Friday, March 23, 2012
It’s not exactly a hatchet job that Jon Heyman did on Ichiro Suzuki yesterday, but it’s close. At least Heyman’s clear that Ichiro works hard and prepares himself well. But other than that, whoo boy. It’s an article that goes out of its way to essentially call Ichiro a meddling prima donna who maneuvers behind the scenes to get coaches reassigned, players he wants inked, and blows off reporters before games (guess which one is probably the reason Heyman wrote this column). However, to make his case that Ichiro is the great Seattle puppet master, Heyman has to stretch and distort facts wildly to fit his narrative, use remarkably vague unnamed sources, and dredge up something that may have been an issue years ago but, by Heyman’s own admission, isn’t a current problem.
Heyman writes that “Ichiro’s ‘absurd’ influence [over Mariners owner Hiroshi Yamauchi] was either unknown, underestimated, or deemed unimportant when Mariners longtime stars Ken Griffey Jr. and Jay Buhner were on the team.” Yet, Griffey was long gone by the time Ichiro debuted in 2001, and Buhner sat out most of the season before coming back and playing 19 games in September. How much influence could these “longtime stars” have had that kept Ichiro in check or allowed him to machinate unnoticed when neither was in the clubhouse? Sure, Griffey came back in 2009 and 2010 for a farewell tour with the Mariners, but that would mean that Ichiro’s influence or lack thereof has been a non-factor for the last three seasons. And if that’s the case, then why is this an issue even worth dredging up?
Heyman also criticizes Ichiro because he “pushed for the signing and eventual extension [sic] of Kenji Jojima [sic], who it turned out wasn’t very good, and several more personnel preferences…. Ichiro turned out to be a far better player than he was baseball scout.” Now, Heyman doesn’t give us any other names, but it’s hard to see how the acquisition of Johjima could possibly be a strike against Ichiro. Johjima was signed to a three year, $16.5 million contract in 2006. According to Baseball Prospectus, Johjima was worth 3.0 and 2.4 WARP respectively in 2006 and 2007, and Fangraphs figures his performance was worth around $21.5 million.
Now, Johjima did fall apart in 2008, after he had signed a three-year, $24 million extension and had more than earned the money paid to him in the original three year deal. And while the extension turned out to be ill-advised, Johjima opted out of his contract after an embarrassing and injury-plagued 2009 and returned to Japan, forgoing another $16 million or so, which greatly limited the damage to Seattle. It’s hard to blame Ichiro for that, isn’t it? Especially since he was right about Johjima’s talents and apparently about his character (given that he was willing to return money he didn’t think he would earn). Perhaps even a cursory examination of Johjima’s Baseball Reference page to confirm the correct spelling of his name might have helped Heyman gain some informed perspective.
Heyman seems to be relying a great deal on his unnamed source, a “former Mariners person.” Who is this masked man (or woman)? A front office type? Coach? Manager? Player? Peanut vendor? Security guard? Super fan? What, exactly, is a “Mariners person?” If Heyman wants us to believe his contention that Ichiro is the man behind the curtain, especially when he’s tossing around such flimsy, disprovable evidence like that above, he needs to be more clear about why we should trust this unnamed, undefined, unimpressive anonymous source. And based on the lack of actual true facts backing up these accusations, this post reeks of not actually being worth the bandwidth it takes up.
That’s not to say there isn’t a kernel of truth in Heyman’s post. Ichiro’s contract is up at the end of 2012, and the Mariners would be foolish to give him a lavish extension. That said, the M’s would also be fools to simply divest themselves of Ichiro when he has significantly increased the value of the Mariners brand at home and abroad. It’s said, rightly, that fans root for laundry, not players. For the most part, that’s true. Except when it comes to Ichiro and the Japanese people. And for the M’s to simply forgo the additional revenue they get from Japan due to his huge following would seem to be a miscalculation. The M’s and Ichiro have been tied together now for twelve seasons, and both have benefitted from that. And if a mutually agreeable contract can be worked out, The Common Man bets that they’ll continue to do benefit from each other into the future. That seems far more concrete than Heyman’s tale of the man-behind-the-man-who-wears-the-crown.