Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Tatonka List: 2001

If our last Tatonka was the Second Coming of the real deal, then our next stop will be at sort of an anti-Tatonka. This for two reasons. First of all, despite his many previous baseball achievements, the signing of this Tatonka was not exactly hailed as the salvation of the franchise. Secondly, that it has played out so very well also denies the legacy of the Tatonka label.

Nevertheless, there is no other choice for the 2000-2001 offseason than the 30 November 2000 signing of seven-time NPB batting champ and member of the 1996 champion Orix Blue Wave, Ichiro Suzuki. When I went to Spring Training in Peoria in 2001, I got to see Ichiro! (sans exclamation point, at that time) preparing for the major league season. I was suitably impressed, but everything written about the move was skeptical. (We should note that even if he played the entire Spring as a huge sandbagging effort to disguise his skills with the bat, Ichiro made no attempt to conceal his powerful and accurate arm. It took me some time to pick my jaw up from the floor after watching effortless Ichiro strikes from right field to nail runners at second and third base over and over again.)

The skepticism about Ichiro's value was, of course, quite warranted. No other POSITION player had EVER come to MLB from Japan. Sure, pitchers since Hideo Nomo had experienced major-league success, but it was an open question just how well Ichiro (that offseason I also heard him called "Itchy," by the way) would fare in the bigs.

Something that Ichiro brought to the team that season was magic. As awesome as he was, winning the ROY and MVP all at once despite his definitely non-power oriented batting skills, and as great a defender as he was, the rest of the 2001 team was no pushover, carving up the league and sending 8 (count 'em, eight) Mariners to the All-Star Game, while generally dominating all of baseball. Well, until October, anyway, when the Yankees walked over the M's without much effort at all.

But that's another therapy session. I hate to sully Ichiro!'s good name by putting him on the Tatonka list, but what other candidates were there? Jeff Nelson was brought back to the team...Jay Buhner was resigned (Bone!)...Mike Caruso and Jason Grabowski were claimed off get the picture. Ichiro was the one big move of that offseason.

We salute you, Ichiro!

Tatonka List
2006 Kenji Johjima
2005 Adrian Beltre
2004 Eddie Guardado
2003 Randy Winn
2002 Jeff Cirillo
2001 Ichiro!
2000 next up


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