Written by Sean Meyers
The Seattle Mariners traded outfielder Ichiro Suzuki to the New York Yankees on Monday, ending an era in the Pacific Northwest. Ichiro has been a fixture in right field for the Mariners since 2001, when he debuted in America after a storied career in Japan. Suzuki, often identified simply as Ichiro, was one of the most heralded players in the history of Japanese baseball. His arrival was surrounded by unparalleled fanfare and media coverage, thus placing almost unreachable expectations on the Japanese import.
Amazingly, Ichiro surpassed all imaginable expectations, as he enjoyed one of the greatest rookie seasons in baseball history. Ichiro batted .350, stole 56 bases, captured the Rookie of the Year and MVP awards, and led his team to a record-setting 116 wins. Perhaps even more impressive, he became the new face of the franchise, replacing the recently departed Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr., and Alex Rodriguez. Similar to those predecessors, though, Ichiro could not help his team reach the World Series.
Within a couple of seasons, the Mariners slipped from elite team status, although Ichiro continued to perform at the highest level. In 2004, Ichiro broke one of baseball’s the most enduring records, as he collected 262 hits in a single season. Unfortunately, his sterling season did not result in team success, as the Mariners nearly lost 100 games. From this point on, it became evident that no matter how well Ichiro played, the M’s were not assembled to be a serious contender.
As the years of losing continued, Ichiro’s list of accolades continued to expand. Ichiro enjoyed an unprecedented decade-long run that included 10 seasons of 200 hits, 10 gold gloves, and 10 all-star selections. Meanwhile, the Mariners, if nothing else, had one of the most marketable players of in all of sports, a true international superstar. Fans that had no other reason to watch a Mariners game came out to Safeco Field to watch Ichiro play.
The 2011 season, however, provided evidence that Ichiro perhaps was no longer an elite player. Ichiro did not achieve his 200 hits, gold glove, or all-star appearance. 2012 thus far has proven even more of a struggle for Ichiro, as he batted just .261, over 60 points below his career average. So quickly he had fallen from a superstar status to an overpaid veteran who was taking away valuable playing time from younger, more deserving players.
Many, myself included, hoped that he would not be offered another contract by the Mariners after his current deal expired after this season. As much as he had done for the organization, the Mariners of 2013 and beyond don’t need Ichiro cemented into a spot in the lineup. They need young players like Casper Wells, Michael Saunders, and Carlos Peguero playing daily. Mariners fans did not want to see a repeat of what happened when Ken Griffey Jr stayed a season too long. Ichiro either retiring or returning to play in Japan for 2013 would be an ideal way for the Mariners organization to bid adieu.
Nobody really thought a trade was a likely scenario. Seattle certainly would not trade away the face its franchise for the past 12 years. The Mariners wouldn’t dare trade away Ichiro after suffering through the losses of Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey, and A-Rod. The Mariners had the unique chance in this new era of free-agency to be the only team for whom this first-ballot Hall of Famer played. Seattle would risk losing countless fans, including their huge fan base in Japan, if Ichiro went elsewhere. Casual baseball fans would much rather watch Ichiro, even at age 38 with his sub .300 OBP, than an unproven rookie. Lastly, Ichiro was the last remaining link to the glory days of Mariners baseball. All of the other faces from the successful teams in the late 90’s and early 2000’s had been long gone.
When the trade was announced, Mariners fans all across the world felt betrayed by their club. This reaction, of course, was more based on emotion than on statistics. The move will likely have a negligible affect on wins and losses for the Mariners. Sometimes, though, a batting average doesn’t tell the entire story for why fans cheer for a player. All of the Mariners fans who grew attached to Ichiro will be sad when somebody else patrols right field from now on. Those same fans should feel joy too, though. Not only joy for all that Ichiro provided for the Mariners over the years, but also for what the Mariners provided for Ichiro with this trade; a chance to finally capture a World Series.
Whatever Ichiro achieves with the Yankees or any other team he plays for in the future will not tarnish his legacy with the Mariners. Finally, for the first time in a decade, Ichiro knows his contributions on the field can directly lead to team success. If Ichiro does happen to win the World Series, Mariners fans should rejoice in the fact that one of the greatest figures in team history got the sendoff he truly deserves.