If there’s been a happier place than the Mariners’ clubhouse the past five weeks, it takes an E-ticket to enjoy it. Ken Griffey Jr. holds court almost every day with a bat in his hand and a smile on his face. Mike Sweeney, the Mariners’ DH by day, is their Director of Mood Enhancement at all other times.
They’ve tipped their caps to each other so many times that the most likely clubhouse conflict here could occur over who gets to use the waffle machine first.
But that’s this year, and right now we’re here to talk about last year.
At least, that was a portion of the questioning of Ichiro Suzuki yesterday during his first day at spring training with the Mariners. He was asked about offseason comments by former M’s closer J.J. Putz and manager Jim Riggleman saying Ichiro’s style of play created ill feelings toward him by some teammates.
The question had to be asked because it was Ichiro’s first opportunity to answer since the quotes by Putz and Riggleman came out. Ichiro did his best to answer, eventually saying it was silly that he would have to explain or defend his style of play.
Make no mistake, Ichiro is a different player. He’s a tremendous player, but he doesn’t play the game the way others believe it should be played. He slaps singles, he rarely bunts and he seems hell-bent to get 200 hits a season beyond anything else. He steals only when it’s safe. He rarely gets a grass stain in the outfield.
Here’s my take: Get over it. Ichiro is the same player now that he was when he came here, and in 2001 it was good enough to ignite a team that won 116 games. Last year, it wasn’t enough to save a group of misfits from losing 101.
All his fault? Hardly.
This year, Ichiro probably will get his 200-plus hits, steal 40 bases and win a Gold Glove without soiling his uniform. That’s his game and it’s not going to change.
If those around him had performed as consistently as that, there wouldn’t have been any problems.