Ex-Mariners stars Ken Griffey Jr. and Ichiro will be part of the national baseball spotlight in July. A third ex-Mariner, also with gaudy career numbers, is pinch-hitting against lefties for the Yanks.
Reduced to designated hitter/pinch-hitter only against left-handed pitchers, Alex Rodriguez, 41 next month, was defiant this week in New York talking to reporters who follow the 39-39 New York Yankees.
“You haven’t heard the last of me,” said Rodriguez, which is certainly true. He makes $21 million this season as well as next season, all guaranteed. If the Yankees cut him, it will be the greatest sunk cost in sports since the collapse of the Donald Trump-led United States Football League. The New York media will certainly do what it can to keep the A-Rod debacle in the sports cross-hairs.
Rodriguez can’t play in the field anymore and can’t hit right-handed pitching. Over his past 95 games including last year, ESPN reported through Monday he was hitting .204 with 17 homers and 49 RBIs in 333 at-bats. One of those homers was a two-run shot off Hisashi Iwakuma in April that helped the Yankees beat the Mariners, 4-3.
Irksome as that may have been, and as delightful as A-Rod’s plight may be to the battalions of Seattle fans who bear him a 15-year grudge, it might be worth stifling a bit of the chortle.
Consider the fact that upon completion of his 10-year, $240 million contract with the Mariners, Robinson Cano will be 41. Perhaps by 2023, technology will have devised a solution to aging — don’t forget Russell Wilson’s Recovery Water is already a thing — and 41 will be the new 31.
The histories of Cano and Rodriguez with Seattle figure to be vastly different, but the Mariners, too, seem likely to be faced with what to do with a hugely expensive player who is more about a millstone than a milestone.
Whether Rodriguez survives the week or the season, his summer will be vastly different than that of two other ex-Mariners soaking up the national spotlight:
After two more hits Wednesday for Miami, Ichiro was batting .342, leaving him 12 hits shy. As the Marlins’ fourth outfielder, he hasn’t had enough at-bats to qualify for traditional selection, but MLB has ways to get him in, particularly if he is upon the threshold by the July 12 game in San Diego.
“He’s been fun to watch,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “He’s been kind of ageless. We shouldn’t really be talking about his age because he runs better than most, he throws and plays defense better than most. He’s been swinging the bat better than most. Everything about him has been way above average.”
His first season in Miami in 2015 looked A-Rodish, finishing with a .229 batting average and .561 OPS. But his revival at 42 is astonishing. After 10 All-Star selections in Seattle, to add an 11th five years later would have not only popular appeal, it might inspire the Mariners to fix their left field problem with him at the trade deadline.
We’ve already seen how going retro worked with Griffey. No need to re-test the strategy with Ichiro.
But it is fun for fans to appreciate two former Mariners stars going icon in the same month. Griffey received the most votes in the history of the hall, and Ichiro will become a baseball king of two nations.
For Ichiro to leave Japan and start his major league career at age 27 and hang around long enough to reach 3,000 is one of the great career accomplishments in all of sports, especially without using performance enhancers — unless MLB decides to put beef tongue, one of Ichiro’s favorite dishes, on the list of banned substances.
Fanatical about fitness and stretching, Ichiro has kept sufficiently in shape to suggest that he might have a decent chance to carry on for awhile, until the eye-hand coordination begins to fade, usually the principal culprit dooming major league hitters.
Griffey, who may have yet to lift his first weight-room weight, took a casual approach to fitness, which many think trimmed his production, which ended in 2010 at 40 after 22 seasons, many of them shortened with a variety of strains and pains.
As with Ichiro, Griffey never was tainted with baseball’a PED scandal. Rodriguez, of course, has been smothered by it.
Once Rodriguez retires, the passage of time will soften at least some of the criticism and let his numbers come through. But it’s doubtful he will be celebrated — for that and other reasons — as the nation in July will celebrate Griffey and Ichiro.
Seattle gets to bask in some reflected glory. A-Rod gets to sit in the shade.