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Should Raúl Ibañez be in the Mariners Hall of Fame?

He was here for a long time, but not a good time. He could hit, he could not field. He occupies a fascinating space in Mariner history

Sporting News MLB Baseball Collection Photo by John Cordes/Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images

I’d like to start this edition of “Should ____ be in the Mariners Hall of Fame?” with a little game. Feel free to share your answers at whatever volume you are comfortable with. If you live in Seattle north of the ship canal and scream really loud I might even be able to hear you.

  • When considering a player’s credentials for the Mariners Hall of Fame, does longevity matter to you?
  • When specifically examining a hitter’s credentials, particularly one who batted in the middle of the order, do home runs and run production matter to you?
  • How much does a player’s peak matter? If Player X put up wRC+ totals above 114 in each of his final six seasons with Seattle, but never got above 87 in his first five (albeit not full-time) seasons, are you willing to essentially ignore the beginning and only focus on the years when they were established as a great hitter?
  • Does defense matter to you? What if they played defense like their glove would atrophy it ever fielded the ball cleanly?

If you answered yes to the first two questions, Raúl Ibañez is a very deserving candidate for the Mariners Hall of Fame. Only eight people ever had more plate appearances for the Seattle Mariners than Ibañez. Five of those people are already in, two more (Ichiro and Kyle Seager) will surely get there, and the other is Harold Reynolds.

On the home run and run production things, he ranks eighth in team history for home runs and seventh in RBI, again trailing only the people you’d expect. From a purely offensive standpoint, Ibañez maybe even has a better case than Robinson Canó, whose overall value benefited from his defense, but who also has over 1,000 less Mariner plate appearances than Ibañez.

To address the third bullet point, the start of Raúl’s career was a little herky jerky. He never really got a chance for even somewhat regular playing time until 1999, three years after his initial callup. The limited number of at-bats is part of the reason for the weird initial numbers, to be fair. Ibañez came into ’99 with a 65 OPS+, but also just 135 career plate appearances. He made 383 trips to the plate over the next two years and showed a little promise, but apparently it wasn’t enough for the team to offer him a new contract. Ibañez would be granted free agency and sign with the Royals prior to the 2001 campaign, joining Randy, Griffey, and A-Rod as Mariner greats who narrowly missed being on the greatest team they ever had.

Instead, Raúl Ibañez goes down as mostly a great hitter who mostly played for terrible teams while mostly choosing to never, ever play defense correctly. He did get into the playoffs with the 2000 team, though, and promptly went 0-for-9 in the ALCS. Tough.

Raul Ibañez (1996-2000, 2004-08, 2013)

11 4,270 .279 .341 .466 .808 156 612 114 14.8 12.3

There is nothing wrong with hitting .279/.341/.466 over an eleven-year span! That is an impressive feat no matter how you slice it, but perhaps even more impressive considering three of those years are his age-35, 36, and 41 seasons. In fact, that age-41 season was downright historic. By swatting 29 home runs in 2013, Ibañez tied Ted Williams’ single-season mark for the most ever by a 41-year-old, beating out Barry Bonds and Hank Aaron, among others.

Ibañez’s best season with the M’s had an unfortunate tree falling in the forest vibe. Playing for the mighty 78-84 Mariners in 2006 – a team headed for its third straight last place finish – the team’s everyday left fielder enjoyed the best numbers of his career, which was in its eleventh year. After returning from Kansas City in 2004, Ibañez was well above average every year, but his bat really started to sing in summertime ‘06.

A matching set of 33 homers and 33 doubles led to a .516 slugging percentage, the best he’d ever post as a Mariner, and hitting behind Ichiro, José López, and Adrián Beltré gave him 123 RBI. Even if you include his best years with Kansas City and Philadelphia, the RBI, runs, total bases, and bWAR that Ibañez put up in 2006 still stand as the best of his long MLB tenure.

Oakland Athletics v Seattle Mariners Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

He’d leave again in the winter of 2008 to replace Pat Burrell in the Phillies’ outfield, a move that allowed Ibañez to play in the 2009 World Series, but not without completing a five-year run that I’m sure no one east of Missoula even noticed. From 2004 to 2008 the Miami native whacked 25 homers, 106 RBI, 38 doubles, and 184 hits per 162 games. He slashed .291/.354/.477 with a 120 OPS+ during that time and was good for over 12 Wins Above Replacement by both FanGraphs’ and Baseball-Reference’s metrics.

If you’re the type of person whose eyes glaze over when reading a bunch of statistics, just know that from 2004-2008 alone, Ibañez put up stats that only six other players in the entire history of the franchise have equaled.

Ibañez vs. Current Hall of Fame Position Players

Alvin Davis 8 4,892 .281 .381 .453 .834 160 667 126 20.1 21.2
Jay Buhner 14 5,828 .255 .360 .497 .857 307 951 124 23.0 22.4
Edgar Martinez 18 8,674 .312 .418 .515 .933 309 1,261 147 68.4 65.5
Dan Wilson 12 4,500 .262 .309 .382 .691 88 519 80 13.5 14.2
Ken Griffey Jr. 13 7,250 .292 .374 .553 .927 417 1,216 139 70.5 67.6
Raul Ibanez 11 4,270 .279 .341 .466 .808 156 612 114 14.8 12.3

The greatest “what if” of Raúl’s storied Mariner career, aside from the obvious “What if he played his whole career here?”, is what his final numbers would look like if the organization trusted him more in the ‘90s. With Edgar’s gorilla grip on the DH spot and Jay Buhner holding down right field, that made left field and first base the only spots on the diamond where he could play*.

During the ’98 and ’99 campaigns, both of which saw the Mariners finish under .500, left field was handled mostly by Glenallen Hill, Shane Monahan, Brian Hunter, and Butch Huskey. First base was property of David Segui. In the fertile field of existence, none of those men’s crops take up a whole bunch of space. There was definitely room for Raúl Ibañez, especially toward the ends of the seasons as the team fell out of the playoff race.

*There was also a game in 1999 where he had to catch for four innings?

While pitching was what ultimately doomed those teams’ postseason chances, a few more riffs from Ibañez could have potentially helped the Mariners’ win totals and his overall statistics. I think particularly if he had retired with more home runs and RBI as a Mariner than Alvin Davis, the franchise would have a much harder time keeping Ibañez out of their Hall of Fame.

Devil Rays v Mariners

Ibañez was, in some ways, to the 2000s what Davis to the ‘80s. A humongous part of Davis’ status comes from making a name for the Mariners when they were beneath unknown. The club had the toothsome Griffey years already under their belt when Ibañez showed up, but his on-field contributions mirror Davis’ during a time when the team was similarly struggling to win.

It certainly wouldn’t have killed Raúl to take a walk every now and again too.

Ibañez’s Ranks in Mariner History

Stat Amount Rank in Mariner history
Stat Amount Rank in Mariner history
AVG .279 T-15th
OBP .341 T-21st
SLG .466 T-12th
OPS .808 T-15th
HR 156 8th
RBI 612 7th
wRC+ 114 T-17th

I understand that none of these rankings are super impressive. Top eight in dingers and RBI is cool, though. He’s also got the most homers in Safeco Field/T-Mobile Park, which I like to imagine as a sort of clubhouse record that earns him a velveteen smoking jacket and access to secret parts of the ballpark.

Beyond the Numbers

Raúl Ibañez is, without question, a first ballot Hall of Famer when it comes to blog content. There were also very few experiences that supplied as much uninhibited fun as letting out a nice “awooooo” like a cartoon wolf every time he came up to bat.

On a completely different note, I have never seen anyone fit more tobacco into his mouth than Raúl Ibañez, which feels like it should count for something. Dude would come up to bat with an acre of chaw in his face and rip a 385-foot line drive, then go play left field as though he had been stricken with awake apnea. He was like a cowboy who was nice as hell with the shot but didn’t know how to ride a horse. I love him dearly.

Should He Be In?

The argument surrounding Raúl’s candidacy basically comes down to how big you think the Mariners Hall of Fame should be. I think gatekeeping any institution that serves to tell a story is incomplete if it doesn’t tell the entire story. While Ibañez didn’t necessarily alter the course of the franchise like some of its other Hall of Famers did, he was around long enough to matter, if that makes sense.

Dan Wilson is basically in because he is the best catcher to ever suit up for the Mariners. Well, guess what? Raúl Ibañez is the best left fielder, and he was a better hitter than Wilson no matter how you manipulate the numbers. Let him in.