Late Monday afternoon (7/23), I received a text from a friend that the New York Yankees had acquired Seattle Mariners' perennial All-Star Ichiro Suzuki for a pair of minor leaguers. At the very least, I did a double take, though it may have actually been a triple.
Sure enough, a short time later Suzuki was meeting with the press to express his gratitude to the Seattle organization and to the Mariners fans for the wonderful years he'd spent in the Emerald City. Not long after that the Yankees were holding a press conference to introduce Suzuki, a veteran of 12 seasons spent in right field, as their new left fielder.
What made the night truly unique, of course, was that the Yankees were playing the Seattle Mariners on the road. So Suzuki merely switched clubhouses and team colors. And in joining the Yankees, he reunited with former Mariners' teammates Freddy Garcia, Raul Ibanez, and Rafael Soriano.
The need for Suzuki arose when Yankees left fielder Brett Gardner opted for what is likely to be season- ending surgery on his balky right elbow. The media talked of the Yankees "checking in" on Shane Victorino of the Phillies, the Twins' Denard Span, and Diamondbacks' Justin Upton. But during the All-Star break, Suzuki asked his agent, Tony Attanasio, to ask the Mariners' management for a deal. He felt that it was time to play for a contender again instead of a team in transition.
Word got through to Yankees VP Randy Levine, and GM Brian Cashman, an expert in pulling off stealth deals, made it happen. With Suzuki turning 39 years old in October and free agency looming after the 2012 season, the price was not high- two minor league pitchers (D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar) who are only looked at as mid-level prospects. The Yankees will also pay a portion of the remaining money due to Suzuki for 2012.
With Nick Swisher temporarily sidelined with a hip flexor injury, Suzuki was in his customary right field and hit 8th in the Yankees deep lineup. He singled his first time up and promptly stole second base. The Yankees won 4-1 and Suzuki enjoyed being on a first place team. To say it was odd seeing him in a Yankees uniform is an understatement, but was it the most peculiar incident of a player putting on the Pinstripes? Not even close.
That distinction belongs to Roger Clemens, who the Yankees acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays in a deal before the 1999 season. While Suzuki may not have been liked by some Yankees fans, Clemens was hated to the core. He had been a member of the hated Boston Red Sox and wasn't afraid to hit batters like Derek Jeter.
His first season in the Bronx wasn't an easy one, especially after he got clobbered in his first post-season start in Fenway Park against Pedro Martinez and his old team. Eventually, though, Clemens won the fans over with his pitching, his use of the baseball to retaliate for hit teammates, an AL Cy Young Award and two World Series rings. Some of that love has been lost, however, since steroid allegations were brought to light.
Even though there has been no substantive proof that Clemens used performance enhancing drugs, his inclusion in the Mitchell Report and accusations from his former trainer Brian McNamee have most fans believing he was a user.
Ichiro isn't even #2 on the "odd pinstripes" list- that distinction falls to another former Red Sox player, Wade Boggs. Like Clemens, Boggs already had one strike against him as a member of the Red Sox. Throw in the love of his own stats, his decision to sit out the final series of the 1986 season against the Yankees when Don Mattingly was chasing him for the AL batting title, and his much publicized extra-marital affair, and you've got yourselves a good enemy.
Just like Clemens, though, Boggs won Yankees fans over. It took a little more time than it did with Clemens, (for one thing Mattingly reportedly despised Boggs when the two were teammates), but what Yankees fan over the age of 25 doesn't remember Boggs laying in the celebratory pile after the 1996 World Series, crying tears of joy, and then riding on the back of a police horse waving to the joyful crowd?
In his five seasons in New York, Boggs hit .3131, won a pair of Gold Gloves at third base, earned four All-Star nods, and picked up two Silver Slugger Awards.
I'll put Ichiro in ahead of catcher Ivan Rodriguez, another player many Yankees fans don't like. A suspected PED user, (though there have been no failed tests or proof), the Yankees acquired "Pudge" at the 2008 trade deadline.
The Yankees were lacking any offensive punch from their current catchers, Jose Molina and Chad Moeller, and felt Rodriguez might still have something left in his bat. At the time of the deal, he was hitting .295 and had a .756 OPS for the Detroit Tigers. The deal was a complete flop; Rodriguez hit just .219 in 33 games and had an OPS (.580) as bad, if not worse, than the two incumbent catchers. The Yankees are counting on the Suzuki deal to work out a lot better.
1 - Statistic courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com