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Goodbye To Ichiro, The Man They Called Something


Probability is a funny thing. Once you understand it, you appreciate that it exists almost everywhere. So few things are actually certain. So few things have a zero-percent chance of happening, and so few things have a one-hundred-percent chance of happening. Almost everything is chance, and as long as you're aware of that, it can help you deal with unlikely events in a more sensible, objective way than you might otherwise. It's all just math, and math is cold.

I always figured there was a zero-percent chance I'd end up writing about the Seattle Mariners trading Ichiro Suzuki. Of course, now that I've heard the explanation, it makes perfect sense - Ichiro recognized the situation around him, he wanted to play with someone successful, and the Mariners didn't want to stand in his way. Given the circumstances, this was the right move. Ichiro's going to the playoffs. The Mariners can dedicate themselves more fully to rebuilding. The Mariners' fans can get three days to show Ichiro their appreciation for everything he's done. Much like with Ray Bourque going from the Bruins to the Avalanche, this is difficult to accept and difficult to process, but it's something that makes sense and something that makes things easier. The Mariners have gained clarity at the expense of having Ichiro be another Tony Gwynn.

Yet I still never thought it would come to this, not even for one second. Certainly not while Ichiro was good, and certainly not while Ichiro was struggling. I was convinced that the bonds between him and the Mariners were nigh unbreakable, and that the only way this story could and would end was with retirement. A part of me was beginning to prepare for Ichiro to announce his intent to retire, just because, but this - this was never considered. I've written a lot of posts about the Mariners, and I've thought about writing a lot more, but this post subject never so much as crossed my mind until this afternoon. I didn't even let it, because what would've been the purpose? The Mariners would never trade Ichiro. There wasn't even a conversation to be had.

Here we are, and the Mariners have traded one of the more polarizing players in franchise history to perhaps the most hated franchise in baseball history. The Yankees are the team that eliminated the Mariners the one time Ichiro has ever been to the playoffs. That was when he was a rookie, in 2001. Ichiro's going to go back to the playoffs now in 2012, barring some unlikely collapse, and this has been a long time coming. Longer than Ichiro deserved, and he will have had to put on a new uniform to get there.

Everybody was aware of the situation the Mariners were going to face with Ichiro at the end of the year, and I think everybody, on some level, was afraid of it. It would've been "clean" for Ichiro to retire so that the Mariners could give him a proper send-off, but we have no reason to believe that Ichiro intends to walk away. We have no reason to believe we know anything about what Ichiro thinks. The night before the USSM/LL blog event at Safeco, a group of us was predicting the terms of the contract to which Ichiro would be re-signed. They were all ... I don't even know the word. Gross. Two years. Three years. Several millions of dollars. It was going to be something unwise and unpopular.

This trade might easily have been the best thing. I don't know if the timing was deliberate, but that's perfect too. Now Mariners fans know they have three days to get to Safeco and see Ichiro for themselves. He won't play in the stadium again in 2012, and maybe not again ever. It helps to have that predictability, that certainty, although again, I suppose it isn't certain. Technically this is a baseball trade, and Ichiro might help the Yankees down the stretch. He plays good defense and this season he's batted .297 on the road. He could feel rejuvenated. The Mariners got two pieces in D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar. Mitchell is rotation depth, and Farquhar could end up in a big-league bullpen. All three of these players could be of value.

But Ichiro's a 38-year-old with a .642 OPS, and Mitchell and Farquhar make up the kind of package you'd expect to go in return for that sort of player. This is a trade of a declining player for triple-A packing peanuts, and its power to bring you to your emotional knees has little to do with the on-field impact.

It's impossible to summarize the Ichiro Suzuki experience in a blog post written in one afternoon. Entire books could be written about what Ichiro has meant; entire books have been written, in fact, and they will continue to be. Remembering the Mariners with a successful Ichiro will stop you in your tracks. Remembering the Mariners before there was Ichiro will make you dizzy and sit down. We were all different ages and in different places in our lives in 2000, but for all of us that was 12 years ago. Ichiro's been one of them constants, the baseball player on TV while you lived a dozen years. We all grew accustomed to him, we all started taking him for granted, and only now might we begin to appreciate how much he was a part of our lives. Ichiro hasn't always been there, but he's been there long enough to stretch back into the years that all blend together.

I must've still been in high school when I went to dinner at my grandma's house in Rancho Bernardo in the early part of the last decade. My grandma was aware of sports, but she was hardly invested, and the substance of most of our conversations about sports had to do with something she'd read on the front page of the newspaper. At this one particular dinner, she surprised me by asking a question about Ichiro, and then by mimicking the way he comes set in the batter's box. The way he holds his bat in front of him, forearm extended.

Ichiro has been the player you could talk about with people who don't know anything about baseball. It's probably not safe to say that he put the Mariners on the map, but he's been one of the major factors keeping them from being erased. We knew that this was no longer Ichiro's team, and the Mariners have been at work for years engineering a face-of-the-franchise transition from Ichiro to Felix, but Ichiro was the guy everybody knew something about. He helped to make the Mariners more accessible, while being perhaps the least accessible athlete on the planet.

How you feel about all this of course depends in large part on how you feel and have felt about Ichiro, and God knows there are plenty of Mariners fans out there who've been waiting for this for the better part of a decade. A difference between Ichiro and Tony Gwynn is that Gwynn was universally beloved, while Ichiro's been a lightning rod from the very beginning. A lot of people never liked his slap-hitting style, a lot of people never liked his personality, a lot of people never liked the way he composed himself and thought about dives and stolen bases. A lot of people thought Ichiro was a supplemental player miscast as a superstar. A lot of people thought Ichiro was a joke as one of the highest-paid players on the team.

Those who have thought poorly about Ichiro will continue to think poorly about Ichiro, and nothing's ever going to change their minds. Certainly not now that Ichiro's career is winding down. Those of us on the other side have made our best arguments and they've either fallen into open ears or not. I pity those who've been senselessly critical, because they couldn't appreciate what Ichiro was. Ichiro was a superstar, Ichiro was a sensation, and Ichiro's the man responsible for probably half of the Mariners' best highlights since the departure of Alex Rodriguez. Nobody's ever done it the way Ichiro's done it, and we've been privileged to have him on our team and no other.

Personally, I'm pleased that, if Ichiro had to go, he wound up on the Yankees. The Yankees have as good a shot at the World Series as anybody, and Ichiro's never played in anything even close to that environment, on and off the field. I hope he gets his ring. He deserves a ring, if more for his career than for his season, and while the Yankees are by no means the most rootable bandwagon in the league, there's no other playoff contender that boasts an Ichiro. I think it's neat the the Orioles, the Pirates, and the A's are in playoff contention. It's fun to root for underdogs. I don't feel as strongly about rooting for underdogs as I feel about rooting for Ichiro. I always need a reason to root for somebody, and there's no reason better than this one.

There is so much left to say that I don't know if I'll ever find the words to say. For now I need to turn on the TV and watch Ichiro in Safeco make his Yankees debut. He's shaven, he's wearing number 31, and Joe Girardi says he'll be playing left field. He's not batting at the top of the lineup. Everything's different. I tweeted it earlier, but this is genuinely and honestly the weirdest I have ever felt as a fan of sports.

But we knew that the weird was coming in some form or another eventually. It's come today. Now begins the process. There's never been a thing like Ichiro, there'll never be another, and we were the lucky ones blessed. In so many ways, we haven't been blessed at all, but in this way and few others, we've been fortunate. Recognize how fortunate.