BY Art Thiel 06:21PM 07/25/2012

Thiel: Awkwardness over, Mariners move ahead

The Mariners lost 5-2 Wednesday to the Yanks, but the bigger deal was shaking loose the complications of baseball life with a fading star and a befuddled ownership.

Ichiro delivers his final Safeco Field hit of the season, a fifth-inning single, in the Yankees' 5-2 win. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

From superstar to obstacle to curiosity to irrelevance, the arc of Ichiro Suzuki’s Seattle story is done.

The curiosity part ended on a perfect Seattle afternoon, when his abrupt, weird three-game stint as a Yankee in Safeco Field concluded in triumph, but was not triumphal. He batted leadoff, hit a fifth-inning single, did his right field duty and watched as the Yankees won, 5-2.

Much as it was in the last couple of seasons as a Mariner, he was part of it, yet apart from it.

Popular as he was, prodigious as were his feats, Ichiro barely connected with whatever sporting passions run through Seattle. Far as any of us with clubhouse access could tell, Ichiro’s best times were at All-Star Game workouts, where he could be the class clown, profane in three languages among peers. He often held Seattle at bay through the wall of a translator he didn’t need, and personal connections he didn’t seem to truly want.

Still, as a man of the world, he will fit well in a world city, for as long as his baseball time in New York lasts. He should have departed before now, but it was never as plain to him as it was to many baseball people, because his priorities have always been about individual consistency and honoring of commitments, not necessarily of being part of team deeds over which he had little influence.

“I was here 11 and a half years,” he said in the visiting clubhouse Wednesday. ” I didn’t show it, but I was really going through some emotions. These last few days were special.”

But those unidentified emotions may have been more about regret than joy. For every year after his spectacular debut in 2001, the Mariners have been on a downward cycle. He was circling the same drain as Ken Griffey Jr., unable to be with at least some teammates nearly as good as him.

Now he’s joining players more like him, mature veterans who embrace stature and who understand their roles as as outside contractors invited to be part of industry history, as opposed to the often false camaraderie of team ideology.

The eighth inning Wednesday was a small slice of the Yankee action: Thwarted for awhile, trailing 2-1, until ignition: A hit batter, two singles, then a three-run double by an obscure pinch-hitter, Jayson Nix. How many times has a similar script played out?

“I’ve been the opposite side (of the Yankees) late in the game many times,” he said.  “I’ve seen the pressure they put on. I was able to see it this time (from New York’s side).”

Whether at 38 he can contribute to it remains to be seen. He had three hits and a stolen base as a Yankee, but as it happened so often in Seattle, the contributions didn’t connect.

As for the Mariners, none of them will say it, because there’s no need for them to say it, but they’re mostly glad he’s moved on. Simply put, he was in their way. Manager Eric Wedge even hinted at it post-game.

“They’re gone,” he said, referring to the Yankees, Ichiro and the tumult of the trade that consumed the last three days of watching the icon in new duds. “Our focus is on the young guys getting better to win games like this. You can’t expect to hold down a team like this. It’s tough to keep a game like this to 2-1. You have to separate.”

Apart from the game outcome, separation is what the Yankees have always done. A look at Sunday’s lineups tells the tale in one stark way: the Yankees had only two starters under 30, catcher Russell Martin and second basemen Robinson Cano. Both are 29. The Mariners had one starter over 30, Munenori Kawasaki, who is 31 going on 18.

Here’s the lineup, in order: Derek Jeter, 38, Ichiro, 38, Robinson Cano, 29, Mark Teixeira, 32, Curtis Granderson, 31, Raul Ibanez, 40, Eric Chavez, 34, Andruw Jones, 35 Russell Martin 29. All players in their prime, or close enough to it that they can also win on experience and cool.

The Mariners are the polar opposite, youngsters groping for a way to stay in the show. One year ago Thursday, many of them were part of genuine sports anguish: A 4-1 loss to the Yankees that was the club’s 17th defeat in a row, a franchise club record that transcended even the expansion years in sustained pathos. That left them 15.5 games back of the Rangers at 43-60.

By record, they are about the same place, 43-58, and two touchdowns behind the Rangers. But this team has won six of 10 and has the pitching (presuming it is retained) to preclude a similar swoon. And they are better off without Ichiro taking up space as well as resources if the club followed through on its addled notion that he was worthy of a contract extension.

He was part of the club’s history, not its future. He no longer matters.

The Mariners’ future is hardly wrapped in rainbows, but the awkwardness of Ichiro’s continued presence is gone. They lost a series to the Yanks, but the Yanks gave the Mariners more than they got.


YourThoughts

  • 1coolguy

    Ichiro wouldn’t have had to move on if there was some hitting in the line-up.
    I predict his BA will increase 30+ points with the Yankees, as he is not the only hitter in their line-up.
    The M’s will always be doormats until Lincoln and Armstrong are gone, the 2 common thrreads throughout their miserable history.

    The only exception is when they got extremely LUCKY and hired Gillick, but true to form, didn’t offer him the moon to stay and he left. He then turned around the Phillies in what, 2 seasons?

    I’ll never buy another M’s ticket unit thiese 2 fools are gone.

    PS: Can you imagine leading a company that fails miserably in its’ business, sees revenues crater and customers go away, and you STILL HAVE A JOB???
    Insanity is what Einstein called it…………

    • S45d14

      Agreed. I’ll never buy an M’s ticket until these really foolish old codgers get out of town.
      We need a counter-marketing slogan. A slogan that sticks. Ideas? You know, something like ” C &H Ain’t Sweet –Boycott”only better.Ideas?

  • 1coolguy

    Ichiro wouldn’t have had to move on if there was some hitting in the line-up.
    I predict his BA will increase 30+ points with the Yankees, as he is not the only hitter in their line-up.
    The M’s will always be doormats until Lincoln and Armstrong are gone, the 2 common thrreads throughout their miserable history.

    The only exception is when they got extremely LUCKY and hired Gillick, but true to form, didn’t offer him the moon to stay and he left. He then turned around the Phillies in what, 2 seasons?

    I’ll never buy another M’s ticket unit thiese 2 fools are gone.

    PS: Can you imagine leading a company that fails miserably in its’ business, sees revenues crater and customers go away, and you STILL HAVE A JOB???
    Insanity is what Einstein called it…………

    • S45d14

      Agreed. I’ll never buy an M’s ticket until these really foolish old codgers get out of town.
      We need a counter-marketing slogan. A slogan that sticks. Ideas? You know, something like ” C &H Ain’t Sweet –Boycott”only better.Ideas?

  • Fairmontdave

    Ichiro trade win-win.  Since the M’s have made a few poor trades with Jack, (Fister for Wells, Furbush, (still may pan) and Smoak for Cliff Lee) and bad signings, (Chone Figgins anyone), I’ve reclassified Jack Z as average.  No longer a free ride.  Hey Jack Z, have you noticed the Oakland Athletics?  Billy Bean Busting Your Balls.  Why are we always looking up at the A’s, huh?  Sabermetrics?
    But I like Wedge.  We’ve hit the iceburg, we are taking in water, but Wedgy never stops shuffling those deck chairs, never. 
    Brandon League should’ve been pitching to Nix today in the 8th, not Kelley. 

    • Lodowick

      Yes, I agree with all comments. Z is on the hot seat this winter with that $17 mil is in hands, some of which may be offered to Felix, new face of the franchise, for a new deal. I don’t think the King will take it, referring to no doubt “test the market” after his contract is up and maybe play for a world series hopeful. My bet is some of Ichi’s appropriated salary amount will be lost if next year’s budget is less than this year’s (likely). Why pay more when you have a guy down by the Bay like Billy Beane proving you can do more for less? Maybe the M’s could make a film about their 17 game losing streak last year and see if Brad Pitt is up for a comic role.

  • Fairmontdave

    Ichiro trade win-win.  Since the M’s have made a few poor trades with Jack, (Fister for Wells, Furbush, (still may pan) and Smoak for Cliff Lee) and bad signings, (Chone Figgins anyone), I’ve reclassified Jack Z as average.  No longer a free ride.  Hey Jack Z, have you noticed the Oakland Athletics?  Billy Bean Busting Your Balls.  Why are we always looking up at the A’s, huh?  Sabermetrics?
    But I like Wedge.  We’ve hit the iceburg, we are taking in water, but Wedgy never stops shuffling those deck chairs, never. 
    Brandon League should’ve been pitching to Nix today in the 8th, not Kelley. 

    • Lodowick

      Yes, I agree with all comments. Z is on the hot seat this winter with that $17 mil is in hands, some of which may be offered to Felix, new face of the franchise, for a new deal. I don’t think the King will take it, referring to no doubt “test the market” after his contract is up and maybe play for a world series hopeful. My bet is some of Ichi’s appropriated salary amount will be lost if next year’s budget is less than this year’s (likely). Why pay more when you have a guy down by the Bay like Billy Beane proving you can do more for less? Maybe the M’s could make a film about their 17 game losing streak last year and see if Brad Pitt is up for a comic role.

  • jafabian

    Gotta wonder what Ichiro’s thoughts were about this game.  He got only one hit but his team scored five runs and won the game.  That wouldn’t have happened on the other side of the field.  He should be more relaxed and be able to play his game.  In theory, he could rediscover what’s been missing from his game the past couple years.  Of course, having the Yankee lineup behind him rather than what the M’s have been trotting out helps.  And Yankee Stadium is a wee bit more friendly to hit in than Safeco Field.  And I agree with Art that the Yankee clubhouse is much more suited to his personality.  The club took several steps backwards in Jack Z’s second year.

    Agreed that the luster is coming off Jack Z’s rep now.  I’ve said it before: as a GM so far he’s about as good as Dick Balderson.Hate to say it but I’ll probably be rooting for the Yankees to go all the way this season.  Just to see Ichiro and Raul get rings.

  • jafabian

    Gotta wonder what Ichiro’s thoughts were about this game.  He got only one hit but his team scored five runs and won the game.  That wouldn’t have happened on the other side of the field.  He should be more relaxed and be able to play his game.  In theory, he could rediscover what’s been missing from his game the past couple years.  Of course, having the Yankee lineup behind him rather than what the M’s have been trotting out helps.  And Yankee Stadium is a wee bit more friendly to hit in than Safeco Field.  And I agree with Art that the Yankee clubhouse is much more suited to his personality.  The club took several steps backwards in Jack Z’s second year.

    Agreed that the luster is coming off Jack Z’s rep now.  I’ve said it before: as a GM so far he’s about as good as Dick Balderson.Hate to say it but I’ll probably be rooting for the Yankees to go all the way this season.  Just to see Ichiro and Raul get rings.

  • effzee

    Ichiro had to tell the front office that it was the best plan to move him. They are probably going to try to re-sign him too, from what Chuckles said afterwards. *facepalm* I feel bad for Wedge and JZ. I imagine they have both come to hate their jobs by now. Mostly because they aren’t allowed to work without people who don’t have a clue trying to tell them what to do. Just as people east of Colorado think Ichiro isn’t done yet, they also think the Mariners GM and Managing jobs are some of the most desirable in baseball. Oh, how they are mistaken. Wedge and JZ seem like real, serious baseball guys to me. Right about now, they both have to be wondering what they got themselves into. Once they realize what being the M’s organization is really like, serious baseball people like Gillick, Lou, and Hargrove can’t wait to get as far from Howie and Chuckles as they can. I am getting to the point where I’m even willing to look back and give Bavasi the benefit of the doubt! I don’t think he had much control over the moves he made, and I think that a lot of the moves he was allowed to make were within parameters given by Howie and Chuckles. They are the destroyers of all things good.

  • effzee

    Ichiro had to tell the front office that it was the best plan to move him. They are probably going to try to re-sign him too, from what Chuckles said afterwards. *facepalm* I feel bad for Wedge and JZ. I imagine they have both come to hate their jobs by now. Mostly because they aren’t allowed to work without people who don’t have a clue trying to tell them what to do. Just as people east of Colorado think Ichiro isn’t done yet, they also think the Mariners GM and Managing jobs are some of the most desirable in baseball. Oh, how they are mistaken. Wedge and JZ seem like real, serious baseball guys to me. Right about now, they both have to be wondering what they got themselves into. Once they realize what being the M’s organization is really like, serious baseball people like Gillick, Lou, and Hargrove can’t wait to get as far from Howie and Chuckles as they can. I am getting to the point where I’m even willing to look back and give Bavasi the benefit of the doubt! I don’t think he had much control over the moves he made, and I think that a lot of the moves he was allowed to make were within parameters given by Howie and Chuckles. They are the destroyers of all things good.

  • notaboomer

    as a longtime fan of the game, i found ichiro interesting to watch. he has a very disciplined approach to the game and seems to be extremely fit unlike some players. i always hated how he used a translator for interviews and see from art’s column that it was just a filter so it comes of as a message that he does not really care to relate to the fans paying his salary. i also felt that ichiro was rather anti-clutch in the hitting department. even when he put up the amazing numbers, it seemed like he rarely go the big hit when the team needed it. but now the mariners are really just a dressed up triple a team and they ain’t going nowhere soon. 

  • notaboomer

    as a longtime fan of the game, i found ichiro interesting to watch. he has a very disciplined approach to the game and seems to be extremely fit unlike some players. i always hated how he used a translator for interviews and see from art’s column that it was just a filter so it comes of as a message that he does not really care to relate to the fans paying his salary. i also felt that ichiro was rather anti-clutch in the hitting department. even when he put up the amazing numbers, it seemed like he rarely go the big hit when the team needed it. but now the mariners are really just a dressed up triple a team and they ain’t going nowhere soon. 

  • Bayviewherb

    Couldn’t have said it better. I truly brelieve though that Ichiro knew he was holding the mariners down and wanted out of pride to get out of the way.A world series right would not be objectionable either. I think he will retire after this year.

  • Bayviewherb

    Couldn’t have said it better. I truly brelieve though that Ichiro knew he was holding the mariners down and wanted out of pride to get out of the way.A world series right would not be objectionable either. I think he will retire after this year.

  • Plat and Dino

    If not new ownership, could we please have new leadership at the helm?   Comparing the M’s to say the Marlins, a team that plays in a market where they still have trouble drawing fans to a brand new stadium, the M’s management is paralyzed most of the time.   The Marlins made a bunch of moves last winter, and now have realized that they aren’t working, so now they are making changes and blowing up the roster.   That would never happen here.   Instead we would hang on to the mistakes, keep running them out there or sitting them on the bench until the contracts expire.  Howard Lincoln runs this team like it’s a Nintendo game console well past it’s prime, where you push crappy games out the door, then sit back and collect the profits.  No need to make changes or improvements as long as people keep buying it and laying down money for the shovelware games, or bobble heads as the case is with the M’s.    This market is different than Miami or Tampa Bay, fans will come out and support a winner, I just wish we had ownership and management that were up to the task.   

  • Plat and Dino

    If not new ownership, could we please have new leadership at the helm?   Comparing the M’s to say the Marlins, a team that plays in a market where they still have trouble drawing fans to a brand new stadium, the M’s management is paralyzed most of the time.   The Marlins made a bunch of moves last winter, and now have realized that they aren’t working, so now they are making changes and blowing up the roster.   That would never happen here.   Instead we would hang on to the mistakes, keep running them out there or sitting them on the bench until the contracts expire.  Howard Lincoln runs this team like it’s a Nintendo game console well past it’s prime, where you push crappy games out the door, then sit back and collect the profits.  No need to make changes or improvements as long as people keep buying it and laying down money for the shovelware games, or bobble heads as the case is with the M’s.    This market is different than Miami or Tampa Bay, fans will come out and support a winner, I just wish we had ownership and management that were up to the task.   

  • Michael Kaiser

    Before people get too caught up in the Mariners’ youth movement, they should compare the Mariners’ “youth” with Kansas City’s.  Kansas City’s has been celebrated for years now, perhaps over celebrated, it is hard to tell yet, but, to the best of my knowledge, no one around the country is really singing the praises of the Mariners’ youth overall.  A bit disconcerting because Seattle continues to be sold a bill of goods stating that the future is right around the corner.  If indeed these youth are not that good, and I could not help thinking that last night at the Royal’s game, what do we have next.  More decades of “Mariners’ baseball?” 

  • Michael Kaiser

    Before people get too caught up in the Mariners’ youth movement, they should compare the Mariners’ “youth” with Kansas City’s.  Kansas City’s has been celebrated for years now, perhaps over celebrated, it is hard to tell yet, but, to the best of my knowledge, no one around the country is really singing the praises of the Mariners’ youth overall.  A bit disconcerting because Seattle continues to be sold a bill of goods stating that the future is right around the corner.  If indeed these youth are not that good, and I could not help thinking that last night at the Royal’s game, what do we have next.  More decades of “Mariners’ baseball?”