Ichiro Suzuki and Shaun Alexander. Both of them should be considered Seattle sports legends for their contribution on their respective athletic fields. However, both of their names are often missing when discussions arise concerning the great athletes to play for the Emerald City. The obvious question is why.
A local radio station recently took an on-air poll asking fans to vote on whom they would put on a Seahawks themed Mount Rushmore. Fans brought up some obvious names (Steve Largent, Cortez Kennedy) but Shaun Alexander’s name was hardly even mentioned. Alexander’s numbers speak for themselves – during his career, he broke the single season TD record, won the only MVP award in Seahawks’ history, and was an integral part of the only Super Bowl appearance the Seahawks have ever known. He never caused any trouble off the field, gave back to the community (often through his church), and played all but the final year of his career with the same team. So why the animosity? Before answering that question, let’s take a look at Ichiro Suzuki.
Ichiro recently returned to Safeco Field as a member of the Yankees – but it wasn’t to the same hoopla someone like Griffey had when he returned to Safeco late in his career for another team. What’s the difference between the two? Why, when talking about the most beloved Mariners of all time, are names like Edgar, Buhner, and Dan Wilson thrown around, but Ichiro’s name is largely forgotten? Ichiro’s career with the Mariners was also record breaking. He was part of the team in 2001 that tied the Major League record for regular season wins. That same year he won the Major League Baseball MVP and Rookie of the Year awards. He broke one of the oldest records in the book when he claimed the single season hits record from George Sisler in 2004. He never caused any off the field issues and mostly stayed to himself while playing with the Mariners. So, again, why the cold shoulder?
The reason, I believe, is found in the expectations we have for our athletes in the Pacific Northwest. We want them to be everymen – to be symbolic of how we think we would play the game if given the opportunity. We want them to show heart, passion, and a love for the game they are fortunate to have the talent to play on a professional level. We’d like to think we have the grit to play the game like Buhner or the joy to play the game like Griffey. We want our heroes to be emotionally involved – like Matt Hasselbeck – in what happens on a daily basis.
Ichiro and Shaun Alexander both were lacking these traits. Shaun Alexander was smiling whether losing or winning. We never got to see him get angry at losing or show emotion really in any way. Ichiro was the same. His even-tempered approach to the game alienated a lot the fans in Seattle. That, along with his lack of desire to talk to the American media or really speak any English on camera at all, led to fans thinking of him as an outsider, not truly part of our community.
Mostly, I think we want to cheer for people who have the same love for the game and the city that we have. We want to see them live and die with how the team does, right alongside of us, and then know that they’re going out to the same restaurants and events in the city that we are also frequenting. We want to feel like we could sit down with them, have a couple beers, and commiserate together the fortunes of Seattle sports. In short, we want them to have a connection to the fans that have supported and pulled for them on a daily basis. That’s what they were lacking, and that’s why they will never be thought of as true Seattle sports heroes.
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