Moore: Ichiro’s legacy at risk of being tarnished if he’s on Mariners roster

Jan 21, 2019, 10:35 AM | Updated: 10:39 am

Seattle Mariners, Ichiro, Mariners...

Ichiro Suzuki is expected to be on the Mariners' roster for their two games in Japan. (AP)


Edgar Martinez is expected to enter the Hall of Fame on Tuesday, a long-overdue achievement for the Mariners designated hitter. It will be an appropriate time to take another look at the double that beat the Yankees in the 1995 playoffs and all of the other Edgar highlights from his terrific career.

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I’m all for nostalgia and sentiment when it comes to Cooperstown, but the Mariners are also planning another throwback ceremony of sorts by allowing Ichiro the chance to be on their roster when they open the season on March 20 in Tokyo against the A’s. I can’t get fully on board with that.

Last year when Ichiro returned to help the Mariners’ injury-depleted outfield, it didn’t work out. The 44-year-old went 9 for 44, and every hit was a single. Remember when Guillermo Heredia was sent to Tacoma even though he was a clearly better player than Ichiro? Didn’t understand that then, don’t understand this now.

Or wait, yes I do. Or I thought I did. I’ll explain.

It’s a nice gesture to have Ichiro on the roster for the first two games of the season so he can be celebrated in Japan. And for those two games in Japan, the Mariners are allowed to expand their roster from 25 to 28 players, and Ichiro will have one of those spots.

I thought, OK, he’s not taking a roster spot from a more deserving player, and he’ll get a nice ovation in Japan, a fitting way to end a spectacular career that started there so many years ago. But hold on, Ichiro has said he wants to play ’til he’s 50, and Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto didn’t rule out the possibility that Ichiro could play more than two games with the Mariners.

WHAT?!?! Come on, Jerry!

I don’t get it, I don’t even want to get it if someone tries to explain the rationale to me. I suppose you could say that it doesn’t matter, the Mariners aren’t competing for a playoff spot this year anyway since Dipoto has already said this is a step-back season. Even if Ichiro goes 0 for 8 and the Mariners lose both games in Tokyo, what’s the big deal?

I would agree with you. But if he’s on the roster when the Mariners play their next game against the Red Sox at T-Mobile Park on March 28, that’s when I’ll yell “Come on, Jerry!” from the retractable roof.

I can hear Dipoto now, if Ichiro goes 4 for 8 in Japan, he’ll say something about his importance as a backup outfielder, influence in the clubhouse and apparent ability to punch Father Time in the face.

Count me in for Ichiro as an influence in the clubhouse. Keep him around as “Special Assistant to the Chairman,” a job title the Mariners gave him last year after they pulled him from their active roster. And go ahead and let him take batting practice and continue to wear a uniform and batting gloves as he comes onto the field to celebrate victories with the Mariners like he did last year.

Just count me out with this nonsense of Ichiro being an active player after the first two games. Again, you could argue that if Ichiro somehow costs the Mariners a few games here and there at the expense of a younger, more productive player, what’s the big deal? The Mariners aren’t going to make it to the playoffs anyway. Besides, Ichiro would be a draw for anticipated smaller turnouts to watch a rebuilding team.

But I sometimes wonder if the Mariners ever consider perception of their franchise. I think everyone appreciates the postseason appearances and terrific players from the past. But this year figures to be the 19th consecutive season without a playoff berth, the longest active stretch in professional sports. Frankly, I’m sick of looking back, and with Ichiro we’ll be looking back to 2001 again.

At this point I’d like to see a player who has the potential to have a prominent role in future playoff appearances than one who is well past his prime and won’t be around when the Mariners win the AL West in 2023…or 2027, OK, 2030, work with me here.

In September, remind me of this column when Ichiro is somehow leading the Mariners to a wild-card spot in one of the most improbable seasons in franchise history as T-Mobile Park hosts “Turn Back the Clock” night 81 times as Ichiro hits .300 at the age of 45 and Félix Hernandez wins his second Cy Young Award.

From Ichiro’s perspective, it’s no doubt difficult to give up the game you’ve played and excelled at for as long as he has. But from my perspective, I’d prefer to remember the flourishing superstar than the fading one. Ken Griffey Jr. stayed one season too long, and I keep trying to forget those overweight images of him and the ridiculous way he left, driving away before a game without an explanation.

I’d rather think about Ichiro banging out hit after hit and beating out all of those infield hits that were routine grounders for most players. I’m afraid we’re going to be exposed to another helping of tarnish instead.

Have you listened to “Bark?” It’s Jim’s podcast about dogs, available at 710Sports.com and wherever you find podcasts. If you’re interested in sponsoring “Bark,” please contact Jim at jmoore@espnseattle.com.

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Moore: Ichiro’s legacy at risk of being tarnished if he’s on Mariners roster