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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

March 27, 2009 at 9:58 AM

Tough Ichiro questions had to be asked

It sounds like quite an interesting session with Ichiro yesterday. I’m sorry I missed it.

I’m not surprised that Ken Griffey Jr. expressed himself as he did, muttering loud enough for everyone to hear about the irrelevance of questions about last year’s clubhouse tension. From his point of view, this accomplished numerous objectives: 1) Letting Ichiro know that he has his back; 2) Letting teammates know that he has Ichiro’s back; and 3) Letting reporters know that there will be a price to pay — a certain discomfiture — for broaching this topic.

Junior was well within his rights to do that, because he’s acting as a baseball player, not a journalist. It’s part of his perceived role of helping to improve the clubhouse dynamic, which from my observation this spring, he’s doing well. But my colleague Geoff Baker, who apparently was the one pushing that line of questioning, was well within his rights as well. It’s called journalism, and sometimes it’s not pleasant.

For the past several years, those of us in the press corps have jokingly called Ichiro’s first-day-of-spring-camp press briefing “The State of Ichiro Address.” His arrival in Arizona has always been a great occasion to ask Ichiro wide-ranging questions about whatever was his issue of the day. Two years ago, it was his contract situation as he entered the final year of his deal, with free agency looming. Probably not a topic Ichiro enjoyed talking about, but it was pertinent, and he dealt with it just fine. As much attention as last year’s clubhouse issues have received, and as explosive as the topic has been, these questions were just as pertinent, and it sounds like Ichiro dealt with them just as fine.

A couple of things. I wasn’t there, so I don’t have first-hand knowledge, but it sounds like plenty of other subjects were discussed first, including the WBC, Griffey’s presence, and the Mariners’ personnel changes. So it’s not like Ichiro was hammered from the beginning of the interview with questions about the clubhouse. But they had to be asked, if for no other reason than Ichiro deserved the opporunity to explain his side of the story, if he so chose. That’s only fair, right? The way I see it, this was precisely the forum to bring it up — Ichiro’s annual “let’s throw everything on the table” session.

What made it weird, of course, is that this year’s rendition just happened to fall on March 26 — six weeks after the start of camp. If it had occurred in mid-February, it wouldn’t have been quite as jarring. But that’s just the way it is. Because of the WBC, Ichiro didn’t show up until now, so this was the media’s first chance to address the matter first-hand with him. I’m not sure how anyone can say that having the team’s iconic player at the center of some clubhouse turmoil last year — and that fact is indisputable — is not news. The question of whether you think the turmoil was warranted, and whether this reflects more on the other players than Ichiro, is an entirely different matter. But this isn’t something we made up. It’s out there. If this were New York, Boston, Philadelphia or Los Angeles, believe me, this matter would have been hammered infinitely harder than it has been here.

Now it’s done, and we can all move on. Some have accused the Seattle Times — myself and Geoff — of obsessing on this issue. But after the flurry of stories in February, it died out naturally. And now that Ichiro has arrived and had his say, it will die down again. It’s not the centerpiece of our coverage, by any means. But it can’t be ignored, either.

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