Monday, November 21, 2005



Okay, this has been bugging me for a while. It ain't Plamegate, but it's important to me.

Apparently, Ichiro Suzuki, the much-ballyhooed right fielder and leadoff hitter for the Seattle Mariners, is unhappy with field manager Mike Hargrove (at least according to the Kyodo News Service). Hargrove, with four fewer seasons in Seattle and who never could get four 35-foot singles in a season, much less a single game, is said to make Suzuki unhappy because he does not make the same demands on his players that Suzuki makes of himself.

If he ain’t happy, send him away.

I’m not a huge Ichiro fan. There are things he does that are clearly amazing, but his whole approach to the game between the lines confuses me.

I have seen Suzuki single to lead off an inning, then sit on first base waiting for the minuscule Seattle offense to score him without a stolen base. He appears unwilling to risk being thrown out. I have also seen him bunt for a hit with two out and a runner on second. Getting a runner from second to third with two out is of marginal utility, especially with the series of mediocre second-place hitters the Mariners have employed of late. Suzuki appears to have some mastery of the bat; I’d rather he put the ball in play and give that runner on second a chance to score. Granted, they play for two differently packed offensive lineups, but compare Suzuki’s runs batted in to those of Boston’s Johnny Damon.

One other thing Damon does is take the base on balls. It appears that Suzuki is unwilling to take a walk, even if it helps the team. Suzuki recently faulted his teammates for not “having a positive feeling at the plate. Like being up on a 3-1 count and hoping for a walk, and the next pitch is a ball. Or, with the same count, you think you’re going to crush it.” The problem is that he instead prefers to swing wildly at a 3-1 pitch out of the strike zone, reducing his chances of reaching base from 100% on a walk to 33% on a single. With his low walk count, his on base percentage as a leadoff hitter does not compare well unless his batting average is well over .350. With his unorthodox swing, it appears that he must start the bat before the pitcher is finished with the windup, so it’s possible that Suzuki can’t change his mind, once committed. If so, his skill set is flawed.

I fear that Suzuki just does not do well as a team player. The “me first” attitude that is so uncharacteristically Japanese starts with his arrogant desire to force us all to call him by his first name only. Even today’s great North American players don’t do that; we all know who “Barry,” “Pedro,” and “Manny” and their egos are, even if there are others in the game with that same first name.

Right now, I almost wish I hadn't bought so many Ichiro Suzuki souvenirs to send to in-laws in Japan.

With the Mariners’ unique ownership situation, it looks to be essential to have a Japanese superstar. Watching Hideki Matsui play for the Yankees, I only wish it were he – with the ability to hit in the clutch (remember that double against Pedro in the 2003 ALCS?) – and not Ichiro Suzuki who played for the Mariners. The Yankees have signed Matsui for another four seasons, but I’d make trade for Godzilla in a minute. Seattle could still have a Japanese superstar – heck, Matsui was bigger than Suzuki was prior to 2001 – and Suzuki would indeed be valuable to the Yankees, who would benefit from having a genuine leadoff hitter. And, I'm betting, Matsui would not sit and stew, but would instead actually lead the other players on the team.

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