Goodbye Ichiro

In case you somehow missed it, Ichiro was traded to the Yankees today.  In a kind of sad, kind of cool twist, the Yankees are in town, so Ichiro was still in right field at Safeco tonight, but he was wearing pinstripes instead of northwest green.

It’s long been said that the only way Ichiro would be traded is if he requested it, and that proved to be the case.  Several weeks ago, Ichiro approached management and asked them to consider trading him.  He said he realized that the club was getting younger and he is getting older, and that he didn’t feel he has a place on the club for next year.  While he didn’t specifically mention it that I noticed, I’m sure that he also wants to play for a winner in the twilight years of his career.

It’s hard to know how to feel about this.  One of the characteristics that distinguishes humans from other animals is the ability to hold competing ideas simultaneously, and I think that is necessary here.  Ichiro leaving is sad, but it’s not necessarily anything to get mad about.

Ichiro has been my favorite Mariner pretty much since he got here.  He was just so cool and so stylish.  When he was going good he fit the city perfectly: a little aloof, metropolitan, did things his own way.  He modeled for a fashion spread in GQ and made legendary pregame speeches for the all-star game.

He was also the last tie to when the Mariners were good.  Anyone who was around in 2001 will never forget the way he took the league by storm.  He changed every game and was the talk of baseball.  He made the Mariners relevant and exciting.  I think at least part of the sadness of Ichiro leaving comes from the loss of what little identity the Mariners had left.  As long as they had Ichiro, they had something.  Now they’ve lost even that, and there’s no guarantee anyone will fill that hole anytime soon.

There are a few what I would call misconceptions I’ve seen floating around.  The first is that this is a trade made to help the Mariners.  I guess in a way it is, and I’ll talk about that in a minute.  This trade didn’t bring in great prospects or anything, though.  They got two pitching prospects who might someday be major league middle relievers.  That leads to the second misconception.  Trading Ichiro, even for a weak return, is not a failure by the Mariners management.  The only reason he was traded was because he requested it, and he had no trade value due to his play and contract.  This is completely a move made to take care of and reward Ichiro, and for that the Mariners deserve credit, even if it sucks to see him in a different uniform.  In most ways, this trade wasn’t about baseball, and that’s okay.

Bringing Ichiro back next year would have been a mistake.  It was simply time to move on.  No one expected him moving on would happen in this fashion, but it does prevent a potential headache this offseason if Ichiro had wanted to come back.  I was one of those who always thought he’d find a way to play well into his 40s, so his sudden decline is surprising and disappointing.  It’s time for the Mariners to build a winning team, and there was really no way Ichiro could have been part of it.

We’ll all miss you, Ichiro.  Even the last two years, you still had those moments where you did something amazing and brought us to our feet.  Thank you for so many great memories and for making the last ten years of Mariners baseball slightly less painful.  I wish you could have seen the playoffs in Seattle this season, but I’m happy for you that you’ll at least see them in New York.  You will always be a Seattle legend.

-Matthew

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