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The Disappointment of Ichiro Friday, February 10, 2012

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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.

Lowe Nominated for “Hutch” Award Saturday, October 10, 2009

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Photo Courtesy of AP: Chris Carlson

Photo Courtesy of AP: Chris Carlson

The winner won’t be announced until January, but there is yet another Mariner nominated for the award named in honor of former ballplayer Fred Hutchinson.  For those locals who follow this blog, you’re probably familiar with their radio ads and the hard work this local Cancer Research Center provides to the city of Seattle.  The award doesn’t traditionally go to someone connected locally, but did go to Tacoma native Jon Lester last year and Jamie Moyer in 2003.  Last year, Griffey and Raul were also on the 10-person list of nominations for their tireless community efforts.

If you’re curious about Lowe’s community work as well as the personal difficulties he’s overcome to succeed again at the major league level, be sure to check out Shannon Drayer’s blog on the subject.

The full list of recipients since 1965 (littered with All-Stars) is also available, and the list of this year’s nominees is here.

At only 26, this is quite an achievement.  Best of luck to Lowe!

Griffey’s Triumphant Return Friday, February 20, 2009

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Griffey’s been all over the local news lately and only the national media seems to be spinning it negatively.  Still, even surrounded by such excitement, I feel compelled to write in response to those accusations that this is nothing but a publicity stunt.  So you can thank Keith Law for this post.

Is Griffey the same player he was in the late 90’s?  Of course not!  But for other sportswriters to portray Seattle fans as a bunch of bumpkins blindly buying tickets and assuming he’s the savior of Seattle sports is ridiculous.  Does he put butts in the seats?  Yes.  But this is about more than nostalgia: it’s about community.

Harold Reynolds’ and Willie Mays’ role in this story has been mentioned again and again, and the two-day decision that caused both Seattle and Atlanta fans to nearly pass out in anticipation was all over the news.  But not a single sportswriter, blogger or man on the street (at least in my futile Google searches) has mentioned what is really exciting about this story.  It wasn’t about money.

Griffey was choosing between a city he loved (a city he already mistakenly passed on once) and his family.  No one faulted Griffey for taking less money to return to Cincy years ago, and no one would have faulted him for choosing Atlanta now.  That’s what’s astonishing about this story.  No one has reported that Mariners’ fans watch a different type of baseball: one filled with community involvement and love for the game itself.  All those Mariner greats of the past? Buhner, Edgar, Moyer, Davis, Wilson, Valle, Raul…  They were all huge community activists.  They all made permanent homes in the Northwest.  They truly loved this city for more than their contracts; for more than the game itself, and this week has shown that that tradition will continue.

Thanks, Kenny.  Welcome home.

Defending Richie Thursday, July 10, 2008

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We all knew it was coming, but the M’s officially cut ties with Richie Thursday morning, although snubbing him from the lineup Wednesday seemed to say it a day earlier. Now, I know there are M’s fans all over the place who have been praying for this day to come, but please tell me what’s worse here: paying over 7 million dollars for zero days of Richie Sexson for the remainder of the season, or giving him the chance to improve his game and guide some younger players on his way out for the same price?

And yes, I realize there are still many of you who would rather see him go, but his impact on the club the past three and some years has been substantial. Please, in your infinite wisdom, find me another player who can hit 30 some homers a year in Safeco Field, and I’ll stop typing right now… No?… No one?… Okay, yes, Barry could probably do it if he could still run around the bases (I kid, I kid), and there are a few guys out there with that kind of raw power, but few with the same team-first attitude of Richie Sexson.

Now I realize his power has been lacking, and nobody wants a .220 hitter with only a handful of dingers batting near the middle of the order, but wait… let’s take a close look at his replacements, shall we? Bryan LaHair? Nope… he needs more seasoning, the M’s say. Instead, let’s go with a platoon in Miguel Cairo and Jose Vidro. “Wait a sec” many of you say… Vidro’s still on the team? Yes, my fellow fans, our .214 hitting designated hitter (yes, that’s all he does all day long) will be taking over at first with the perennial “former great” Miguel Cairo (.222) by his side. How exactly is this a replacement? How is this a step up? And what’s Pelekoudas’ and Riggleman’s reasoning here? Check it out in another Jim Street gem.

Riggleman said it was because Wednesday’s lineup change was going to be a regular thing (i.e. pity). I’m going on the record today that there is NO WAY a Cairo/Vidro platoon is going to outperform even an admittedly struggling Big Richie. Now, you move Raul in from the outfield and give some emerging star a shot in the outfield… oh wait… we don’t have any emerging stars. We don’t even have enough quality AAA starting pitching to keep us from using a platoon bullpen starter twice in a row (3 times now with Bedard’s move to the DL today). Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of giving Willie some time in the field, and Tug Hulett was a pretty cool Joe when I got to see him play in Spokane a few years ago, but they’re no future all-stars.

And how badly was Richie doing? Okay, it was bad. But, in typical Mariner fashion, improvement came right before he was cut. In June, Richie hit .282. Yes!!! That high!!! (although you won’t find that in a Jim Street or USS Mariner article anytime soon). Granted, his July numbers were down again, but he at least found a little power and managed to put a couple into the seats for a change of pace.

All I’m saying is, he was a good guy, and he will be missed by many here in Seattle. He loved the game, and had a community spirit that is consistently echoed by the most beloved players in Mariners’ history. Did he struggle for a season and a half? Yes. But was he pulling down the team or did this roster move make any sense? No. It was another idiotic move and I’m still amazed Bavasi had nothing to do with it.

Kick out Vidro, if you’re going to drop anyone. He’s cheaper, he has little to do with leadership in the clubhouse and let’s not forget that he only has one job: to bat, and that hasn’t exactly been stellar.

It seems the M’s have lost a little of the spirit that made them such a great club. Winning? Highly overrated in this fan’s eyes…