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Friday, July 13, 2001
Ichiro stops the press

By Mark Kreidler
Special to ESPN.com

Try to hold it together: Our little boy is growing up. Don't let him see you getting all weepy about it.

Ichiro Suzuki
Ichiro isn't pleased with the Japanese media.
People wondered how long it would take for Ichiro to fully assimilate to the major leagues. Turns out it took barely half a season. Oh, he could hit from the get-go, and he could run like a breeze, and he fields his position and knows how to spit, and grows sideburns, and all that stuff.

But you're not initiated into the U.S. pros until you have boycotted the media, and that makes this Friday the 13th a special one. Ichiro has finally identified the Great Satan! He's a made man.

The announcement came from the Seattle Mariners staff that both Ichiro and teammate Kazu Sasaki no longer would be cooperating with the Japanese media, owing to said media's overbearing intrusion in the players' lives. The final straw, apparently, was Ichiro finding himself surrounded by flash-wielding photographers while backing his car out of the driveway of his residence on the way to work.

Frankly, the thought of seeing Ichiro in his rack-hair going backwards in a car doesn't strike me as Page 1 material for any of Japan's sports dailies, but that's their problem. Ichiro's task was much more clear-cut: 1) Get fed up over the cross-the-line behavior of a tiny handful of journalists; 2) Respond to that emotion by cutting off communication with the whole bloody lot of them; 3) Feel the good vibes rolling toward him from across the clubhouse, where media-savvy veteran pros nod their heads and say things like, "Damn straight!"

Ichiro and Sasaki apparently still will be speaking with the Seattle- and American-based media, though exactly where the players are going to draw the line remains to be seen. Ichiro may have to extend his action to all reporters covering the team, for example, if he finds that one of the U.S. media has the nerve to pass along to the Japanese papers that Ichiro said he was, and I quote, "pleased" with his latest 3-for-4 effort.

But those are the risks that you run with a boycott. Almost any U.S. superstar will tell you it's worth it, even if it only lasts a day or two.

Boycotting the media in America is such a time-honored concept that it's almost venerable. If you haven't shut out some reporter somewhere over some perceived grievance, you're probably just not trying. You don't rate.

Thus, players in all sports have routinely come up with reasons to stop speaking to the media. I prefer the honest route, with people like Eddie Murray and Albert Belle sort of making it clear they just don't like reporters very much, but there are other ways to go.

In time, Ichiro will assume that the Japanese media have learned their lesson, will resume his daily jam sessions, and life in the Ichiro biosphere will go on pretty much as before, albeit with perhaps fewer driveway photos.

If you're a player, you can claim you've been misquoted. Misrepresented. Quoted accurately but out of context. Ripped for an action when you were really taking one for the team. A victim of circumstance. Unhappy with a reporter's style of writing. Angry at the treatment of a) a teammate, b) the manager, c) the mascot. Misquoted in your own autobiography, or, as we know it, Barkley'd.

I could go on. The point is that there are as many excuses for cutting off media access as there are days on the calendar. Any reason will do, so long as it results in the player making a grand proclamation of his impending silence -- then, as soon as he finds it convenient, lifting again the veil of secrecy and returning to his normal life as a man subject to daily revisions of the basic question, "How'd it go out there today, slugger?"

It's difficult to imagine that the Ichiro/Sasaki boycott will have any long-term effect; for the most part, no media boycott anywhere has ever had any long-term effect. (I think Napoleon had a pretty good streak going there for awhile, and then something happened.) In time, Ichiro will assume that the Japanese media have learned their lesson, will resume his daily jam sessions, and life in the Ichiro biosphere will go on pretty much as before, albeit with perhaps fewer driveway photos.

In the meantime, the man has bought himself invaluable goodwill among his fraternity brothers in Major League Baseball. If they didn't before, they now can think of Ichiro as one of Them. Took only half a season, too. Those user manuals really work.

Mark Kreidler of the Sacramento Bee is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.