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The Disappointment of Ichiro Friday, February 10, 2012

Posted by mrgenre in Mariners.
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Photo courtesy mlb.com

Let me preface this article by saying that I’m a fan of Ichiro.  I cannot wait to explain to my kids and grandkids someday that I got to see him countless times live at Safeco Field tugging that sleeve before he got set in the batter’s box.  I’ll never forget a spider-man catch he made a few years ago at a game I was lucky enough to attend, and I’ll always tell the story of his walk-off homer against Mariano Rivera back in 2009.  He’s a hero, as far as I’m concerned.

But let’s face facts: he may have worn out his welcome in Seattle.  Local media has been buzzing with the news that he probably won’t hit lead-off this season.  The phrase “once we get Ichiro’s salary off the books” seems a foregone conclusion when discussing possibilities in 2013.  And all because he hit .272 last year with only 184 base hits.

I understand that you don’t expect to pay 18 million bucks for a guy who hits singles, which is what’s fueling most of the argument for his outright release next season, but what about the consistency?  Aren’t you willing to pay premium for that?  At 184 hits, Ichiro ranked 9th in the American League last year. 9th.  But big money often means big bats, and Ichiro’s shown few flashes of power (batting practice aside) in his 11 seasons.  He averages only 9 homeruns a year.

Reason #2 that people don’t want Ichiro on our team?  He’s selfish.

I hear again and again that former players tell the media (off the record) that he’s a selfish player who doesn’t get along well with the rest of the team.  I can buy that to an extent, but let’s remember that this is a man who lives his life in Japan.  His wife lives in Japan.  His friends and family live in… Japan.  That his quotes often lend themselves to awkward metaphors is largely an issue with how the Japanese language translates to English, but most people just write Ichiro off as odd, because of his “strange” interviews.  We’ve had other Japanese players that didn’t come off in this same manner, but few players in baseball see the same intense spotlight that Ichiro’s international fame brings.

So those are the two big reasons, and it’s hard to argue against either, which as an admitted Ichiro fan I’m loathe to admit, despite the truth in it.  But do you want to know why I’m actually disappointed in Ichiro?  Do you want to know the only legitimate reason to hate Ichiro in my book?

He’s not a leader.

Now, not every baseball player can be a leader.  For many, it’s downright impossible.  There are some players that prefer to lead by example.  They work hard day in and day out and hope that the team works hard solely because of the effort they’re putting in (See Raul Ibanez, Jack Wilson, etc.).  For those of us with lazy co-workers, it’s almost laughable that this would work in any profession, but it does seem to rub off from time to time.  Other players prefer to lead vocally, often pushing guys around, calling them out in front of the media, etc. (See Ozzie Guillen).  This seems to usually get lost in rookie hazing, but also seems to “work.”

Now a true all-around leader that is respected and admired is a truly rare thing.  And the reason I’m most disappointed in Ichiro, really the only reason, is that he has the ability, but  has never shown it in the United States.

He’s done it in Japan.  Twice he’s lead Japan to victories in the World Baseball Classic, even driving in the winning run in the bottom of the 10th in 2009.  After his second WBC victory, the Seattle Times wrote a great piece on his leadership skills and how they’ve failed to find home in Seattle.  Yet the excuses given there (cultural differences) no longer work for a player entering his 12th year of Major League play.  Ichiro made his professional baseball debut in 1992, exactly 20 years ago, and it’s about time he started acting like the veteran he is.

Photo courtesy mlb.com

So you can hate Ichiro because he “sucks” (despite his hall of fame career).  You can hate him because he’s getting old.  Or you can hate him because he’s “weird” and doesn’t play well with others, but I won’t.  I’ll just stick to hating him because it’s long past time he stood up and took control of this team.  That is the only thing that has ever disappointed me about Ichiro, and unless he makes the decision to stop playing, his career ain’t over yet.  Stand up and take charge, Ichiro.  Win us back.


But Seriously Folks: The All-Star Game Friday, July 1, 2011

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140 characters simply isn’t enough to contain my animosity for the All-Star game selection, which begins in earnest on Sunday.  Our votes have been cast, and the starting lineup will be announced then.  But at what cost?

Please note that if the All-Star game was truly the popularity contest it once was, I wouldn’t be complaining about any of this.  But in the words of Bud Selig himself, “it matters” now.  And home team advantage in the World Series is nothing to sneeze at.  In the 8 years since it’s “mattered,” the home team (5 of 8 times) has come out on top.

Where’s my beef? It has to do with modern stuffing of the ballot boxes.  This happens to a small degree in the National League, but the clear offenders have to be the persistent Yankees and Red Sox at the top of the ballot every year in the AL.  The winners have yet to be announced of course, but at last count, 7 of 9 starting positions for the American League were Red Sox or Yankees, with a potential of 8 of 9 a clear possiblity thanks to Jacoby Ellsbury knocking on the door for the final outfielder position.

The only non-YankSox player that clearly has a shot is the phenomenal Jose Bautista, but one has to wonder whether a sweep would be possible had he not found a recent penchant for the long ball and Carl Crawford’s supporters had pushed him higher in the voting.

In 1957, The Reds stuffed the ballot box and Commissioner Ford Frick had to step in and name a couple other players so they wouldn’t take over the AL roster.  Nobody big… just Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. And remember that this was back before the All-Star game “mattered.”

The way things have lined up recently, it’s time for Selig to get off his ass and take a stand. Clearly, this is nothing but a popularity contest, but there’s nothing wrong with that if it’s just an exhibition game.  Why we all have to deal with this nonsense because of Selig’s gaffe in 2002 is beyond me.  You want to continue this tradition?  Kill the home field advantage.  Lean on the amazingly popular home run derby, and let it be a straight out popularity contest.  Elect as many Yankees and Red Sox as you want, but don’t pretend that this game “matters.”

Milton Bradley Not Getting Hint Wednesday, May 11, 2011

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According to Mariners skipper Eric Wedge, Milton Bradley has taken to following the Mariners around the country.  He missed the first two games of the three game series in Baltimore, but is expected to arrive tomorrow morning to catch the finale.

Stranger still is Bradley’s choice of transportation, taking the time to “pimp out” an old VW bus to follow around the team around the country.

When asked via cell phone the reason for his bizarre behavior, Bradley simply responded that he thought it would be “a groovy thing to do.”

The former left fielder’s actions have already created a large following with dozens of Mariners fans imitating his actions in traveling the country to support their team.  While a name hasn’t been agreed upon to describe the phenomenon, it’s already sporting comparisons to the Dead Heads.  A movement hasn’t quite begun in earnest just yet, but a large group of fans were spotted selling Frappuccinos and Cloverdale “Mariner” hot dogs outside Camden yards this evening to finance a trip to Ohio to see the Mariners play the Indians this weekend.

Milton Bradley's New Transportation

Michael Saunders Blames Neverending Prank For Batting Woes Thursday, May 5, 2011

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Photo courtesy zimbio.com

On the outside, Eric Wedge seems like a typical, no-nonsense manager on which baseball tradition has been founded.  His discussions with the media are meager when frustrated and to the quick when trying to induce change in his lineup.  But unknown to many outside of the Mariners’ clubhouse is a kiddish prankster gone awry.  Unfortunately, Michael Saunders is more familiar with the latter portrait of the first-time Mariners skipper.

“It started with the nickname,” Saunders explained in an exclusive interview Wednesday night after a 5-2 loss to Texas where Saunders struggled 0 for 3 with 2 strikeouts.

While he wouldn’t reveal it, we found out from other players that “Colonel Saunders” was the unfortunate pseudonym to which the young outfielder eluded.

“But soon, I was greeted by buckets of chicken in front of my locker before every batting practice,” Saunders continued. “I would find mashed potatoes in my batting helmet.  My socks were being seasoned with 11 original herbs and spices.  I couldn’t even concentrate without smelling chicken somewhere.”

Hitting Coach Chris Chambliss noticed a change in Saunders’ demeanor not long after the season began.

“At first, I thought he was binging on his diet,” Chambliss told us.  “The kid was practically sweating fried chicken.  But eventually, he filled me in on the prank.  I think he could have fought past Wedge’s zany antics if it hadn’t gone to the next level.”

Saunders refused to elaborate, nearly breaking into tears at the question, but interviews with his teammates revealed a series of ongoing chicken-related abuses inside the clubhouse.  Live chickens were put in his hotel room on the road.  Boullion cubes were hidden in his water bottle.  During closed batting practice sessions, Wedge would throw buttered biscuits at Saunders’ head when he was trying to readjust his struggling swing.  And worst of all, Wedge wouldn’t even allow teammates to talk to Saunders after a while.

“A couple weeks ago, during that closed door meeting, Wedge issued an ultimatum declaring that none of us could talk to Saunders,” an anonymous teammate reported.  “Instead, we were only allowed to bawk at him like a chicken if he talked to us.  The guy was going nuts after the first day.  It’s too much for anyone to take.  I even heard he asked for a demotion to Tacoma the other day, but all Wedge would do is bawk at the poor guy.”

Wedge denied any knowledge of the situation when we confronted him this morning, but did treat us to a bucket of wings on our way out.  This reporter concludes that Saunders needs to stop making excuses and hit the frickin’ baseball.