Sports

SIDELINES: Ichiro is truly an enigma, but will still go down as a Seattle Mariners great

Seattle Mariners great Ichiro Suzuki was traded to the New York Yankees on Monday, and started for the Yankees in Safeco Field during their three-game series against Seattle.  - Courtesy photo
Seattle Mariners great Ichiro Suzuki was traded to the New York Yankees on Monday, and started for the Yankees in Safeco Field during their three-game series against Seattle.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

I know it doesn't seem like it in recent years, but the Seattle Mariners have had plenty of star power during their relatively short history.

But, one could argue, that Ichiro was the brightest of them all. Brighter than the other three "unsinkable" Mariners — Ken Griffey, Jr., Edgar Martinez and Randy Johnson.

Ichiro dominated Major League Baseball for essentially a decade. Right from the time he stepped into a Mariners' uniform during the magical 2001 season, he was the best leadoff hitter in baseball.

In his first 10 seasons, Ichiro racked up an amazing 2,244 hits, hit over .300 every year, stole 357 bases and won 10-straight Gold Gloves in right field. He also set the single-season hit record in 2004 when he tallied 262 while hitting .372.

Ichiro's 11-plus-year run with the Mariners came to an abrupt end Monday when he he asked for, and was granted, a trade to the hated New York Yankees. The move was, essentially, a salary dump by Seattle.

"On behalf of our ownership group and everyone in the Seattle Mariners organization, I thank Ichiro for the great career he's had here in Seattle," said Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln. "Ichiro knows that the club is building for the future, and he felt that what was best for the team was to be traded to another club and give our younger players an opportunity to develop."

But the question remains, what will Ichiro's legacy with the Mariners be? It's a tough one to answer. In terms of stats alone, he might be the greatest player in the franchise's history. However, statistics alone don't tell the whole story with Ichiro and his Seattle sports legacy.

In my opinion, Ichiro has a lot different pedigree than other Mariner stars like Griffey, Martinez and The Big Unit. We, meaning Seattle fans, never really got to know Ichiro.

The Mariners' Big Three had larger-than-life personalities to go along with their larger-than-life talent on the baseball field. Ichiro never let anybody in. He rarely, and I mean rarely, granted interviews and when he did, the interviews seemed to be scripted to what Ichiro wanted to disclose to the fans. Granted, a lot of that is due to the fact that there was always an interpreter sitting right next to him despite him living in Issaquah since coming to America in 2001.

I think Edgar Martinez would be a pretty good comparison to what Ichiro could have been, in terms of leaving a lasting legacy in Seattle.

Obviously, English was not Edgar's first language and despite that he was beloved by Seattle's fans.

Edgar grew up in Puerto Rico before coming to America, where he spent his entire 18-year career with the Mariners. He taught himself how to speak English and became a pillar in the Seattle community. Heck, Edgar Martinez Way sits right in front of Safeco Field.

Edgar has been honored for countless hours, funds, resources and contributions he and his wife, Holli, have made to Seattle's Children's Hospital and numerous other organizations. Edgar was even inducted into the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame.

The only link I can find to Ichiro humanitarian work came last year when he donated $1.25 million to the Japanese Red Cross for earthquake and tsunami relief efforts. Which was obviously a huge deal in his home country, but there was nothing of note from the Puget Sound area.

Despite that, Ichiro's agent, Tony Attanasio, said that the former all-star will keep his roots in Seattle despite continuing his career in New York City.

"He loves Seattle," Attanasio said after the trade. "This is his home. He's not going to move. He's going to stay in Seattle."

Despite Ichiro's robotic exterior, it was pretty obvious that he is going to miss playing for the Mariners. At his post-trade press conference, the emotionless Ichiro was slightly teary-eyed when talking about moving on.

"When I think about the last 11 ½ years, about the time and feelings of the last 11 ½ years, and when I imagine taking off a Mariners uniform, I was overcome with sadness," Ichiro said through his personal interpreter Ken Barron. "It has made this a very difficult decision to make."

But he did admit that the prospect of moving from the last-place Mariners to the first-place Yankees — and a chance for his first-ever World Series appearance — was enticing. Ichiro's last playoff appearance came during his MVP and Rookie of the Year season of 2001.

"I went from a team that's had the most losses to a team having the most wins, so it's been hard to maintain my excitement in that regard," he said through Barron.

Despite his relative wooden and laconic facade, there is no doubting that Ichiro has left a lasting legacy of greatness within the Mariners' organization.

"There will never be another one like him," Mariners president Chuck Armstrong said. "There has never been one before him."

That's for sure.

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