.

“Ahh . . . you know, that’s a good question. I’m not . . maybe not. Maybe a little bit,” Zduriencik said. “Maybe in one sense. If you’re a player at his age and you want to compete at the highest level, you reflect over the four days of the All-Star break, when he cemented his thoughts. The chance to play in a World Series is a dream of every player. This is the quickest way.”

True enough. But the Mariners have been swimming in mediocrity for years, incapable of building a team around him that would allow Ichiro to be a complementary contributor, as he was in his rookie year of 2001, instead of a veteran leader and primary run producer.  Based on American habits, Ichiro should have asked for a trade multiple times before now.

But Ichiro’s Japanese value system makes a priority of loyalty, just as Japan’s baseball culture says leadership comes from management, not players.  Ichiro always has been a loner, not a leader, and a loyalist above a pragmatist. But even his Japanese sensibilities have limits.

Or, as he put it in the press conference Monday, “Going from the team that has the most losses to the team that has the most wins, it’s hard to contain my excitement.” And  you thought he was driven only by a relentless pursuit of milestone hit numbers.

For his first night in Yankee grays, wearing No. 31, Dave Winfield’s old number (51 belonged to the more sacred Bernie Williams), Ichiro had a taste of what he wanted. The Yankees won, 4-1, he singled in his first at-bat, and looked the stereotypical part of the highly paid older vet who starred elsewhere and was rejuvenated by pinstripes.

For the long term, Ichiro’s statistical legacy is undeniable. But as the team grew worse around him, the empty calories of his game began to show through. And as he played into his physical decline, it was hard to hide the fact that he became a $17 million drag on a team whose management last off-season finally gave up on the foolish belief that it was one or two players away from contention.

The currency of Ichiro, as opposed to the legacy of Ichiro, was brought home before the game when a New York reporter asked Wedge what Ichiro could still bring to the game.

“He’s a very dedicated worker, with the most consistent routine I’ve ever seen,” he said. “He gives himself the chance to be the best he can be. The Last couple years have been tough on him. Physically he’s in great shape. Anythings possible.”

That’s what’s known in the journalism dodge as a non-answer answer. Like the one Zduriencik gave when he was asked about the virtues of the pitchers the Mariners acquired.

“One’s a starter, one’s a reliever, they’re both 25 years of age,” he said, “and we’ll see what happens when they get here.”

The truth was in the trade. The Mariners gave away Ichiro for virtually nothing. And it was a good deal for both teams.

It would be fun to see Ichiro tear up Gotham. It also will be fun to see the Mariners finally get on with the future.


YourThoughts

  • shanmatt72

    Absolute dead on article. Well written, I wish nothing but the best for Ichiro, and hopefully we can move on and get better.

  • shanmatt72

    Absolute dead on article. Well written, I wish nothing but the best for Ichiro, and hopefully we can move on and get better.

  • None

    Wow.

  • None

    Wow.

  • Michael Kaiser

    The Yankees are the type of club Ichiro should have been on since day one.  One can only wonder what the last decade for the Mariners could have been–and of course when you are talking about the Mariners one is talking about a HUGE if– without a fairly weird, non-English speaking–to a greater or lesser extent, and we also are not talking Spanish–loner-type who still was expected to be the face of the franchise as well as the player the other players inherently were going to be inclined to glance at when looking for leadership  The only leadership Ichiro apparently could bring himself to provide was the jackass routine he would put on every year for his all-star teammates.  But, in the end, Seattle got EXACTLY what it deserved, as Seattle is SOLELY responsible for the fact the Mariners had to go halfway around the world to find someone willing to own the team and keep it in Seattle.  ”Baseball Club of Seattle.”  That term was, and still is, one of the biggest jokes in baseball.  

  • Michael Kaiser

    The Yankees are the type of club Ichiro should have been on since day one.  One can only wonder what the last decade for the Mariners could have been–and of course when you are talking about the Mariners one is talking about a HUGE if– without a fairly weird, non-English speaking–to a greater or lesser extent, and we also are not talking Spanish–loner-type who still was expected to be the face of the franchise as well as the player the other players inherently were going to be inclined to glance at when looking for leadership  The only leadership Ichiro apparently could bring himself to provide was the jackass routine he would put on every year for his all-star teammates.  But, in the end, Seattle got EXACTLY what it deserved, as Seattle is SOLELY responsible for the fact the Mariners had to go halfway around the world to find someone willing to own the team and keep it in Seattle.  ”Baseball Club of Seattle.”  That term was, and still is, one of the biggest jokes in baseball.  

  • Jamo57

    “…the Mariners were trying to get him to sign an extension. Club president Chuck Armstrong reported Monday the most recent effort was in June.”

    Art, I’m not sure which aspect of this quote is more concerning.   The fact that the Ms were trying to sign Ichiro to an extension, or the fact that Armstrong admitted as much.  

    No additional evidence needed to demonstrate the M’s senior management are clueless.  

    Clueless.

  • Jamo57

    “…the Mariners were trying to get him to sign an extension. Club president Chuck Armstrong reported Monday the most recent effort was in June.”

    Art, I’m not sure which aspect of this quote is more concerning.   The fact that the Ms were trying to sign Ichiro to an extension, or the fact that Armstrong admitted as much.  

    No additional evidence needed to demonstrate the M’s senior management are clueless.  

    Clueless.

    Edit: PS, there is a photo circulating on Twitter showing Pete von Reichbauer sitting in the front row behind homeplate tonight at the game. Given the controversial and emotionally charged issue of the SoDo arena before the County Council, how should we view this Art?

    Politics as usual? Faux pas? Influence peddling? Or simply typical Mariners hubris?

  • jafabian

    Ichiro did not fit with this team and wasn’t welcome.  He said as much.  He probably would have rather have ended his career here but management never built on what the 2001 team set.  When players like Edgar, Boone, Buhner, Wilson and Olerud left they were replaced by Sexson, Aurilla, Spiezo, Figgins and Kotchman.  Don’t even get me started on Adrian Beltre who found the fountain of youth when he left.  And I imagine Ichiro got frustrated when he sees how well Raul Ibanez, Adam Jones, Shin Soo Choo and Asdrubal Cabera have played for their respective teams.  Think of the protection they could give him in the lineup today.

    It could be argued that Ichiro is getting old, but I look at Rickey Henderson’s career who was still productive in his later years.  The difference is he played for teams that gave him solid protection in the lineup as well as pitching staffs that kept their teams in contention.  Hmm…didn’t he play for the M’s?

    I hope he does well for the rest of the season.  He deserves a ring.  Wish the M’s got more for him but I guess they more wanted to trade him moreso than anything else.

  • jafabian

    Ichiro did not fit with this team and wasn’t welcome.  He said as much.  He probably would have rather have ended his career here but management never built on what the 2001 team set.  When players like Edgar, Boone, Buhner, Wilson and Olerud left they were replaced by Sexson, Aurilla, Spiezo, Figgins and Kotchman.  Don’t even get me started on Adrian Beltre who found the fountain of youth when he left.  And I imagine Ichiro got frustrated when he sees how well Raul Ibanez, Adam Jones, Shin Soo Choo and Asdrubal Cabera have played for their respective teams.  Think of the protection they could give him in the lineup today.

    It could be argued that Ichiro is getting old, but I look at Rickey Henderson’s career who was still productive in his later years.  The difference is he played for teams that gave him solid protection in the lineup as well as pitching staffs that kept their teams in contention.  Hmm…didn’t he play for the M’s?

    I hope he does well for the rest of the season.  He deserves a ring.  Wish the M’s got more for him but I guess they more wanted to trade him moreso than anything else.

  • jimc

    yep. this is a win-win-win scenario. Good luck and godspeed, Mr. Suzuki.

  • jimc

    yep. this is a win-win-win scenario. Good luck and godspeed, Mr. Suzuki.

  • RadioGuy

    Nice piece, Art.  Both teams come out ahead in this one:  The Yankees get a veteran OF who can give them some hits, stolen bases and decent defense, while the Mariners clear $17 million off the payroll while their young OFs get more ABs to prove whether or not they belong in MLB next year.  As jimc says, it’s a win-win.

    Good luck to Ichiro in NY.  I’ve never rooted for the Yankees (I don’t hate ‘em…I just don’t LIKE ‘em), but I won’t root against them this year if it means Ichiro wins a pennant and plays in a World Series.  This is a guy who absolutely should go to Cooperstown and his plaque will certainly depict him wearing an M’s cap.  Can anyone say they’re sure of the same with Griffey, Johnson or A-Rod?

  • RadioGuy

    Nice piece, Art.  Both teams come out ahead in this one:  The Yankees get a veteran OF who can give them some hits, stolen bases and decent defense, while the Mariners clear $17 million off the payroll while their young OFs get more ABs to prove whether or not they belong in MLB next year.  As jimc says, it’s a win-win.

    Good luck to Ichiro in NY.  I’ve never rooted for the Yankees (I don’t hate ‘em…I just don’t LIKE ‘em), but I won’t root against them this year if it means Ichiro wins a pennant and plays in a World Series.  This is a guy who absolutely should go to Cooperstown and his plaque will certainly depict him wearing an M’s cap.  Can anyone say they’re sure of the same with Griffey, Johnson or A-Rod?

  • Matt712

    These gun-for hire days of free-agency, contract re-negotiations, hold-outs, unbelievable salaries, escape clauses, endorsement deals, etc., I’ve become cynical (or maybe just pragmatic) enough to accept that player loyalty in pro sports is mostly just another commodity to be bought and sold. But this event is a stark reminder of the flip-side of that coin. What happens to a superstar when surrounded by mediocrity year after year, especially when his career arch started at such a high point?

    I sometimes wondered, had Ichiro not worn that elbow pad on his right arm and been hit by a hard slider, if wires and circuits would then appear beneath the broken skin instead of flesh and blood. Yet, as methodically professional as both his game and demeanor have always been, not even he was immune to the malaise that has befallen this franchise. I’d go so far to say it was sucking what’s left of his life out of him at an accelerated rate.

    I would bet that Ichiro’s performance will improve substantially now…. and not merely the temporary invigorating effect of a trade, and not simply because he is now an ex-Mariner (although that fact alone should automatically add about 30 points to his batting average), but because he is now surrounded by better players. And every good athlete innately knows, you don’t just compete against your opponents.

    Now, when do I get my Ichiro Bobblehead with a Yankeee cap?

     

    • jimc

      I have to say, I really hope so. I want Ichiro in this league for another 3-4 years, and collecting 3000 at least. I think he might eventually land with the A’s, though (just a weird feeling), so the M’s will see plenty of him yet.

  • Matt712

    These gun-for hire days of free-agency, contract re-negotiations, hold-outs, unbelievable salaries, escape clauses, endorsement deals, etc., I’ve become cynical (or maybe just pragmatic) enough to accept that player loyalty in pro sports is mostly just another commodity to be bought and sold. But this event is a stark reminder of the flip-side of that coin. What happens to a superstar when surrounded by mediocrity year after year, especially when his career arch started at such a high point?

    I sometimes wondered, had Ichiro not worn that elbow pad on his right arm and been hit by a hard slider, if wires and circuits would then appear beneath the broken skin instead of flesh and blood. Yet, as methodically professional as both his game and demeanor have always been, not even he was immune to the malaise that has befallen this franchise. I’d go so far to say it was sucking what’s left of his life out of him at an accelerated rate.

    I would bet that Ichiro’s performance will improve substantially now…. and not merely the temporary invigorating effect of a trade, and not simply because he is now an ex-Mariner (although that fact alone should automatically add about 30 points to his batting average), but because he is now surrounded by better players. And every good athlete innately knows, you don’t just compete against your opponents.

    Now, when do I get my Ichiro Bobblehead with a Yankeee cap?

     

    • jimc

      I have to say, I really hope so. I want Ichiro in this league for another 3-4 years, and collecting 3000 at least. I think he might eventually land with the A’s, though (just a weird feeling), so the M’s will see plenty of him yet.

  • Pingback: Acknowledging Ichiro’s Greatness | U.S.S. Mariner

  • Art Pthiel, PLU Prof. Emeritus

    eport abuse
    Anyone believe anything out of Lincoln or Armstrong’s lyin’ & self-serving pieholes? I don’t, since they sponsored County Councilman Pete van Reichbauer to a comped, cushy front row Diamond Seat last nite. Any wonder why Diamond van Pete is so vociferously anti-new arena?  But, I digress.And as far as our beloved but oh so Garbo-ish Ichiro? He certainly had many great years with our even more beloved, and hapless, BobbleM’s, but like all great athletes approaching 39, clearly his best years are behind him (particularly at $17M/ per annum LARGE). Can’t really figure out how so many Commenters and sheeples on this thread say that Ichi went out with his usual amount of Japanese klass (sic), however. He STILL needs a Japanese interpreter after 12 years with the club? He thanked so many Nintendo of America execs at yesterday’s goofy and emotionless presser, along with MIA and disinterested foreign majority owner H. Yamauchi, that I though Ichi would have done better just prostrating himself on the dais and committing sepuku in their esteemed zenophobic honor. And what’s with his one honest statement at the presser at how he is now going from a MLB klub with the most losses, to one with the most wins, and he IS EXTREMELY THRILLED ABOUT THAT? It’s always about YOU, isn’t it, Ichiro?  Still ain’t no I in ‘team’, lil’ one, nor ‘Area 51′.Japanese and team-oriented CLASS, my big bad Native American patoote! Peace out, Bobbleheaders. Same pile, different foot with this hapless organization. WE NEED NEW AND COMMITTED AND WEALTHY LOCAL OWNERS!!  And Ichiro?  Can’t wait to see how you react to being just one of the boyz back in the Bronx.  You were King of Japanese Terd Mountain in our little provincial burg of mediocrity, but back with the Bombers……they’ve got more TRUE superstars, and ones with HEART, than you and all your quirky lil’ anal affectations can muster.BONZAI, Comrades! — Viva la Raza!!

  • Art Pthiel, PLU Prof. Emeritus

    eport abuse
    Anyone believe anything out of Lincoln or Armstrong’s lyin’ & self-serving pieholes? I don’t, since they sponsored County Councilman Pete van Reichbauer to a comped, cushy front row Diamond Seat last nite. Any wonder why Diamond van Pete is so vociferously anti-new arena?  But, I digress.And as far as our beloved but oh so Garbo-ish Ichiro? He certainly had many great years with our even more beloved, and hapless, BobbleM’s, but like all great athletes approaching 39, clearly his best years are behind him (particularly at $17M/ per annum LARGE). Can’t really figure out how so many Commenters and sheeples on this thread say that Ichi went out with his usual amount of Japanese klass (sic), however. He STILL needs a Japanese interpreter after 12 years with the club? He thanked so many Nintendo of America execs at yesterday’s goofy and emotionless presser, along with MIA and disinterested foreign majority owner H. Yamauchi, that I though Ichi would have done better just prostrating himself on the dais and committing sepuku in their esteemed zenophobic honor. And what’s with his one honest statement at the presser at how he is now going from a MLB klub with the most losses, to one with the most wins, and he IS EXTREMELY THRILLED ABOUT THAT? It’s always about YOU, isn’t it, Ichiro?  Still ain’t no I in ‘team’, lil’ one, nor ‘Area 51′.Japanese and team-oriented CLASS, my big bad Native American patoote! Peace out, Bobbleheaders. Same pile, different foot with this hapless organization. WE NEED NEW AND COMMITTED AND WEALTHY LOCAL OWNERS!!  And Ichiro?  Can’t wait to see how you react to being just one of the boyz back in the Bronx.  You were King of Japanese Terd Mountain in our little provincial burg of mediocrity, but back with the Bombers……they’ve got more TRUE superstars, and ones with HEART, than you and all your quirky lil’ anal affectations can muster.BONZAI, Comrades! — Viva la Raza!!

  • Michael Kaiser

    SPNW likes to refer to the Mariners career history as “mediocre.”  The Mariners career record sits around .450, clearly to the low side, especially given the amount of games at issue, of “mediocre,” and stating that it is to the “low side” of mediocre is clearly, at least, arguably too generous.  Much closer to .400 and it would not even be a debate.  

  • Michael Kaiser

    SPNW likes to refer to the Mariners career history as “mediocre.”  The Mariners career record sits around .450, clearly to the low side, especially given the amount of games at issue, of “mediocre,” and stating that it is to the “low side” of mediocre is clearly, at least, arguably too generous.  Much closer to .400 and it would not even be a debate.  

  • S45d14

    Great piece, Art. Really. Hard to imagine a point of view more versed and thoughtful. I have to agree with Jamo57: it’s hard to imagine a universe where the Howard and Chuck Show could display more incompetence than they’ve already consistently delivered, but, there you have it.  The fact that they wanted to resign Ichiro, that Chuck thinks it was good enough idea that he’d talk about it…is it possible to hang around a ballpark day after day and not gain some baseball sense by osmosis alone? This great idea would have been brought to us by the same authentic idiot who ruined a season, a manger and the reputation of one of the greatest ever by the last great hanger-on idea of bringing Griff back one more time. You’d think, wouldn’t ya, that even the most dense of us all would have learned from that– although anybody with baseball sense, or baseball ears, or the regular standard 6 gauge amount of hubris would have just known better instinctively. 
    They not only are incompetent, they are apparently far into their dotage that they cannot learn and will not listen. 
    I wish Ichi the best. I wish Howard and Chuck would go away to someplace farther from here than New York.

  • S45d14

    Great piece, Art. Really. Hard to imagine a point of view more versed and thoughtful. I have to agree with Jamo57: it’s hard to imagine a universe where the Howard and Chuck Show could display more incompetence than they’ve already consistently delivered, but, there you have it.  The fact that they wanted to resign Ichiro, that Chuck thinks it was good enough idea that he’d talk about it…is it possible to hang around a ballpark day after day and not gain some baseball sense by osmosis alone? This great idea would have been brought to us by the same authentic idiot who ruined a season, a manger and the reputation of one of the greatest ever by the last great hanger-on idea of bringing Griff back one more time. You’d think, wouldn’t ya, that even the most dense of us all would have learned from that– although anybody with baseball sense, or baseball ears, or the regular standard 6 gauge amount of hubris would have just known better instinctively. 
    They not only are incompetent, they are apparently far into their dotage that they cannot learn and will not listen. 
    I wish Ichi the best. I wish Howard and Chuck would go away to someplace farther from here than New York.