Zduriencik reflects on Ichiro’s career, wishes him well

Jul 24, 2012, 3:53 PM | Updated: 4:11 pm
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Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik says the Yankees were one of “a few” teams Ichiro was interested in playing for. (AP)

By Brady Henderson

No general manager wants to be the one to trade a player like Ichiro.

In the end, Jack Zduriencik will go down as the guy who dealt the Mariners’ iconic but declining right fielder to the New York Yankees, but he insisted the trade came at Ichiro’s request. The Mariners’ GM said the team owed it to Ichiro to oblige. Zduriencik praised Ichiro’s career accomplishments and noted the opportunity he’ll have to finally play for a contending team.

“Today we honored a future Hall-of-Famer’s request to go to a club that’s in contention,” he said.

Zduriencik joined “The Kevin Calabro Show” minutes after the Mariners announced they had traded Ichiro to the Yankees for a pair of minor-league pitching prospects. Such an insignificant return reflects Ichiro’s declining numbers and advancing age. It belies how brilliant he was for the majority of his career with the Mariners.

Ichiro’s accomplishments include the following:

• 10 straight seasons with at least 200 hits, an MLB record;
• MLB record for most hits in a season with 262 in 2004;
• 10 straight Gold Glove Awards and All-Star appearances (he was the game’s MVP in 2007);
• MVP and Rookie of the Year in 2001 (only one other player has won both in the same season);
• Two American League battling titles;
• Led the MLB in hits seven times, tying Pete Rose and Ty Cobb for most all-time;
• Franchise leader in hits, runs scored, triples and at-bats.

Ichiro took the big leagues by storm in 2001, but Zduriencik first saw him two years earlier while he was still playing in Japan. Then the director of international operations for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Zduriencik watched Ichiro for five games and was “amazed.”

“In batting practice [he was] hitting the ball in the upper deck then hitting a ground ball to shortstop and running under a 3.8 to first base. The cannon of an arm that he showed … you walked out of the ballpark going, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. This guy does everything,'” Zduriencik said.

Ichiro did it all for a decade, hitting at least .300 every season from 2001-2010. He hit a career-low .272 in 2011 then was moved to third in the lineup to begin this season, the hope being he would tap into the power many believed he had. When that didn’t work, Ichiro moved back to leadoff and then to No. 2 before he was traded.

“We tried a few different things with him this year,” Zduriencik said, “and a lot of it was trying to see if his game changed somewhat as he got older. … And a lot of this is simply because of the surrounding cast around him. Let’s be real, if we’d had a couple .300 hitters in this lineup and a couple 20-home run guys it might have made things a lot easier for him.”

Ichiro’s move to the Yankees should give him a better opportunity in that regard. And with New York leading the AL East by seven games, he’s got a good shot at reaching the postseason for just the second time in his career.

“I think in this lineup in New York, with the Hall of Famers they have there and the All-Star type of guys, it will be very interesting to watch how Ichiro’s game transforms,” Zduriencik said. “We’re probably looking at a strong possibility of him being re-energized, him taking a different look at his role and stuff. Honestly … from the bottom of my heart I feel very bad that he’s not going to be here. In one sense I feel excited that he’s going to a club that’s in first place.

“This was Ichiro’s decision,” Zduriencik added. “It’s something that he viewed and he said that he thought he was doing the right thing by moving on, and hopefully we would get him to one of the clubs that he had interest in, that was a pennant contender. As we sit here right now, I hope it ends up being a very good marriage for Ichiro.”

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Zduriencik reflects on Ichiro’s career, wishes him well