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Ichiro Suzuki and the Masters of Sports Deception

The Mariners legend sneaked into the dugout Thursday night with a legendary disguise. What other athletes have fooled their opponents?

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

George Orwell said that sports are based on war, and Sun Tzu said that war is based on deception. From the rope-a-dope to the fumblerooski, sports are just as firmly rooted in trickery. Occasionally that extends beyond the field of play.

On Thursday night, Ichiro Suzuki sneaked into the visitor’s dugout during Seattle’s game at Yankee Stadium. Ichiro, who retired from the Mariners midseason and immediately took a front-office job with the team, is barred from being in the dugout during games because MLB rules are stupid. Ichiro, who played for the Yankees from 2012 to 2014, took a break from his home run derby campaign and found an innovative way around this problem. (He left by the second inning.)

AP

In honor of Ichiro’s mustachioed high jinks bringing the shadow art of sports deception into the sunlight, let’s honor some of the best moments when sports figures have used disguise — either for themselves or their intentions — to their benefit.

Bobby Valentine’s Original Mustache Switcharoo

Two weeks and 18 years ago, Bobby Valentine became the original fake mustache connoisseur. The Mets manager was ejected in the top of the 12th inning, and shortly afterward a man looking a lot like Valentine made an appearance in the Mets dugout.

Marshawn Lynch Gets Ejected, Watches Game in the Stands

In last season’s Week 7 tilt between the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders, Raiders running back (and local legend) Marshawn Lynch ran onto the field during a scuffle to calm down his friend and then–Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters.

The referees ejected Lynch for making contact with an official. Initial reports indicated he had left the stadium, but photographic evidence proved otherwise.

The Athletic confirmed that Lynch watched the rest of the game from the stands. Lynch, true to his Bay Area roots, took the BART home after the game.

Draymond Green Watches the NBA Finals Next Door

You might think the defining play of the 2016 NBA Finals was LeBron’s epic block or Kyrie Irving’s lead-taking 3-pointer. It was actually Draymond Green’s [checks official NBA suspension language] “retaliatory swipe of his hand to [LeBron’s] groin” that swung the series.

Green was suspended for Game 5 and barred from Oracle Arena. The Warriors still led the series 3–1. Green wanted to join the postgame celebration if Golden State won the game, and the Oakland Athletics offered a creative solution. Green could watch the Warriors game in a suite at the neighboring Oakland Coliseum during the Athletics’ game that night. If the Warriors won, Green could hustle to the Warriors locker room via an underground tunnel that connects the two buildings. (He turned down the chance to throw the opening pitch, but the Oakland crowd raucously celebrated his appearance anyway.)

The Warriors obviously didn’t win the game or the series, but if they had prevailed in Game 5, Green emerging from a secret tunnel driving a golf cart full of champagne would have been the peak of the Warriors’ dynasty.

End Zone Camouflage

Even more impressive than deceiving your way onto the sideline is making your opponents forget you’re on the field.

Football has many hiding techniques, but the best is when a player lies down in the end zone, using the matching colors of his jersey and the end zone as camouflage. The returner takes it to the far side of the field before lateraling it all the way back to the other player, who emerges seemingly out of nowhere. The Eagles used it for a trick-play touchdown in 2012, and Kansas dusted it off in 2016.

Sun Tzu has never been prouder of a special teams coordinator.

South Korean Soccer Manager Uses Counterespionage Against Swedish Spies

Shouts to Ichiro for inspiring this conversation, but he isn’t even the best example of sports deception this month. Earlier this month, Sweden sent a scout to spy on South Korea’s men’s national soccer team, their first-round opponent, which was holding training camp in Austria. First the scout tried to sneak into their practices by pretending to be a tourist. No dice. The Swedish counterintelligence apparatus is famous for never giving up, so of course the scout ascended into the Austrian mountains and convinced a couple to let him use their house to spy on South Korea’s practices with a telescope.

When head coach Shin Tae-yong got suspicious (maybe because some tourist who insisted on watching their practices was cooing like a bird in the distant mountaintops), he responded with trickery of his own. He told his players to swap jerseys.

“We switched them around because we didn’t want to show our opponents everything and to try and confuse them,” Shin told Reuters. “They might know a few of our players, but it is very difficult for Westerners to distinguish between Asians and that’s why we did that.”

Sweden won the group stage match 1–0, but South Korea won the battle being waged in the shadows.