Before tonight’s game at Safeco Field, Torii Hunter and I were talking about Ken Griffey Jr., his greatness and unique style.
“When I was a young guy, I used to watch everything he did,” Hunter said. “I loved his swing so much I even tried to copy it — left-handed. He’s got to be one of the greatest players ever, and one of the most exciting.”
I started watching the game before Torii was born. I told him I had Junior in my all-time top five for pure entertainment value.
Here they go:
1. Willie Mays
2. Roberto Clemente
3. Mickey Mantle
4. Nolan Ryan
5. Ken Griffey Jr.
Four outfielders and the fastest gun in history.
It’s hard to leave out Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Maury Wills, Fernando Valenzuela, Ozzie Smith, Rickey Henderson, Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Eric Davis . . . and on and on. But those are my fab five.
Junior had it all, and he loved every minute he was on the field. A player for the ages, and the best of his time. Barry Bonds might have been a better hitter, but he wasn’t the total player Griffey was in their primes. — Lyle Spencer
Ichiro is as hip, stylish and in step with the times as any player in Major League Baseball, even if he doesn’t express it in fluent English.
Before the All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium last season, Ichiro willingly gave me a brief taste of hip-hop. I’m no music critic – although I did once review a Bruce Springsteen concert for the late, lamented Los Angeles Herald Examiner — but it sounded dead on to me.
“Ichiro is as cool as it gets, man,” Reds manager Dusty Baker had told me. “He’ll bust out some Snoop on you.”
The Mariners’ superstar, alone at his locker in the ancient home clubhouse at Yankee Stadium, was just starting to feel it before I was ushered away, deprived of more Ichiro unplugged by pre-game time constraints.
Now here he is, on the verge of reaching 200 hits for the ninth consecutive season, meaning every season he’s played in the Major Leagues of this country. We’re fortunate that it could happen here, at Angel Stadium, because this is a performer to savor, one for the ages.
As contemporary as he is on every level, Ichiro, more than any other current player, takes us back to another time, another century.
If you’re younger than dirt and would be curious to know what Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker, greats of those early times, played like, Ichiro is your ticket.
He slaps and dashes. He laces line drives everywhere. He runs as if swept by a quiet storm. He makes difficult plays routine and has a cannon for an arm. I’ll never forget the throw he made his rookie year to erase Oakland’s Terrence Long trying to reach third base on a single. I was thinking, that’s Clemente, Roberto Clemente.
Ichiro has pounded out and beat out his singles on wonderful teams (2001) and dismal ones. He has been as consistent as the weather in the Pacific Northwest. You know it’s going to rain base hits when this guy is on the field.
Ichiro is much like Pete Rose in that way, without the fury. Ichiro is a better hitter than Rose was, with all due respect, and much faster. Defensively, it’s no contest. Ichiro is among the best ever; Pete took his talents to physical limits that never constrained Ichiro.
If Pete was Charlie Hustle – and he was – Ichiro is Mr. Cool, in any language.
Seattle likely will finish no better than third in the American League West this season, but it led the division in legends with Ichiro and Ken Griffey Jr. The Mariners also own perhaps the game’s most gifted young pitcher in Felix Hernandez, who takes his place right alongside Tim Lincecum.
Griffey has been, in my judgment, the player of his generation. Nobody ever had more fun playing the game than The Kid, and nobody ever was more fun to watch.
Ichiro Suzuki has been simply unique. His value can be measured with statistics that will carry him to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, but there’s never been a number that defines style and class packaged in the one dynamic frame.
I’ll settle for No. 51, the one worn by the great Ichiro, a blazing star for several continents and all time.
In Seattle now with the Angels, feeling their pain and unimaginable sense of desolation over the loss of Nick Adenhart, I am trying to carry on, but I still am numb, disoriented, not entirely here. My coping abilities clearly have limits.
It’s been six days. Six decades won’t be long enough to get over this.
This is essentially what Shane Loux was saying yesterday after a remarkable performance against the Mariners on a frigid day at Safeco Field in front of a packed house that had come to welcome Ken Griffey Jr. back to his original baseball home. We use the word courage much too often in sports, but I feel it’s a courageous effort for the Angels to just take the field at this time, let alone play the game at a high level.
Loux expressed a sentiment shared, I’m sure, by every Angels player, coach, manager Mike Scioscia and the entire organizational staff when he said Nick was in his thoughts all day long – and hasn’t left his thoughts since the horrible news came on Thursday morning.
The reader response to my post on Nick was heartwarming, but it also served to drive home the enormity of this loss. He was just getting started. I can’t seem to get past that right now, how it was all in front of him.
Friends have called, expressing various reactions, and one question I’m asked over and over is this: How good would Nick Adenhart have been if his career had played itself out?
My response generally goes something like this: “He’d have been great. How great, obviously, we’ll never know.” And that’s just tragic beyond words. He should have been allowed to fulfill his destiny.
When I first started watching Nick seriously, in 2008 in Arizona during Spring Training, I saw a remarkable resemblance in manner to Bobby Welch in his early days with the Dodgers. I recall writing something about that and then discussing it with Nick. I was drawn to his easy, laid-back manner, how he was so interested in everything I had to say about the game he loved. A lot of young people are preoccupied, quite naturally, with their own lives, but I sensed that Nick really enjoyed hearing about players from earlier times, what made them tick.
I also told him all about Don Sutton, another pitcher I covered who made it to the Hall of Fame with tools very similar to those of Nick Adenhart. Sutton wasn’t overpowering, but he could put his fastball where he wanted it and had a big, over-the-top curveball that complemented it beautifully. Sutton was a serious student of the game as a young man, absorbing everything he could, and that went a long way in making him the durable craftsman he became across two decades.
Sutton, I decided, was the type of pitcher Adenhart could become. Nick also had a dynamic changeup to go with the 92-94 mph heater and the 12-to-6 curve, and he had the burning desire to be great. It was concealed by a relaxed, almost nonchalant personal style, but I saw it in his eyes and felt it when we talked.
I’ll cherish for the rest of my days those conversations we had over the past two springs, how thrilled I was to watch him in his final performance against the Athletics. He pitched his way through trouble like a veteran that night, confident and in command.
Before the game, I was talking with Chone Figgins and Howard Kendrick when Nick walked past on his way to the training room. We’d talked about how he’d matured, how ready he was – and he gave me a look and a grin that told me everything I wanted to know.
He was ready for the challenge, fully prepared for the challenges awaiting him. He had found all the answers he’d been searching for, and now it was his time.
So, here’s my answer: I think he could have joined Don Sutton in the Hall of Fame someday. That’s how talented, how driven, Nick Adenhart was as a baseball player. As a person, he was a slam-dunk Hall of Famer, about as good as it gets.