The Mariners marketing slogan for 2009 – “A New Day, A New Way” – might need to be expanded to “A New Day, A New Way – and a New Odd Couple.”They met in 1995, when Griffey already was renowned for his Spider-Man fence-climbing feats and Ichiro was an obscurity everywhere but in his homeland.
“He came over to see Michael Jordan and me,” Griffey recalled Saturday during his “introductory” press conference at the Mariners spring-training complex in Peoria, Ariz. “We knew what kind of baseball player he was going to be.”
By then, Ichiro knew what kind of baseball player Griffey was. He owned a Seattle No. 24 jersey, perhaps the only item in Ichiro’s eclectic wardrobe ensemble that his future teammate wouldn’t dare mock.
When Griffey goes casual, he wears warm-up jackets, nylon sweat pants and top-of-the-line sneakers. On those special occasions requiring him to dress up, he wears warm-up jackets, nylon sweat pants and top-of-the-line sneakers.
Ichiro? He prefers the look of somebody who’s been invited to the Grammy Awards. The, uh, 1984 Grammy Awards.
“We might have to change his wardrobe,” Griffey said. “He can’t wear skinny ties. Those went out with Duran Duran.”
It broke up the room, but couched in Griffey’s wisecrack was the promise the Mariners really might embrace a new day and a new way, at least in the clubhouse. When was the last time one of Ichiro’s teammates needled him about his colorful clothes? When Jay Buhner still had a locker at Safeco Field?
Imagine. A former superstar who once tied a big-league record by hitting homers in eight consecutive games, who surely regarded the concept of a “productive out” as the ultimate oxymoron, preaching the virtues of whatever it takes.
He’s remembered as a monster masher capable of taking four bases with one swing. He returns as a subtle tactician, content to sustain rallies one base at a time.
“I might not hit 50 homers,” Griffey said. “I might not hit 40 homers. I might not hit 30 homers. “But I can do the little things you don’t look at in the box score – the things that help win ballgames.”
If Griffey does the little things that help win ballgames, Ichiro will be happy to do the little things, too. And if two future Hall of Famers – with a combined 21 All-Star Games, 18 Gold Gloves, two MVP awards and 4,584 hits – are doing the little things, then undisciplined free swingers such as Yuniesky Betancourt and Jose Lopez will have no choice but to get on board.