Slump City for Mariners' Ichiro Suzuki

Outfielder Ichiro Suzuki is anything but an All-Star in 2011, and to vote for him is just wrong

June 10, 2011 

  • ICHIRO’S STRUGGLES

    A peek at Ichiro Suzuki’s slump so far in 2011:

    BATTING AVERAGE
             2011   CAREER
    ----------------------
    April    .328     .299
    May      .210     .363
    June     .147     .344
    
    Batting average
             .256     .328
    On-base percentage
             .311     .373
    Slugging percentage
            .298      .425
    			

A recent email from Mariners.com informed me of a most unusual circumstance involving Ichiro Suzuki.

“Ichiro needs your help,” the message began, and before continuing, I had to stop and savor that thought.

Ichiro needs my help?

The man is due to make a base salary of $17 million this season, and another $17 million next season. What predicament is so dire in his life that he needs my help?

Did he snap a shoelace and can’t figure out how to the push the frayed remainder of the lace into the eyelets of his shoe? (Moisten the tip, Ichiro. Works every time.)

Has his vacuum cleaner bag filled up to the max and he’s not in the mood to run to the vacuum cleaner store for more bags? (Here’s a veteran move: just empty what you can from the old bag, then reuse it.)

Is there a bee buzzing around the kitchen and no flyswatter handy? (Roll up a newspaper or a magazine and swat the insect into kingdom come. But if the magazine turns out to be your wife’s new edition of “Better Homes and Gardens,” make sure to wipe the remains off the cover. Oh, and another thing – this is from past experience – make sure the bee is really, really dead.)

Then I read the rest of the email, and it turns out Ichiro doesn’t merely need my help. He needs your help, too.

An All-Star during each of his first 10 seasons with the Mariners, Ichiro has some distance to make up for an 11th appearance. He’s running fourth among American League outfielders in the popular vote used to determine starters, well behind the Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista and the Yankees’ Curtis Granderson, and some 259,000 votes behind the Rangers’ Josh Hamilton.

You can help Ichiro keep his streak of All-Star appearances intact by voting as many as 25 times for him. Which is 25 more times than I would vote for him.

Not that the notion of Ichiro leading off for the American League on July 12 is so unsettling. After watching Ichiro go 0-for-4 virtually every night since the middle of May, I am fully capable of watching him go 0-for-2 in the All-Star Game.

But I’ve got this goofy, old-fashioned notion that the All-Star Game ought to be restricted to players worthy of All-Star consideration, and the Ichiro of 2011 no more resembles an All-Star than I resemble George Clooney.

No facet of Ichiro’s game is up to All-Star standards. He’s typically compensated for an absence of power by turning every three-hop infield grounder into an adventure, but he no longer beats out the bleeders. A perennial Gold Glove outfielder, his defense is now a blend of tentative and indifferent. (Although it should be noted he only has problems on fly balls hit behind him, in front of him, and to his left side.)

And yet, Ichiro has accumulated almost twice as many votes as the Rays’ Matt Joyce, whose .338 batting average going into Thursday ranked second in the league. With 10 homers among Joyce’s 27 extra-base hits, his .590 slugging percentage ranked fourth, and as did his .987 OPS.

The sheer injustice of Ichiro starting in place of Matt Joyce is one thing, but a voting push that vaults Ichiro into the top three of AL outfielders could have an impact on such teammates as starting pitchers Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda, as well as middle reliever David Pauley. Each deserves a spot on the AL team, and those spots might be attained by the players’ ballot. (They vote for five starters and three relievers.)

But when the remainder of the AL pitching staff is determined by Rangers manager Ron Washington – in consultation with Major League Baseball – he could be forced to deny one or two of them because of a numbers crunch. Remember, every team must have at least one representative in the All-Star Game, and Washington couldn’t be blamed for believing that four Seattle players on his 34-member AL squad borders on excessive.

Still, the Mariners persist in touting Ichiro’s dubious All-Star candidacy on the team’s website. On that same website, Philadelphia’s visit to Safeco Field for an interleague series later this month is promoted as a showdown between Ryan Howard’s Phillies and Ichiro’s Mariners.

Huh? Ryan has hit 13 homers, with 48 RBI. Ichiro leads the AL in one “offensive” category: outs. (Before Thursday, he had made 192 of them.)

The Mariners’ radio ads are relentlessly Ichiro-centric, as if fans are more likely to buy a ticket to watch an international baseball legend go through the motions in the sunset of his career than watch Miguel Olivo and Brendan Ryan approach each game as if their paychecks were at stake.

Next time I vote for Ichiro, it will be for the Hall of Fame. With a résumé that includes 10 consecutive 200-hit seasons, a Rookie of the Year award, an MVP award and the single-season hits record, his case for enshrinement in Cooperstown is beyond reproach.

But he’s not a 2011 All-Star, and to pretend that he is mocks the selection process of a grand baseball spectacle.

In the meantime, Ichiro? If you run out of syrup in the morning, turn the bottle over and wait 20 minutes. If you’re missing the button on your khakis, tuck your shirt in, tighten the belt a notch and wear a sweater. Lint on a dark shirt? The sticky side of a piece of adhesive tape works like magic.

Hey, whatever I can do to help.

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.com

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