The hardest things to write about are the things so plain for everyone to see. Yesterday morning, to make room for the return of Erasmo Ramirez, the Mariners needed to clear a roster spot. The team was carrying five outfielders on their roster. If you consider that in 2017 Austin Romine played more in the outfield than the infield, you could even credibly say they were carrying six.
They all have their uses, save one. You know exactly where this goes. Ichiro is forty-four, and the game has finally passed him by. His bat, conceivably, could pick up to a point of you, Ichiro Defender, being able to semi-soberly deem it passable. But there is no other tool left for him. He is a late-inning defensive substitute in need of a late-inning defensive substitute. The routes are slow, the arm, faded. He is at the end, and because of the deep respect and admiration for him and his career, I have hated being forced to watch it so closely, so intimately.
It should have ended last year, when an Evan Marshall pitch got roped into the seats, and the crowd spontaneously realized this was goodbye, and we rose to pay our respects. We rose to say thank you. It was the right way to end.
Instead, not even this is the end, because the Mariners did not do the sensible thing. They did not do right by Ichiro and let him leave before this fanbase is forced to further turn on him, as an entertaining but breathtakingly flawed team fights to end the longest playoff drought in American sports. No, from wherever the word came, be it Scott Servais, Jerry Dipoto, or a higher power, Ichiro is still here, and Guillermo Heredia is not. Heredia is the Mariners best left fielder, I am all but convinced. He gets to spend a few weeks in Tacoma, and wonder why. His teammates will wonder the same, as seniority and deference to experience last in a major league clubhouse exactly as long as you’re able to help a team win.
This script was written the moment the Mariners brought Ichiro back, and it has not deviated. There is no happy ending, beyond perhaps one last clutch single at home. Then, inevitably, the farcical nature of this will become too much even for Mariner ownership, and it will end. Ichiro will leave, his playing career in America almost certainly over. The Mariners will carry on, and perhaps make the playoffs or, perhaps, again, miss them by a single game. Everyone; Guillermo Heredia, the team, the fans, maybe even Ichiro, will wonder why.
We’ll all wonder why, while knowing the truth. But we’ll keep searching, because the answer is too obvious, and too painful to arrive at. Best to keep asking: Why?