Ichiro Vies for a Ring — Why Couldn’t it Happen Here?

This article first appeared in the July 2012 of The Grand Salami.

Ichiro as a New York Yankee at Safeco Field

By Jon Wells

While it may be painful to watch our former superstar in pinstripes this October, Ichiro did Seattle fans a huge favor in asking for a trade. Even though the M’s are a rebuilding team, it’s clear that if Ichiro hadn’t asked for a trade, that the team’s upper management was going to do everything they could to try to sign Ichiro to another big multi-year contract. While the M’s were likely interested in retaining Ichiro primarily so they could reap the marketing benefits from his run to 3,000 hits, this team needs to be more about winning above all else. The money that would have been spent on Ichiro’s contract extension needs to be spent on players who are going to help the Mariners get back to contention, not on a player who’ll be 39 next year whose best days are well behind him.

Thanks to his relationship with the team’s majority owner in Japan, Hiroshi Yamauchi, Ichiro was the single most powerful player in franchise history (even more so than another future Hall of Famer, Ken Griffey Jr). Ichiro was responsible for the departure of one Mari­ners manager (Mike Hargrove, in 2007) and frustrated each and every manager he’s had—with the possible exception of Lou Piniella—since coming to Seattle in 2001. Each of those managers was on notice from above that while it was their job to make out the daily lineup card, that lineup had better include Ichiro’s name on it every single day or there’d be hell to pay. Similarly, each of those managers knew that Ichiro had better be in his familiar leadoff spot every day, at least until this year when Eric Wedge was able to convince Ichiro and upper management that Ichiro should begin the 2012 season batting in the number three spot. But when that didn’t work out and Ichiro struggled, Wedge wasn’t given the freedom to make the move that would have been best for the team, moving Ichiro to the bottom third of the batting order. While he never batted in a spot lower than third in his 11½ seasons in Seattle, Ichiro found himself in the eighth spot in the order in his first game with the Yankees.

When the trade was announced and it was revealed that Ichiro had asked to be traded to a contender, nearly everybody covering the team was stunned. Ichiro had put up with being a part of so many bad Mariner teams that most believed he was content to play his whole career in Seattle, even if it meant retiring without the opportunity to play in a World Series.
While the M’s have struggled mightily in recent seasons, my wish while Ichiro was here was that he would have used his power and influence on the team’s ownership to demand that the team use their vast resources to give him a chance at getting that World Series ring—in Seattle. Instead, his last few seasons here were spent toiling for teams that had little chance to compete for even a division title, let alone a World Series.

Finally, we learned after the trade with New York was consummated that Ichiro had to agree to several conditions before the deal was finalized; he had to agree to switch positions, from right field to left field; he had to agree to bat in the lower third of the Yankees order; and he had to agree that he wouldn’t play every day, that he’d be likely to sit against left-handed pitchers. Ichiro quickly agreed to all of the Yankees conditions.

While Ichiro seems to fit well as a complementary player in the veteran-laden New York lineup, it’s too bad it took a trade to the Evil Empire for him to finally become a team player.