Ichiro Isn't Magic, But He Might Be

Mike Stobe - Getty Images

Magic isn't real, but Ichiro is doing his best to make us believe in it.

For better or worse, a lot of baseball players have nicknames. You have your A-Rod, which looks way worse as a written statement than I thought it would, Miggy, Joey Bats, whatever derogatory name you're calling the Red Sox, the must end in ‘y' names Girardi gives to every player like it's pee wee hockey; stuff like that. Baseball-Reference is usually pretty good about putting the common ones in there, but every once and awhile, there's one you've never heard before. New things!

While he has a full name, Ichiro Suzuki has only ever been Ichiro to me; and probably to millions of others, too. It always seems weird to type out his whole name as opposed to just Ichiro. He's just Ichiro. That's it, that's his nickname that isn't really a nickname. But apparently someone gave him another nickname at some point. I've never heard it and I'd be amazed if anyone else has either.

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Aside from the revelations that at least ten people still use Google+ and that he had the same agent twice, Wizard? Credit to whoever came up with that one for not going the obvious Hitman or Samurai route, but Wizard? It might work, but I guess I've just never envisioned Ichiro as being magic. He actually exists, for one, and his game wasn't a trick. Ichiro was just really, really good at baseball for a long time. If his game was some big illusion, it wouldn't have taken so long for the curtain to be pulled back.

Ichiro isn't the player he was 10 years ago, or even three years ago. It's been obvious for awhile now that his game is starting to decline. While we can't say for certain that it's the case, there's a good chance that was a big factor in how willing the Mariners were to move a franchise icon. Seattle said goodbye before Ichiro faded anymore, not that it would change the image of him in any way even if he did, and the Yankees took a shot on a change of scenery boost from an aging superstar. These things usually don't work out, but it was worth a shot.

So Ichiro came to the Yankees and it was clear from day one what he was supposed to be. He struggled against lefties, so he would only play against them in an emergency. He was changing sides of the outfield to improve the defense against righties and late in the game. Anything he could do outside of get on base sometimes, run around without getting caught when he did reach and play solid defense would be gravy. For awhile it looked like he would struggle to do more than one of those things, hitting .287/.310/.426 in limited time. Not terrible for a bench player, but not Ichiro either. The September came and dumped the whole gravy boat over the trade.

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This September is at the bottom of the chart, but in no way represents a bottom. A .916 OPS isn't going to be at the bottom of many charts and only is here because wow, Ichiro used to be really awesome. A slap-hitting speed guy with a OPS over 1.000 twice! Ichiro was amazing and is still capable of amazing things, but they are mainly constrained to the outfield at this point. We thought it was mainly the outfield until he posted one of the 15 best months of his career. He's played a lot of months in his career, and September was in the top tier. Even spending the first half of the month as little more than a platoon player and pinch hitter, it's still amazing. He hit well enough to earn starts against both righties and lefties, something that didn't seem possible early on. Twenty-five hits in the last 13 games and 35 for the month, with eight for extra bases. It's the old Ichiro in the form of old Ichiro.

The big issue is what to make of his September. He wasn't so good in the first month-plus of the trade and almost too good for it to be real in the last month. So which Ichiro is the real Ichiro going forward, and does it really matter? As a fan of baseball, the answer is probably no. We saw greatness for ten years and now, even if it is only one month, we've seen it again. We know magic isn't real and it still brings that 'whoa, how did that just...' factor that's entertaining, even if it's just for a few minutes until someone figures it out and ruins it for everyone. In this case, age and opposing pitchers play the role of the obnoxious guy in the back who refuses to just go along with the act.

Maybe this is why someone gave him the nickname of Wizard. Maybe every swing of the bat in September came with a careful worded magic phrase that he had forgotten and those 30 days were all part of the act. Ichiro might be real-life wizard, or he might be Kerry Wood, finding a chunk of success in a short time after a trade. It's almost certainly the latter, but who cares? Real or not, it is fun to experience. Seeing Ichiro play like the Ichiro we know is a good thing, even if it is just a projected reality for the sake of show.

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