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Ichiro is the star the MLB Home Run Derby needs but won't get

With the MLB Home Run Derby looking like it could be short on star power this year, the league might have to get creative to fill out its eight-man tournament-style field.

What would be more creative — or exciting — than extending an invitation to the legend himself, Ichiro Suzuki?

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Ichiro, 44, stepped away from the field earlier this season to take a position in the Seattle Mariners front office. He’s been careful to say he’s not yet retired, which would seemingly leave the door open for a return. Whether that potential return happens in MLB or in Japan is anyone’s guess right now, but everyone seems to agree it would be fun to see at least a one-time appearance in the 2018 MLB Home Run Derby.

Everyone except for Ichiro, unfortunately.

He’s on record saying he wouldn’t accept the invitation if it comes, but we can’t help but dream about the possibility.

Why the Home Run Derby needs Ichiro

The current fast-paced Home Run Derby format has been a big hit, but the event still needs star players to be the attraction.

We’ve heard rumors, reports and confirmations of other reports that top performers like Aaron Judge, Mike Trout and Mookie Betts will not be participating. Then there’s Shohei Ohtani, whose participation was hoped for but will not happen following his elbow injury. We’re also awaiting official word from Bryce Harper, who would have a chance to compete at Nationals Park while representing the Washington Nationals.

Even if Harper commits, the field will need additional boosts that only a few players could provide. Ichiro is one of them.

Everyone wants to see Seattle Mariners legend Ichiro Suzuki in the Home Run Derby, except for Ichiro himself. (AP)

Why Ichiro would be perfect for the Home Run Derby

One of the legends surrounding Ichiro since his arrival in MLB is that he could hit home runs, at will, in batting practice.

Mariners manager Scott Servais didn’t go that far, but says he’s seen Ichiro launching enough home runs in batting practice recently — even after stepping away from the field — that he could be competitive in the event.

“I think Ichiro would be a great addition at the home run-hitting contest at the All-Star Game, because he takes BP every day and he is launching balls – it is really fun to watch,” Servais said. “He comes out every day, he takes his BP very seriously. Everybody remembers when Ichiro was on top of his game he was slapping the ball all over the place, but he has power.

“We came out for early BP yesterday and he got on the board, he threw (for) about 20-25 minutes to our guys, and then when the regular BP started he got in (the batter’s box) and he started launching balls.”

Don’t just take Servais’ word for it.

Adding to all this is the fact the Home Run Derby is the one thing missing from Ichiro’s resume. It’s always felt like something that needed to happen.

Why Ichiro won’t participate in the Home Run Derby

For Ichiro, it’s a respect issue.

“Right now, I’m not a player,” Ichiro told MLB.com through interpreter Allen Turner. “I’m going to be back, but right now, I think it’s just a joke, to be honest with you.”

“I think if somebody like me entered, it would kind of harm the game. I’m not a player and with the long, great history MLB has, I don’t think it would be good for [the game]. But it’s fun and I’m happy it’s come up. It’s fun to have conversations like that. So I’m definitely happy about it.”

Ichiro had a little fun with Servais’ comments too.

“I didn’t know the skipper told jokes, but I guess he does. That’s the funniest thing he’s said in the first half of the year.”

It wasn’t a joke to us, Ichiro. It was a smaller glimmer of hope for a scenario many of us have long hoped for. While we respect Ichiro’s reasons not wanting to compete, we do hope he’ll be given the chance to reconsider.

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