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Game 103: The Curse Of Ichiro's Junk

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Maybe all the Mariners needed was some quality sexting.

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One of these men is much larger than the other.
One of these men is much larger than the other.
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Time: 6:40 (00:40 GMT). Vegas Line: MIN -128/+118 SEA
Weather: 30% Chance Of Thunderystormys
TV: FSN. Radio: Will Gladden Your Heart

During the first World Baseball Classic, in 2009, Ichiro Suzuki approached Tommy Lasorda, pointed at his non-SlimFast gut, and asked "how many months?" Not getting the joke and thinking Ichiro was crossing up his English time-passage nouns, Lasorda responded, "I'm 83 years old."

Ichiro learned some Spanish so he could trash-talk Latin-speaking players, once causing Carlos Pena to almost lose it. Ichiro said he intends his jibes respectfully: "We're all foreigners in a strange land. We've come over here and had to cope with some of the same trials and tribulations. When I throw a little Spanish out at them, they really seem to appreciate it and it seems to strengthen that bond."

And that's what makes Ichiro so priceless, right there. He is deadly serious about some things (his privacy, his Japanese heritage, playing baseball) and joyously goofy about other things (such as playing baseball.)

(Ichiro may have tried kidding around with Lasorda, but he internalized stress over Japan winning the inaugural WBC so much, he was DLed to start that MLB season. With bleeding stomach ulcers. And Japan did win.)

As a kid, Ichiro's father went full-bore Psycho Sports Dad on him. As a professional for the Orix Blue Wave, it was a manager who insisted Suzuki use the single word "Ichiro" on his jersey for a promo gimmick (Suzuki being a highly common surname in Japan.) Ichiro didn't like any of this, but he did what he was told.

One of his favorite players growing up was Seattle's Ken Griffey, Jr. It's speculative but not unreasonable to imagine Ichiro admired Griffey for more than his talent and charisma; there was also the insouciant way Griffey wore his hat.

Lou Pinella's Mariners were the opposite of regimented baseball, the kind Ichiro had always experienced (and Pinella had probably known under The Boss in his stint as Yankee manager.) When Ichiro was finally free to sign with an MLB club, Griffey wasn't a Mariner anymore (nor were the brash A-Rod and mullet-rocking Randy Johnson), but it wouldn't surprise me if Ichiro was drawn to the team because of how it seemed to embrace quirky individuality. (Jay Buhner looked like a total freak.)

Even minus those departed stars, Ichiro's rookie year had the Mariners going 116-46. It's the highest winning percentage since baseball moved to 162 games -- and the best record ever for any team that didn't win a championship or lose in the World Series. (Seattle's the only current MLB city never to play in a WS.)

Which brings us to The Curse Of Ichiro's Junk. Older fans already know this one.

Ichiro was such a celebrity in Japan that when he signed with the Mariners, some damned Japanese magazine offered millions for a nude picture. (Fortunately smartphones weren't omnipresent in clubhouses back then.) Weak-hitting Seattle outfielder Al Martin joked, "I've already told him, let me take the picture and we can share the money."

Ichiro declined. Was that the beginning of a curse?

Curses aren't real, so no. But it was a little sad how that Seattle squad didn't go farther in the playoffs, and it's been sad ever since to see Ichiro waste his enormous skill and style on increasingly lousy teams. The numbers are impressive; if you look at Pete Rose's stats from ages 27-41 (Ichiro's MLB span), Rose has only a few more hits and homers. Rose himself thinks Ichiro should be an instant Hall-Of-Famer, even suggesting the normal five-year waiting period be shortened. Granted, when Rose suggests the HOF change its eligibility rules, he may not be speaking 100% selflessly.

More than the hits (10 straight years with 200+, a consecutive streak never matched in MLB), more than the "laser" fielding arm, I think it's the mixes in Ichiro which made him so appealing to fans. Driven perfectionist and jokester. The first Japanese position player in MLB, who embraced that role yet stepped right in as if he'd hardly needed to adjust at all. An underdog that never hit like one. (All the best people like underdogs, and even the worst tolerate underdogs who excel.)

The first time I ever saw Ichiro, right when I started following the Twins, I was in my seat early for batting practice. Ichiro was hanging out around first base, catching fly balls behind his back -- while engaging Twins players to have a little contest with him. Both teams were in a playoff hunt, and Ichiro still got everyone in a laughing mood. I was charmed for life.

Your final examples of Ichiro mixology are tribute songs. Yep, Ichiro songs! The guy from Death Cab For Cutie did this one. Two guys from R.E.M. did this one. The first is prettier and more emotional, the second wittier and more rockin'. Younger and older fans, different styles, in love with their favorite Mariner. I'm down with both. Mixology; the Ichiro way.

But maybe next time, just let someone take that photo of your junk, first superstar from, say, Australia.

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Today's pitchers are Liam Hendriks Kyle Gibson and rookie Mike Montgomery. Montgomery must be a control artist, as his fastball averages 90-plus. But he walks a few guys too, so I dunno. Digits:

名前 ERA H/9 K/9 BB/9 HR/9 OPS L/R BAbip FIP
"Not Mel" Gibson 3.41 8.6 6.4 2.8 0.9 .664/.729 .286 3.98
"Angel From" Montgomery 3.20 7.7 6.4 3.2 1.0 .683/.663 .250 4.33

Lineups:

Boat Lovers Love Boaters
Ketel Marte, 2B Brian Dozier, 2B
Kyle Seager, 3B Aaron Hicks, CF
Nelson Cruz, RF Joe Mauer, 1B
Robinson Crusoe, 2B Miguel San Oe, DH
Seth Smith, LF Plouuuuufe, 3B
Austin Jackson, CF Torii Hunter, RF
Jesus Montero, 1B Edds Rosario, LF
Brad Miller, SS Kurt Suzuki, C
Mike Zunino, C Edds Escobar, SS