Ichiro’s Return to the Seattle Mariners Is Great for Some Fans. But for Baseball? Meh!

Ichiro Suzuki will be back at Safeco at age 44, but his return is indicative of how things have gone for the Mariners in the Safeco Era, says former sports columnist John Levesque.

I worked as a sports columnist for a few years and covered the Seattle Mariners when Ichiro Suzuki was in his prime. Though I was never convinced Ichiro could lead the Mariners to a World Series championship, he was fun to watch. I even wrote this column of appreciation in 2004 after previously suggesting that Ichiro might have overstayed his welcome.

Now, in an act of desperation tinged with nostalgia, the Mariners have given Ichiro another opportunity to overstay his welcome. With their regular outfielders so banged up as to make one wonder what’s in the water in Peoria, the Mariners medical team has given the 44-year-old Ichiro a physical and declared his body warm enough to occupy a roster spot.

Some fans will be happy with the return of Ichiro. But is it a big deal for baseball in Seattle?

Here’s what I wrote in an email this morning to an editor asking that very question: “The Mariners will be the first to admit it’s a desperation move because they’re short on healthy outfielders. Once the injured starters return from the disabled list, Ichiro will become excess baggage. The Mariners may still try to keep him on the roster because they love playing the nostalgia card — witness the return of Ken Griffey Jr. in 2009 — and because they’re demonstrably awful at playing the winning-baseball card. If Ichiro’s presence puts fan in the seats, the Mariners will milk it for as long as they can. Teams bent on winning championships don’t do this type of thing; only teams that approach baseball the way Disney approaches entertainment — enhancing the consumer experience! — would consider doing it.”

Dan Raley, a former colleague of mine at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and one of the best sportswriters the city has known, expressed a similar sentiment today in a Facebook post.

“Call me a spoilsport,” Raley asserted, “but this does nothing for me as a regular baseball follower. I want a playoff baseball team, not a desperate sideshow to watch all summer. When I was in his presence, I found Mr. Ichiro to be aloof and sort of full of himself. This celeb signing was something the Mariners would have done in their early years when they had no chance of winning and had to keep fan interest. I hope that’s not the case now.”

Alas, I fear it is. Since the construction of Safeco Field, the Mariners have always been good at the fan experience. Not so good at the championship experience. Welcome home, Ichiro.

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