Ichiro: Beautiful to Watch and Functionally Empty

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If anything exemplified the 2012 version of Ichiro Suzuki, it was one play in particular during Saturday’s Mariners’ 6-2 loss to the Yankees at Yankee Stadium.

In the bottom of the second inning with the Yankees leading 2-0 and Russell Martin on second base, Jayson Nix hit a fly ball to right field that barely cleared the wall for a 2-run homer. Ichiro sprinted to the wall, leaped and didn’t catch a catchable ball.

It wasn’t due to fan interference or that he missed it. He neglected to do one important thing: he didn’t reach up with his glove in a sincere effort to make the catch.

He did jump as if he were exerting himself to make a home run-robbing grab. Someone watching it once would’ve said that Ichiro tried and failed. Crashing into the wall added to the perception of all-out play.

Did he mistime his leap?

Did he forget where the wall was?

Or did he not even bother trying to catch the ball for fear of missing it and ruining his image?

It landed just over the wall in the first row and could’ve—maybe should’ve—been caught.

And it wasn’t.

As usual, with Ichiro, the aesthetic is more important than the result.

Ichiro is beautiful to watch. He has a sweet swing, amazing bat control and fundamentals nonpareil. His stolen base percentage is a career 82%, he rarely strikes out, has an accurate cannon for an arm and never looks out of control. He’s a great talent with statistics that will eventually result in Hall of Fame induction in North America. But that doesn’t make him a great player; it doesn’t make him a winning player. It certainly doesn’t make him worth the $17 million he’s earning this season.

Ichiro is a free agent after 2012. He’s so popular in Seattle and has achieved icon status that it’s hard to let him leave without a token offer, but they should. Realistically, they’re losing 90+ games a year with Ichiro, how much worse would they be without him? How much better could they be with a right fielder who hits the ball out of the park, who’s younger and doesn’t care about how he’s viewed?

As amazing as he seems when you watch Ichiro’s highlights and examine his overall numbers, it doesn’t supersede his decline. He no longer steals bases, his defense in right field isn’t as good as it was, he isn’t accruing the 250 hits he once did and he’s never hit for significant power. The Mariners have stopped placating Ichiro at the expense of what was best for the rest of the team. No reports of contract extension talks can be found anywhere. He’s going to be 39 in October, is playing for a team desperately needing offense and he’s no longer productive enough to justify keeping for his style or substance.

It’s time to move on.