As the postmortems on the Mariners season filter out of the national media, there are bound to be more like this one, which, after describing some of the team's problems, scapegoats Ichiro Suzuki as some kind of albatross hanging around the team's neck. The Mariners have many problems. Ichiro Suzuki is not one of them. Let's look at the allegations:
1. Ichiro is a "self-centered, numbers-driven player."
Ichiro admits he sets personal goals to motivate himself -- because, for the last five years, he hasn't had postseason contention to motivate him. After the 2005 season, Ichiro ripped the team for that very thing -- that he was tired of being motivated by personal goals rather than the playoffs. He said his teammates gave up on the year midway through the season. He questioned their preparation and commitment, specifically criticizing their failure to even warm up before the season finale. "We lost that game without spirit. What's worse, 35,000 fans came to see it, spending their money," he said.
That's a selfish player? Said former teammate Bobby Madritsch:
"If anybody were to call Ichiro a selfish person, I'd love for them to tell that to my face. What I see in Ichiro is beyond unselfish. He has one goal. Win. He was doing whatever he could to help the team out."
Said a Mariners scout: "Ichiro? Intense? He's the most intense player since Pete Rose or Ty Cobb."
2. Ichiro resisted the leadership of former manager Mike Hargrove.
Coming off his record 262-hit season in 2004, Ichiro was instructed by the newly hired Hargrove to take more pitches. That year, 2005, Ichiro looked at a career-high 79.8 percent of first pitches. Ichiro probably did "resist" Hargrove -- because he knew more about his own hitting than Hargrove did. And if he "resisted," he certainly didn't defy Hargove -- he set a career high in the very task Hargrove demanded.
3. Just-fired manager John McLaren was "yielding to Ichiro’s desire to play right field instead of center."
This is carefully worded sentence that insinuates McLaren gave in to Ichiro to make him happy. Does Ichiro "desire" to play right field? Yeah, highly likely. It's less running for him (especially this year given the state of the corner OF) and saves wear and tear on his legs -- it prolongs his career. Did he ask, demand or passively agressively seek to play right field? Well, there's no evidence for that, the accusation isn't sourced in the article, and McLaren said it was his idea and his alone. So, how does that amount to "yielding"?
4. Ichiro refuses to move runners at expense of his batting average.
An unsourced allegation that is difficult to refute with anything other than anecdotal information. But would you rather have your best hitter moving a runner over with a groundout or a base hit? His average with a runner on first is .316, less than his .331 career average and significantly less than his .371 average with a runner on second. That doesn't necessarily prove anything, but maybe he does indeed sacrifice his average to move the runner over.
5. Ichiro refuses to steal bases at the possible risk of his success rate.
Which is better: 60 stolen bases at a 50-percent rate or 40 stolen bases at an 80-percent rate? There's no point in running just to run. Ichiro knows this, which is why he attempts more steals per times on base in "high leverage" situations than "medium" or "low" leverage situations -- 23.1 percent to 18.1 and 9.8, respectively.
6. Ichiro refuses to dive for balls in the gaps.
As Ichiro has said many times, he can dive for balls and run into walls, but making one out isn't usually more important than staying healthy for a full season. When it is more important, he makes the catch. Case in point, a few weeks ago when he knocked himself woozy running full steam into the center field wall making a catch few other outfielders in baseball would have made. Does Ichiro get to enough balls? In the last two years, no outfielder has made more outs than Ichiro. The closest to Ichiro's 622 is Aaron Rowand at 581. Ichiro is getting to more than his share of fly balls.
What I'm getting at here is, doesn't Ichiro do enough? The guy bangs out 200-plus hits every year, steals 30-plus bags, plays Gold Glove defense, owns a team record for consecutive games played, what else do you want?