There’s not much more to be said about Ichiro, so we’re going to play a little game, called the “If that athlete were a band which one would he be?” (I first heard about this game in a Bill Simmons ESPN.com column, but just made up the name, if you couldn’t tell.) After much thought:
Ichiro is Wilco.
The similarities are astounding. Both came from fabled beginnings: Ichiro’s time in Japan had gained him a near mythic quality, and Jeff Tweedy formed Wilco after splitting with Jay Farrar and breaking up Uncle Tupelo. Ichiro’s debut was much more explosive. He awakened the imagination of all of baseball while leading the Mariners to 116 wins and was both Rookie of the Year and MVP. Wilco’s debut, A. M., is considered by most the weakest effort of their career, but their next album, Being There, is an alt-country masterpiece, showing early signs of the old-time country sound, Beatles melodies, and bursts of surprising sonicality they would later perfect.
From that point on, both have been remarkably consistent. There have been some years and albums slightly better (2001 & 2004, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot) and worse (2003 & ’06?, maybe Wilco (the album)), but they both consistently perform on a level of which most others only dream. Both have a clear identity. Wilco is one of the best rock bands playing, capable of having both your dad and wife singing along while still headlining for the cool kids. Ichiro is one of the top two or three bat-men of the decade, capable of placing the ball where he wants and providing all-league defense to boot. But both are also surprisingly versatile. Wilco mixes Radiohead-worthy bursts of noise with old country melodies and might be the most talented and accomplished collection of musicians playing together; Ichiro’s BP power is legendary, and his quotes, appearances in GQ, and stories of All Star Game pep talks mark show a cool rarely seen in sports. Ichiro says he wants to play another ten years, and it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if he does, changing his game as his legs go and his bat slows a fraction, no different than Wilco rotating band members, different but still perfect.
More than anything, both Wilco and Ichiro have brought great joy to my life. I remember listening to Misunderstood in the car with Lisa before we were even dating, and singing California Stars beneath the sky during maybe the best concert I’ve ever seen. I once went a whole month listening to the live version of Ashes of American Flags every drive home from work; you will probably never convince me there are better guitar lines than Nels Cline’s in that song. No one who watched the 2001 season will forget the look on every shortstop’s face after Ichiro first beat their throw on an easy two-hopper. He came out of nowhere to change the game, and brought with him countless “Did you see that?” moments. As much as I loved Griffey and so many others, Ichiro’s my favorite: mysteriously cool, unlike anyone I’ve ever watched before.