Yesterday marked a sad, happy, and not-at-all momentous occasion, as the Mariners almost made headlines by simultaneously declining Miguel Olivo’s 2013 option and releasing Munenori Kawasaki from his major league contract. It’s adorable, just absolutely so cute, that Munenori Kawasaki had a big-league pact with a big-league team, and as an adorer of his aura I will admit it is a bit bittersweet to see him go. That’s the sad part of yesterday’s news: no more Mune’s personality. The rest of the news is happy since the players involved were such “marginal” (non) talents and figured to be cut loose right about this time, barring something awful. Munenori is likely heading back to Japan, either to play out the twilight years of his career or to retire to a life of dancing down the streets in patent leather tap shoes and rainbow plaid tuxedo jackets. Miguel is likely headed to a major league baseball team, unbelievably, possibly on a guaranteed contract. I can not express properly in human written language how very differently I think of these two men, to the extent that lumping them together in this post feels bizzarre. But here I am, lumping them together in this post. What follows are final autopsies on the two most recently concluded Seattle Mariners playing careers in Seattle Mariners history, and what a funky pair of Seattle Mariners playing careers they were.
Yadier Molina is one of my very favorite baseball players. Often I’m drawn to players for their strange, intangible qualities, like Hunter Pence’s fish ancestry or Logan Morrison’s vulgar, unfiltered twitter account. Some players draw you in, force you to become a fan no matter how they are as a baseball player. Yadier Molina doesn’t appeal to me in an individual sense, being one of three Molina brothers and all, but his style of baseballing is so close to flawless that I have no choice but to enlist in his fan army. His batting eye and strength make him a fun player to watch at the plate, and his defense makes him a once-in-a-generation talent who stands out amongst his peers like a towering scarecrow in a field of daisies. With Yadier Molina, there’s no choice but to like him immensely because of the way he plays baseball. The exact opposite can be said of Miguel Olivo.
It’s been said many times before, here and elsewhere, that Olivo seems like a nice guy. He smiles, he jokes, he laughs, he embodies that “veteran presence” thing at which the internet has been trained to scoff. Unfortunately for baseball, Miguel Olivo leveraged his veteran status into two unbelievable seasons in a Mariners uniform. When something is unfortunately unbelievable, and you are looking back on it, it may not seem as bad as it was. I’m sure there are Mariners fans who are already looking at the Olivo decision as a mistake. He has a strong throwing arm! He led the team in dingers a year ago! Solid gritty veteran with grit who’s solid! Kill me. Miguel Olivo is amongst the worst Mariners ever to Mariner, and if you don’t believe me, I’m sorry, I’m right.
No part of me feels like falling back on numbers because Miguel Olivo didn’t even pass the eye test. He failed the eye test just about as bad as anyone ever has. Olivo’s hitter profile was, is, and will most likely continue to be one of the silliest in the game. He swings at shit pitches like Vlad Guerrero and makes contact like Roy Halladay. He walks about as much as Roy Halladay. Okay, so maybe those are slight exaggerations, but slight is the key word here. Olivo supposedly made up for all the dead weight that he seemed to be by occasionally being the power hitter savant, the good lord’s gift to the fickle, thumpless Seattle offense. Olivo’s slugging percentages in his most recent Seattle stint: .388 in 2011, when he infamously led the team in home runs and RBI, and .381 this year, when he was at least a little more visibly a complete pile of terrible. Miguel Olivo, professional hitter, showed exactly the wrong kind of hitter profile: poor approach, highlighted by neverending big, shitty swings and treating four balls the way a stubborn four-year-old treats steamed brussel sprouts. Slice it any way you want, and Miguel Olivo still has a career 78wRC+. He’s an awful hitter! Why has he been a major leaguer for so long!
Because, dummy, Miguel Olivo is a veteran frickin’ presence. He’s a force back there behind the plate! Pitchers just groove with Miguel, man, they know he knows how to call a fierce game and by golly, he’s got the flame of a competitor in his heart, that Miguel Olivo. Unfortunately for nonsense, Miguel Olivo is a putrid defender. As a six-year-old, every child is taught that the catcher should block balls with his body and not stab with the glove. Do! Not! Stab! Some professional baseball catchers, in fact, most professional baseball catchers, would never do that! Except for that Miguel Olivo is not most major league baseball catchers. Miguel Olivo is a stab-happy, pitch-makes-its-way-to-the-backstop machine, one of those classic Piazza-type defenders who makes even the most casual observer question the difference between a wild pitch and a passed ball. Miguel Olivo is supposedly an intangible net positive because of how well he worked with the pitching staff. Most every single catcher in the world not named Mike Napoli has this reputation, except that out of all those players only Olivo has a worse plate approach than you. That man, the one with a worse plate approach than you, the reader, is no longer a Seattle Mariner. For that, we should all give thanks.
And with the book closed on Miguel Olivo, Seattle Mariner, we turn to a much, much more sentimentally pleasing flop: Munenori Kawasaki, a one-year participant in the Seattle Mariners Drill Team Super Fun Pushup Camp and quite possibly the most entertaining athlete in the history of sports. It’s not at all fair to call Munenori Kawasaki a flop, really. Kawasaki pledged his alliegence to the Seattle Mariners before anyone in Seattle not named Ichiro, and possibly including Ichiro, had ever heard of him. Munenori Kawasaki came to the majors as an over-the-hill Japanese shortstop with declining stats and a weakening body. But Munenori Kawasaki won’t be remembered in Seattle for coming to town as a misplaced minor leaguer with the power stroke of a fruit fly. Mune will go down in folklore for throwing himself at the Mariners and immediately won a lot of hearts upon first putting on a uniform. Actually, maybe he won a lot of hearts right when he showed up. In case you’d forgotten what he looked like when he showed up:
That was the first many of us saw of Munenori Kawasaki, Extravagant Human Being. Before Spring Training, before the shouting in Japanese and ADHD and jumping jacks, Munenori Kawasaki was a man unknown, knocking on the Mariners door in a suit with Converse and a goofy hat, dragging a gigantic suitcase full of puppies and soda. Munenori Kawasaki flung himself at the team and the team said “sheesh alright, minor league deal for this guy okay yah.” Mune brought with him a suitcase, or probably many suitcases, full of personality. He also brought his physical person, which can do a lot of pushups and dances with the best of them.
It’s not hard to pinpoint Mune’s charm. There have been plenty of scrappy little “lovability” guys in baseball over the years, but few have been the total package quite like Mr. Kawasaki. Upon arrival, he had it all: slight build, face of a child, constant on-field hyperactivity, vocal clubhouse presence, notable defense, “maybe!” offense, once-dazzling Japanese career, speed, mystique, new car smell. I could keep going, or I could remind you that the picture up above is a picture of a Major League Baseball player. Munenori Kawasaki defied all logic, managing to be amongst the most entertaining Major League Baseball players ever while hardly playing and being terrible. Mune was the glimmer of hope for the fans watching at home, thinking to themselves “well I played a little in middle school and I’m a pretty funny guy.” Munenori gave every day folks like you and me reason to think that maybe, just maybe, we could throw ourselves at a baseball team and charm them into letting us stick as the 25th man for a season or two.
Again, no part of me feels like looking at Munenori Kawasaki’s numbers because Munenori Kawasaki is not about the numbers. He hardly played, and when he did he was bad. He hit a double once! Once. As a younger man, Kawasaki once hit a big home run off of Hisashi Iwakuma, at a time when Iwakuma was arguably the best pitcher in Japan. Don’t believe me? I wouldn’t believe me, either, so here’s video proof.
Stranger things have happened than the Munenori Kawasaki Experience, but nothing before has been both so strange and so enjoyable. Having Munenori around all season practically meant playing with a 24-man roster a lot of the time, but it meant having an extra reason to watch the broadcasts. Often Mune was the best reason to watch the broadcasts, even if it was simply in hopes of catching a glimpse of a high-five train or pointing and shouting or whatever else he might happen to be doing at any moment of any game. The worst player on a bad team made that team worth watching every day, and that, to me, is amazing. There will never be another 2012 because there will never be another year in which Munenori Kawasaki plays for the Mariners.
So here we are, saying goodbye to two players who didn’t do the Mariners much good on the field, but by all means contributed to making people smile off the field. Kawasaki made us smile by being literally the world’s most entertaining anything, while Olivo made us smile by having his contract option declined. Forward go the Mariners.
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