All of us wish that the great athletes could be eternal. That Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer could mount charges at this week's U.S. Open. That Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe could play at least one more Wimbledon final.
We wish that Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird still were competing for NBA titles. That Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier were training for one more thrilla. That Hank Aaron still could hit against Sandy Koufax, and Joe Montana still could hit Jerry Rice over the middle.
We wish the best could last forever.
But in the battle between age and athlete, age always wins. Talent erodes. Skills diminish. Steps are lost. Speed dies.
And so it is happening with Ichiro Suzuki.
The Seattle Mariners right fielder, who has had more than 200 hits and batted better than .300 in each of his 10 previous seasons, is hitting .258 going into Monday night's game with the Angels.
Equally dramatic, he hasn't played his typical Gold Glove right field. It appears as if he has had problems tracking fly balls. He doesn't get the jumps he used to get. He hasn't run down balls in the gap the way he once did.
The playmaker isn't making plays.
Ichiro has looked tired in the same way he did in 2009, when he was drained after playing for Japan in the World Baseball Classic. He started that season on the disabled list, suffering from severe fatigue and a stomach ulcer.
Maybe he needs a thorough physical. Maybe something's physically wrong.
We keep waiting for another one of those remarkable runs from him, something like a .380 July.
But at 37, there's no doubt he's losing his legs, and we very well could be watching a superstar in a rate of decline more rapid than we expected.
As diligent as he has been in his preparation, as impeccably conditioned as he is, the toll of playing 1,588 major-league games in the past 10 seasons is showing.
The question isn't whether Ichiro is in decline. Of course he is.
But this season's sharp decline poses two questions: How will he handle this autumn of his career? And how will the Mariners handle him?
The Mariners always have operated under a set of "Ichiro Rules." He has played every day, even on days when it would be in his best interest to rest. He has always hit leadoff.
He doesn't sacrifice bunt. He rarely walks. He won't trade a few percentage points on his batting average to drive the ball more, even though he has the power to hit as many as 25 home runs per year.
The Mariners always have been accommodating to Ichiro. How could they not accommodate him? He came into this season with a career batting average of .331.
But at this point in his career, it's time for Ichiro to accommodate the Mariners.
Ichiro isn't Ichiro. Through his six-week slump, it has been shocking how few balls he has hit hard. He no longer is the guaranteed 200-hit machine he has been for the past decade. A ground ball into the shortstop hole isn't the surefire base hit it has been since 2001.
Ichiro has to make concessions to his age. He needs to work the count more. If manager Eric Wedge wants him to lay down a sacrifice, he will have to do it.
Wedge Rules trump Ichiro Rules.
It's hard to believe, but the Mariners are in a division race, just behind first-place Texas. Suddenly the Rangers aren't hitting. Neither are the Angels. And Oakland looks like a franchise in decay.
There's nobody in the division that should scare the Mariners. (I can't believe I just wrote that sentence.)
But Wedge has to plan for the future as he manages in the present. He has to find places in the lineup for the kids -- Carlos Peguero, Greg Halman, Mike Carp. Some days, especially for Peguero and Halman, that place could be right field.
When Wedge wants Ichiro to sit, Ichiro, for the good of the team, will have to sit. Wedge Rules.
In the first half of this surprising season, Wedge has managed his roster masterfully. There is no doubt that he is in control.
He will continue to manage Ichiro the way he did last Friday, when he gave his right fielder the day off. Ichiro responded to the rest with four hits in nine at-bats this weekend in Detroit.
Ichiro still is important to this season, but he is a role player now. Will he accept this role?
Even the greatest don't last forever.