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November 16, 2008 at 11:33 PM

Our Ichiro story

There’s a blog post on the Lookout Landing fan site today where block text quotes are juxtaposed in such a way that it makes it appear our story from last September about Ichiro having problems in his clubhouse was untrue or even made up. It takes a John McLaren quote from a Boston Globe column, published Sunday, in which McLaren says he never called a Mariners team meeting this year to deal with the issue, and runs it opposite a paragraph from our original story.
Normally, I try to let the LL gang have their fun, since a favorite pastime of local bloggers in every market is to take potshots at the mainstream media. Every so often, though, we do have to respond. And this is another one of those times, since this does call my integrity and that of our newspaper into question. Believe it or not, we in the mainstream newspaper industry do take issues like integrity very seriously. When we ask you to trust us, it’s not because we’re taking you for a ride.
What McLaren said was true and has already been stated by me. There was no “team meeting” called over an incident this year in which a player was overheard saying that he wanted to take Ichiro and “knock him out”.
When we spoke to our source after the story ran, we were told that there was a team meeting called at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. in May 2007, which originated because of jealousies/resentment that certain players had towards Ichiro. Was Ichiro actually named at this meeting? Or was the subject of jealousy dealt with in more general terms? I don’t know. But the meeting was called because of problems certain players were having with Ichiro.
We actually refered to this meeting in our original story.
Fast forward to 2008 and the same player, or players, who prompted the 2007 meeting to be called were again at odds with Ichiro. But this time, I’ve since been told, there was no team meeting called. There were individual meetings held with players to discuss the need to overcome jealousies and problems. This happened after a member of the coaching staff overheard a player utter the “knock him out” comment in a conversation with other players. Ichiro was told that some players had lingering animosity towards him and it was suggested he might do more to reach out to them and improve his image within the clubhouse.
I thought I had already cleared this confusion up weeks ago about whether or not there was a team meeting called this year. I know I went on my regular Mitch in the Morning segment on KJR a few days after the story ran and explained my initial misreading about what the source had told me. That I thought the source was refering to another team meeting in 2008 when it was only the one in 2007 he was talking about.
“But it wasn’t an entirely broad team meeting this time, this year,” I told hosts Steve Sandmeyer and Jason Puckett, filling in for Mitch Levy, on the air that day. “And that’s where I might have erred when I was describing what took place. I might have gotten that part of it a little muddled. And in that case, when (interim manager Jim) Riggleman says there was no team meeting, he’s 100 percent correct. Because he’s focusing on the actual meeting. If anybody comes out and denies that there were problems, then I would tell you that they are not telling the truth.”
The radio segment actually gets into heavy detail about our story, it’s aftermath, any clarifications and our stance, in case you’re interested. For anyone who feels what I’m now telling you is big news, it’s worth listening to and getting up to speed with.
But team meeting or not in 2008, the problem between Ichiro and some teammates was no less serious. In fact, while the team meeting cleared the air in 2007 and the Mariners started winning right after it, there was no such watershed moment in 2008. No broad meeting to clear the air. No winning streak that followed. No winning season to distract from the clubhouse stuff. The problems continued and while they may have ebbed somewhat, they never really went away. I also explained on the air that it took a couple of days to pin this down since everyone in that clubhouse was lying low after the story ran and it was some time before we could clarify things about whether or not a team meeting took place.
I was sure I had spelled this all out on this blog as well, but upon looking back, I see that I only suggested a few times there may have been individual meetings. That’s my fault. I write so much stuff for the paper, and blog, not to mention my weekly radio stuff, that I often forget what’s been said and where. So now, I’ll state it nice and clearly. There was no team meeting called over Ichiro in 2008.
Does this change the story? No. The only people clinging to the whole “there was/there wasn’t” subject of a team meeting are Mariners players and staffers trying to bury the story through misdirection and fans who don’t want to think it’s possible Ichiro has stirred up resentment in his own clubhouse. Or, fans who don’t think it was a big deal that he did. You don’t have to think it was a big deal. I’m just telling you the whole story of what happened this season — besides the obvious part about players falling flat on their faces — so you can all judge for yourselves.
Yes, I confused the issue about the team meeting. But the broader issue, the real one, is whether or not lingering jealousies/resentment towards Ichiro were part of the problems that plagued this team in 2008. According to the people I’ve spoken to, they were. And I’m told that some of the players who had problems with him this year were the same ones who had those problems in 2007 and helped prompt that team meeting in Florida to be called.
The bottom line is, the problems were there. Whether it was a team meeting, or a group of individual ones — in which Ichiro was specifically told of the feelings of some teammates — is irrelevant to the central issue.
So, what McLaren says in the Boston Globe is true. He never called a team meeting. And it’s also true that all he ever talked about, in public, last June 20 — the day after his firing, was how there were lingering issues of jealousy hurting the team internally that needed to be addressed.
In fact, he felt so strongly about these issues needing to be addressed that he said it was the only reason he was speaking in public about them at the time.
“The tension and jealousy has been there, and crystal clear,” McLaren told reporters. “The only reason I mention that, not to deter any criticism from myself, but to make this team better.”
Sound like a minor issue to you? If so, why go public with it back in June? What jealousies was he talking about? He never said. But having listened to everyone speak about what happened in the clubhouse this year, the biggest issues of jealousy and resentment centered around Ichiro and Kenji Johjima.
And actually, the day McLaren was fired, but before it happened, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports offered this little tidbit of what was going on:
Meanwhile, the Mariners’ clubhouse remains toxic, sources say, with both Japanese players, Johjima and Ichiro, drawing resentment. Several starting pitchers dislike throwing to Johjima, and his new contract is a source of envy. Players also are jealous of Ichiro, who follows his own training regimen and is perceived by some to be selfish.
Hadn’t seen that until it was pointed out to me a few moments ago. Anyhow, the information is out there for whoever wants to look.
Once again, sorry to be the bearer of bad news. But nobody is making anything up. Larry Stone and myself have both talked, separately, to the same source and been given the same information and specific details about who was involved and what was said. Team officials are aware of what’s gone on. We’ll see what happens from here. Any of them want to come forward in public and put names to the whole “jealousy” thing McLaren’s been talking about for five months, I’m all ears.
Believe me, the last thing I want to be doing now — with a manager search underway — is responding to shots, or insinuations from bloggers. But if you let stuff like this float around in the blogosphere without responding, people assume you’re hiding. We’re not. What we said is true. Whether or not the Mariners’ players, or ex-managers want to giftwrap the truth for fans on a silver platter with on-the-record confirmations of our story is not my concern. It would be nice. But my real concern now is for you all to know that we don’t take lightly the trust you put in us.

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