Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Wrong Man, Wrong Place, Wrong Time.

Trading emblematic athletes is always a minor tragedy of sorts for the particular franchise and fan base losing them, but it's also a whiplash-inducing event for fans at large.  The sight of a great player who has long been synonymous with a team suddenly wearing different colors never sits right in the mind's eye.  Some visuals just rattle your insides with cognitive dissonance.  Joe Montana as a Kansas City Chief.  Steve Nash as a Los Angeles Laker.  And now, Ichiro Suzuki as a Yankee.

(Don't you feel just a little bit sick after reading that last sentence?) 

The departure is not surprising in and of itself.  Aside from Ichiro's rookie season when Seattle won a monumental 116 games, the Mariners have been perpetual occupants of the American League's sub-basement for pretty much his entire career.  Like Nash, who also left his longtime franchise at age 38 for greener pastures, it's entirely understandable that he opted to be dealt to a contender before twilight too fully dulls his transcendent (and already in considerable decline) skills.  For the M's, their superstar's diminishing value made it logical to trade now, giving their younger outfielders increased playing time and getting what they can in return.  Tactically, the trade made sense for both teams.  (Though there is more than a little incredulity regarding the fact that the Yanks somehow got back cash concerns as part of the deal.  What, they needed the money?  Really?  Someone should have told Brain Cashman to cram that particular stipulation up his ass.) 

I won't rehash all the angles of what acquiring Ichiro means for New York; read this piece on Grantland by Jonah Keri if you're interested in the details.  What I want to talk about is how monstrously unfair this all feels.  To Seattle, to the rest of the AL East, and to Yankee haters (read: right-thinking individuals) everywhere. Of course, this is a far cry from actual unfairness, which only exists in sports when a) someone cheats, b) there's a blown officiating call so egregious that it will be recalled with perfect clarity and anger decades hence or c) you live in Cleveland.  But this has the unmistakable feel of unfairness; the sickening and wretched sensation of karmic impropriety.  To paraphrase Chris Rock: "that s*** just ain't right!"

First, Seattle fans have really seen and suffered enough.  There was the unconscionable hijacking of their beloved Sonics, the metaphysical descendents of whom just played their first of what will likely be many thrilling NBA Finals.  They have the most likeable and exciting young core in the game, a once-in-a-generation talent in Kevin Durant, and a well-run organization who are apparently also luckier than is really OK.  (See: Perry Jones III, drafting of.)  Then there are the Seahawks.  Despite a respectable seven playoff appearances since 1999, and a great run of NFC West titles from '04-'07 Seattle has never been thought of as a great or even a semi-formidable team.  And of course their lone Super Bowl appearance, against the Steelers in 2005, saw them get phenomenally hosed by some of the worst officiating in NFL history.  Aside from Marshawn "Beast Mode" Lynch, who incidentally was recently arrested on a DUI charge and may be suspended for the beginning of the 2012 season, they haven't had a legitimately electrifying player since, well, ever.  (No disrespect meant to Matt Hasselbeck, who was a very good quarterback, but he didn't exactly make you gasp in awe with his play.)  Oh yes, and the Mariners are the only MLB franchise other than the Nationals to have never played in, much less won, a World Series.  For Seattle fans, watching their last great player leave town to don the pinstripes must be a nasty a kick in the teeth.  Surely no one begrudges him trying to find a contender after giving his soul and his considerable gifts to Seattle for so long, but running straight into the arms of the Evil Empire ... it's just so grimy.  Oh well, at least they have the Sounders.

And if you're another team in the AL East, you have to feel like North Texas playing Alabama last year.  You've already been blown out and utterly thrashed, and now they're just shamelessly running up the score.  Granted, Ichiro is not the devastating force he was four years ago, but he still improves a team that already has baseball's best record and a seven game division lead.  It's just piling on at this point.  You almost have to throw something.  Like the Gatorade jug in the dugout.  Or the towel.

For the Yankee haters out there, that feeling of abject disgust rising in your gut is comprised of the two components: firstly and obviously there's anger because of everything I just mentioned above and the fact that there has been no exemplar of "the rich get richer" in sports (and maybe life) quite so blatant and glaring as the Yankees.  And secondly, because most baseball fans genuinely like and admire Ichiro.  Yankees should not be genuinely liked and admired, they should be reviled.  Hell, I have the utmost respect for Derek Jeter's remarkable career and abilities, but his thinly veiled egomania and never-ending slew of bullsh*t cliches and platitudes make me positively ill every time they flash his smug, robotic "I'm just happy to be playing ball and gosh I hope I'm making my parents proud" smile across the TV screen.  Having a likeable guy, full of legitimate quirks and personality, makes it much more difficult to just kick back and hate the Yankees in peace.  Ichiro's mere presence on the roster has upset my and every other non-Yanks fan's baseball ethos.  New York's unassailable and inherent evil is ever so slightly diluted.  How dare they deny us the right to hate to the utmost by trading for a gem of a guy like Ichiro?!?!?  It's annoying, damnit!

Anyway, best to Mr. Suzuki with his new team, condolences to Seattle for yet another sucker-punch sporting occurrence, and here's hoping things don't get any worse for the rest of us.  I trust no one is stupid enough to believe it, but we can hope.

Oh, and as always, damn the Yankees.

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