The story of Raul Ibanez, Seattle Mariner, has been an interesting one. Should there ever be a book written on the subject, I believe it could contain a few hundred pages of intriguing information and stories. The chapters that would cover his time with the Seattle Mariners would touch on topics such as his conversion from catcher to outfielder, being a given-up-on prospect, returning to mixed reception, leaving again and coming back again to poor reception.
It's so interesting -- to me, anyway -- that the more I researched and the more I asked people, the topic of this piece changed over and over. I request your pardon, then, as this is sort of like three posts all piled into one; three discussion starters condensed into one place.
So, let's talk about Raul Ibanez in different ways. I'll give you three topics with some substance and let you all weigh in as you will.
On his absolutely wonky 2013
Some people treat baseball as something that's supposed to make sense. Nine batters and nine innings. Three strikes and three outs. Hit the ball and catch the ball. In its most simplistic form, yes, it makes a ton of sense. But as we filter through the insane amount of information we easily have at our disposal these days, you can't help but surprise yourself as you learn about things you thought you had a handle on.
That's probably the best way to explain Raul Ibanez's 2013 thus far: There is no explanation, it doesn't make sense.
Many folks didn't want Ibanez on this team. He was clearly a backup or backup-to-the-backup plan when the club couldn't get those big bats they wanted this past winter. They didn't get Josh Hamilton, they got a 41-year-old and the bad taste of veteran leadership crammed down their throats. And, now, those wanting to fire their confirmation bias cannons have been ordered to stand at ease for now.
Having stroked his 20th dinger last night, he's now among the top five in that category in the American League. The Mariners two primary off-season targets the last couple of winters -- Prince Fielder and Josh Hamilton -- have combined for only four more homers than Ibanez has all by his lonesome. Of all major league hitters with at least 200 plate appearances, Ibanez has the third highest Isolated Slugging Percentage (ISO) at .307. Miguel Cabrera is at .310.
Yeah, his OBP is under .300, his WAR this and UZR that. So what? This is a team that's been mostly frustrating to watch, dealing us gut wrenching losses and a painful-to-watch offense. We have no control over what the front office does, though. This is the guy we have. It may not be the guy we wanted, but he's been a hell of a lot of fun to watch.
Raul Ibanez's season thus far hasn't made much sense. Enjoy it.
On his reception by fans
Ibanez's story may have him going down as one of those guys appreciated at the ballpark, but not by the stats community.
While the multiple-u spelling of his first name has been a staple at Safeco Field in both signage and by way of paint on the chest's of shirtless men, the Seattle blogosphere hasn't been kind to Raul Ibanez over the years. I've participated in the obligatory "Raul Ibanez takes pride in his defense" tweets. He's been the butt of jokes and even the scapegoat for losses a few times. He's a singular player on a roster of 25 but has perhaps taken more than his fair share of our frustration.
Now, to be fair, the words written about Ibanez haven't been as pointed as those penned about Yuniesky Betancourt or Miguel Olivo or Carlos Silva. They've mostly been in jest about his adventures in the outfield. I don't think fans or bloggers have truly disliked Ibanez in the same way that they scoffed at those other guys, but he's been a lightning rod throughout his career with the Mariners, whereas it seems like he's been revered on the other stops of his major league journey. Of course, it's the Internet so I doubt Raul Ibanez even knows about the lawn dart GIF, let alone give two shits about it.
Have we received Ibanez differently than those who saw him elsewhere? I reached out to a few folks who would better understand how Raul was viewed on a day-to-day basis in those other cities. Because Ibanez has never been traded, it made the question simple; copy-and-pasted to each in the same format: "Can you recall how he was thought of during his time with the team and what the general feeling was when he left in free agency?"
RoyalsRetro, Royals Review:
Raul was a very popular player. He kinda came out of nowhere and was put in the lineup out of necessity and immediately hit with power. Once he became entrenched in the lineup, fans would shout "RAUUUUUUUUUUL". I remember the first year I dated my wife we kind of adopted him as our favorite player. I'd say he was up there with Joe Randa as most popular Royal, since Sweeney got knocked so much for being injured and Beltran was knocked on for being moody.
But when he was up for free agency, I think the general thought was we had been playing with house money, and if we signed Raul to a 3 year deal, he'd turn into a pumpkin again. He was already pretty old and limited defensively and the team was perpetually rebuilding so I don't think there was a huge outcry that the team failed to sign him.
Liz Roscher, The Good Phight:
Your question sparked a good day or so of reminiscing (and a monster email thread). I've distilled the comments into a general statement, which is how all of us at TGP feel about Ibanez.
Raul Ibanez was signed to replace Pat Burrell in left field, and he wasn't necessarily seen as in improvement, especially considering he was actually older than Burrell. He was paid quite a lot, and while he was helpful at times, he was insanely streaky. Fans seemed to like him despite the fact that he was overpaid (oh how times have changed) and streaky, but he was never an overwhelming fan favorite. He'd occasionally grow some interesting facial hair and he has an endlessly shoutable first name which is always a plus in Philadelphia. (They weren't booing, they were shouting RAUUUUUUUUUUL.) He seemed like a really nice guy, but nothing about him really grabbed the attention of the fans. It was pretty clear that he wasn't part of the team's future, so most people wished him well when he left.
Tanya Bondurant, Pinstriped Bible:
For a large majority of the year, Ibanez was the subject of ridicule. He was forced to play in the outfield nearly every day because of the injury to Brett Gardner, which provided a lot of good GIFing material, but was mostly frustrating. Then there was the end of the season and ALDC Ibanez where he came up with huge home run after huge home run. On a team that was kind of struggling for offense, Ibanez really helped them make it to the ALCS.
I don't think much of anyone thought twice of it when the Yankees didn't bring him back, though, that now looks like a poor decision by them. I think most people thought his late-season resurgence was just a flash in the pan and he'd be the frustrating Ibanez way more often than clutch home run Ibanez if the Yankees brought him back for 2013. Plus, Joe Girardi would play him in the outfield some more and I think we'd all had our fill of that.
This is a small sample from just a few voices speaking on behalf of an entire fanbase, but I thought it would be a fun exercise anyhow.
While the messages are pretty similar, there are some differences. They all seem to agree he was likeable, but only one says he was popular. They all acknowledge his being streaky, and not part of their future. I don't believe we have uncovered anything earth shattering here, but it at least makes me feel better that the Seattle fan base hasn't been unfair to Ibanez while other cities showered him with love. That makes me feel good.
Notice that both Liz and RoyalsRetro used 10 U's in their Raul. I believe we can now officially answer the question of how many are meant to be in there.
Is Raul Ibanez a Mariners Hall of Famer?
You may have just yelped, "whoa now, Carson! You kind of hit us fast and hard with that one." With the way this season is going, though, this could be a discussion he's forcing us to have on a more-than-hypothetical fashion one day.
For now, let's first make sure this isn't completely a fool's errand from an eligibility standpoint. From the Mariners website:
I. Eligible Candidates To be eligible for consideration, uniformed personnel (player, manager, coach) should meet the following requirements: A. Active in a Mariners uniform for at least five seasons; B. Ceased to be active in the Major Leagues at least two seasons preceding the selection, but may be otherwise connected with baseball.
II. Method of Selection The Board of Directors of Baseball Seattle, Inc., at the recommendation of the Chief Executive Officer and the President of the Mariners, the front office, uniformed personnel, the media and fans, shall in their sole discretion determine who will be selected on an annual basis.
In regards to "I": While "B" may be more than two years away, "A" has been met. He spent parts of five seasons -- three of which were mere cups of coffee -- bouncing between the big club and the minors during his first stint. So, I guess he'd have technically qualified already, since these vague rules don't say the seasons had to be full, nor how many games or at-bats or whatever else would make a season full. His second tour of duty lasted another five years, and this time he really did play full seasons. This third dance with the club has him on pace to play another full-ish season, should he not be traded (I predict he will not be, but that's another story) or get hurt.
In regards to "II": Basically, "I" doesn't matter all that much. A couple of simple, arbitrary rules were set, but this is the blurb that really matters. Some people can recommend guys for enshrinement, but far fewer people can actually make it happen in some unknown arbitrary process. What this all means is that very few players will make it into the Mariners Hall of Fame and there's really no way to tell what qualifies one for consideration. That doesn't mean these rules or processes are bad -- an overcrowded hall is a watered-down hall -- it just makes it tougher to predict who will or won't be enshrined.
Certainly, Raul isn't in the company of the upper-echelon members of Mariners lore. But it's not like he's Pokey Reese, either. He doesn't have a moment like The Double in the playoffs, but he's been one of the top contributing members in the history of this franchise. I could cherry-pick stats such as his ranking in the top 10 in homers, RBI, runs, walks and intentional walks in franchise history if I were trying to help you form an opinion. I could even work the intangibles angle, bringing up his choosing to come here when others spurned the club, or point to his notorious preparation and physical conditioning as being a good example for the youngsters on the team.
If offering my take, I'd say: What makes a baseball player the type of guy you want to tell your grandchildren about? Because, really, for me, that's what makes a hall of famer. In 100 years, I don't know if fans of, say, the Houston Astros, will have the foggiest idea of who Raul Ibanez was. At that point in time, the majority of living Mariners fans may not either if he's not enshrined into their club-specific hall.
Do you think Ibanez deserves to be talked about fondly by Mariners fans in a century from now? Is his story -- all three chapters with the club -- one worth telling while you watch a ballgame with your grandson? Did he offer something unique to this franchise that made you shake your head in disbelief?
I'll let you all be the judges of that. Raul Ibanez: Mariners Hall of Famer?