SEATTLE - Things got so bad in the Seattle Mariners clubhouse during this discouraging season that one player reportedly threatened to “knock out” outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, the team’s highest profile player.
A “clubhouse insider” quoted in Thursday’s edition of The Seattle Times said, “I just can’t believe the number of guys who really dislike him. It got to a point early on when I thought they were going to get together and go after him.”
The story went on to say that coaches and then-manager John McLaren, who was fired June 19, intervened when one player was overheard talking about wanting to “knock him out.” A meeting was called to clear the air.
Suzuki did not comment on the story, but pitcher J.J. Putz said he doesn’t remember any such incident and said there was no meeting to talk about it.
“It’s very troubling if it was a player who said that,” Putz said. “People have a lot of differences of opinion on a lot of things, but to say something like that in the paper and not fess up as to who it is, whoever said it is a coward.
“You have something to say about somebody, step up and say it. Don’t hide behind (a writer). Anybody can sit around and talk behind somebody’s back. I think it’s ridiculous.”
Suzuki, who got off to a slow start, reached 3,000 hits combined between Japan and the U.S. on July 29. He achieved 200 hits Sept. 17 for the eighth straight season, matching a big league record. He was second in the league in hits (207) entering Thursday night and needs one more to become the quickest to 1,800 hits for any player who started his career after 1954.
But rumors persist that some players believe he is selfish and more interested in his hit totals than the team’s success.
“You’re talking about a guy who is more prepared to play than anybody probably in this game,” Putz said. “He goes out every single season and has 200 hits and scores 100 runs. All of a sudden people talk about knocking him out. That’s the one thing that’s usually sacred in there. You have something to say about somebody, you walk up to them and say something.”
Mariners manager Jim Riggleman also said he doesn’t remember any such clubhouse turmoil centered on Suzuki, nor a meeting to deal with it.
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Riggleman said the real reason for the malcontent this season is simply the weariness of losing. The Mariners, with a $117 million payroll and big expectations, have lost 100 games for the fourth time in club history, and the first time since 1983.
“We’ve lost so many games, so these type of things surface,” Riggleman said. “When the ship is sinking, the rats are the first ones off. They’re the ones scavenging everything on the ship when it’s going good, but when it’s sinking they’re the first ones off.”
Riggleman added that when Suzuki is called selfish it takes away from some of the accomplishments.
“It’s hard to comprehend that someone is looking at 200-plus hits and it’s not helping the ballclub,” he said. “It’s seventh-grade mentality. It’s pettiness, jealousy, pointing fingers, deflecting responsibility, lack of accountability, lack of character. People takes shots at people in the paper. You get a feeling for who those people are and you try to eliminate those people.”
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