The return of Ichiro Suzuki to New York last week with the Marlins reminded us of what a blessing he has been to Baseball in this country. The appreciation is all the stronger because of the possibility this will be the last year of the Japanese star’s magnificent career. Now 41, Ichiro has played 14 seasons in the U.S., 11-and –a-half with the Mariners, two-and-a-half with the Yankees. He was an All-Star in each of his first 10 seasons, earning Rookie of the Year and MVP awards, as well. In 2004, he batted .372, his 262 hits setting a single-season record. Ichiro says he hasn’t ruled out staying on for at least another season, if wanted by the Marlins or another team.
Fans would surely welcome more of Ichiro, despite a regrettable aspect of his presence and that of other Asian-born stars: they overshadow the solid play of our home-grown product – the several Asian-American players about whose lineage most fans are unaware. Among them: KC’s Jeremy Guthrie and the Dodgers’ Brandon League (on the DL), whose names provide no clue to the Asian connection, plus the more readily identifiable Boston’s Shane Victorino, the Cardinals’ Kolton Wong, Minnesota’s Kurt Suzuki and SF’s Travis Ishikawa. Wong has gotten off to a solid start – .292, two-for-two stolen bases and better-than-average defense in 15 games; Guthrie is 1-1 with the Royals. Either injuries or a shortage of early-season playing time have hampered the others. But, if precedent holds, they will make their presence felt before long. All but the Twins’ Suzuki helped their teams to the playoffs last season. And we remember the stunning three-run walkoff homer by Ishikawa in the NLCS that sent the Giants to the World Series and their third championship in five years.
Asian-Americans have long been a low-profile presence in the national ballpark and on its political field. But the group provided a pleasant surprise for the Dem team in a recent Pew survey of party loyalty: “The top Democratic?/?Democratic-leaning groups(give) the party a 69-percentage-point edge among blacks; 36 points among the religiously unaffiliated; 30 points with both Jews and Hispanics; and 16 points among millennials (ages 18 to 33). (But) the Democratic-tilting group that’s most notable is Asian-Americans, among whom Pew found the party had a 42-point edge. Considering that Bill Clinton (failed to attract meaningful Asian-American support) in his two presidential races…this move toward Democratic affiliation—in 2012, Mitt Romney lost Asian-Americans by 47 percentage points—is a substantial change. It’s particularly worrying for Republicans, because Asian-Americans are the fastest-growing ethnic group in the country.” – (Charlie Cook, National Journal)
Made-up proverb: If I’m feeling anxious, it’s nice to know my adversaries are worrying, too.
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What We Know after a four-week season sampler: Dodgers, Cardinals, and Nationals remain likely division winners. The Yankees, with a resurgent rotation, will have a strong say in who wins the AL East. The Mets could sneak into the playoffs, but only on the unlikely chance the Cubs, Pirates, Giants and Padres cooperate. The defending AL champion Royals are saying 2014 was no fluke. That four of the five division teams (except Houston) are below .500, suggests the AL West will be a scramble.
Yes, You’ve Heard This Before: Amid the welter of injuries plaguing key players in both leagues, one that has failed to sideline a hurt mainstay is doing most damage. A surgically repaired leg is preventing the Tigers’ switch-hitting Victor Martinez from batting from the left side; worse, it has hobbled him as he tries to run out balls put in play. V-Mart has gone from force to liability. A fair conclusion: The Tigers, further declawed by the absence of DL’d Justin Verlander, are no longer the team to beat in the AL Central.
Tommy John’s Dark Side: “The sobering fact is that one out of every seven pitchers who undergo Tommy John surgery never will return to the same level of pitching. And when you get Tommy John surgery at a young age, you are that much closer to your second Tommy John surgery. And a second Tommy John surgery means something else for one in three pitchers: the end of the line.” – (Tom Verducci, Sports Illustrated)
Umpires are human: the repetitive work can numb their sensibilities, as happened Thursday in Detroit. In the sixth-inning of a one-run game, Jacoby Ellsbury, leading off third, induced a balk from Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez that tied the score at 1-1. It was the Yankees who called the balk, however, not plate umpire Phil Cuzzi, nor first-base ump Tony Randazzo. Will Little, umping at second, could not have had as clear a view of the balk as did Cuzzi, Randazzo, and third base ump Gerry Davis. It was Cuzzi’s call, but he missed it; Randazzo evidently missed the balk, too. Finally, Davis reacted to the commotion from the visitors’ side of the field, and waved Ellsbury home. The Yanks went on to win, 2-1. Chances are the biggest losers will be the umpires, who must explain to their superiors why they appeared to be caught in a state of vapor-lock.
(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)