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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.

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