In two weeks, the Mariners fly to Japan for a week-long visit that includes two regular-season games with the Oakland A’s and a professional homecoming for Ichiro.
Arriving 11 years ago from Japan amid skepticism about his ability to cut it in Major League Baseball, Ichiro impressed and dazzled American players and fans — and amazed his countrymen, who had never before exported one of their own to the global pop-culture stage. Homeland fans and media could not get enough of his exploits.
Now, at 38, Ichiro is in his career twilight, and is no longer the attraction he was. As the Mariners have floundered, more than two dozen Japanese players have followed Ichiro to MLB to make their own marks. While still popular, as one Japanese broadcaster put it, Ichiro has moved from “superstar” to “legendary.”
In Seattle, he remains the face of the franchise, and still the only player who brings in revenues by his mere presence. But it’s not nearly the amount some have imagined.
In the final year of his contract, the Mariners have a baseball and business decision to make: Extend the contract of a fading star, or let him go into free agency and end the baseball and business relationship that has been the best thing about a mostly dreary decade for the Mariners.
Art Thiel writes about the declining impact of Ichiro in an exclusive story for Puget Sound Business Journal, a sponsor of Sportspress Northwest’s trip to cover the Mariners in Japan.
Read the story at the Puget Sound Business Journal [paywall].