‘Hart of the Order’
By Sean Hartnett
» More Columns
When the New York Yankees acquired Ichiro, I greeted his acquisition with skepticism. At 38, his hair is greying. He’s far removed from the days of chasing batting titles and collecting 200 hits.
Ichiro’s numbers regressed to the point that he was batting .261 with an .288 on-base percentage and .353 slugging percentage when he switched clubhouses at Safeco Field and donned the famous Yankee pinstripes.
All signs pointed to a diminished player, a shadow of the man who was once the most electrifying position player in baseball.
Still — Ichiro is an all-time great who hasn’t experienced the playoffs since his magical, MVP-winning rookie season in 2001. Trading uniform of perennial losers for the distinguished Yankee pinstripes has rejuvenated even the most ordinary of players.
Ichiro still capable of flashes of greatness at 38:
Even at his advanced age, you could never label Ichiro as “ordinary.”
Ichiro began his Yankee career under the pressure of facing his former team, wearing the visitor’s uniform and then was swiftly baptized into the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry this past weekend at Yankee Stadium.
He responded by recording a hit in each of his first six games as a Yankee. Ichiro can still cover plenty of ground in the outfield and his powerful throwing arm scared-off Red Sox runners from taking extra bases.
Last night, Ichiro got an excellent jump and stole second base with ease in the 7th inning. After stealing second base, you could see that he was looking to steal third, but didn’t get his opportunity.
Derek Jeter delivered a trademark opposite field single that should have scored Ichiro, but third base coach Rob Thompson held him up at third. Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira were sent down to end the inning. Thompson’s decision may have cost the Yankees’ the game as the Red Sox went on to win 3-2.
Pinstripes have rejuvenated aging veterans of the past:
Hall-of-Fame slugger Johnny Mize is remembered as a St. Louis Cardinal and New York Giant, but finished his career with the Yankees. Mize was a postseason hero as a 39-year-old in the 1952 World Series, hitting three home runs as the Yankees defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers in seven games.
After batting .259 in 1992, the Red Sox believed Wade Boggs’ hitting skills had eroded. Boggs joined the Yankees as a free agent and logged a .302 average in 1993. As a 36-year-old in 1994, Boggs batted .342 and was a .313 hitter in five seasons with the Yankees and helped win the 1996 World Series.
Darryl Strawberry will always be a New York Mets’ icon, but was a postseason masher for the Bronx Bombers. Strawberry delivered many important playoff moments as a Yankee and finished his career by winning the 1999 World Series at 37.
After being re-acquired by the Yankees in 2003, 38-year-old Ruben Sierra smashed 17 home runs in 307 at-bats in 2004. His youthful performances continued into the playoffs. Sierra hit a tying 3-run home run in Game 4 of the 2004 ALDS that helped the Yankees advance past the Minnesota Twins into the ALCS.
In 2005, 37-year-old Tino Martinez returned to the Yankees for a final season in pinstripes. In May of that season, Tino went on a remarkable run — hitting eight home runs in eight games.
Currently, 40-year-old Raul Ibanez has delivered 13 home runs in 259 at-bats and 35-year-old Andruw Jones has walloped 12 home runs in just 161 at-bats.
Ichiro is a low-risk option:
Perhaps, Ichiro can find new life over the next couple months as a Yankee. He isn’t under pressure to live up to a bloated salary as the Yankees are only picking up $2.2 million dollars of his remaining contract.
Ichiro is desperate to win and will be flexible as a starting outfielder or coming off the bench as a pinch-hitter during the playoffs. He can also can be used as a pinch-runner to steal an important base in late game situations and can serve as a valuable defensive replacement for Andruw Jones or Nick Swisher.
I expect Ichiro to have an impact similar to Tim ‘Rock’ Raines as a useful part-time player who can be called upon by Joe Girardi when needed. He’ll get starts against right-handed starting pitchers, come off the bench as a pinch hitter to deliver a big hit and steal a base or two when required.
Ichiro has always embraced the spotlight. People around baseball describe him as a ‘rock star personality.’
He’s always dreamed of wearing the pinstripes and actually tried-on Bernie Williams’ All-Star Game jersey in 2001 after they exchanged jerseys at Safeco Field.
“I used to have a Yankees uniform as a fan; I wore that in Japan,” he told Yahoo.com. “Also, in the 2001 All-Star Game, I traded jerseys with Bernie Williams, so I put that on before.”
Placing Ichiro on the playoff stage at Yankee Stadium might be the tonic that he and the Yankees require to win a 28th World Series title and give Ichiro that long-awaited first career World Series ring.
Will Ichiro be a success in pinstripes? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.