Last week Mark kind of stole my thunder with his remarks about Raul Ibanez who is a Special Assistant now to Andrew Friedman. He had signed with the Dodgers in February of 2016 along with Greg Maddux.
The reasons for my interest in Raul Ibanez was that first, it was recently rumored he had an opportunity to move to another organization and didn’t. Secondly, suggestions were made that others were deserting a sinking ship when Farhan Zaidi, Turner Ward and Chris Woodward, among others, moved on to other positions. I think the exodus is not a sign of a sinking ship but a sign that the ship is full steam ahead and those moving on have not only been a factor in that progression but have also been the beneficiaries of being in the Dodgers organization. They were signed by other teams as valued assets gaining promotions due in part to their Dodger experiences. We can only wish them more success in their careers, just not when they play the Dodgers.
Back to Raul Ibanez who might just have slipped through his career almost as an invisible man. He was born in New York, to Cuban parents, but grew up in Miami attending Miami Sunset Senior High School. He was not drafted out of high school but was selected by the Seattle Mariners in the 36th round of the 1992 First-Year Player Draft out of Miami-Dade Community College.
He made his MLB debut with the Mariners on August 1, 1996 and had five part seasons with Seattle before moving on to Kansas City in 2001 as a free agent. His first stint with the Mariners was not a portend of what was to come. After three seasons with the Royals he returned to Settle as a free agent and had perhaps the best five years of his career, three times driving in at least 105 runs with a career high of 123 in 2006. Another free agent signing directed him to the Phillies for three seasons and still another to the Yankees for the 2012 season. He returned to Seattle for a third time in 2013 as a 41-year-old. Ibanez ended his career in 2014 with part seasons with both the Angels and Royals.
Over 19 seasons Raul Ibanez played in 2161 MLB games compiling a triple slash of .272/.335/.465 along with 305 home runs and 1207 runs batted in. He made one All-Star appearance in 2009 as the starting left-fielder for the National League as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies. He was awarded the Hutch Award in 2013 which is given annually to an active Major League Baseball player who best exemplifies the fighting spirit and competitive desire of Fred Hutchinson.
Along the way, Ibanez had at least two memorable achievements. As a member of the New York Yankees, on October 10, 2012 he became the only player in MLB history to tie a play-off game in the ninth inning with a home run and win it in his next at bat with yet another home run. His home run in the ninth inning was of the pinch-hit nature as a 40-year-old. while replacing Alex Rodriguez. The next eight Yankees went down without a protest until the left-handed hitting Ibanez came up in the 12th inning. He crushed the second pitch from left-hander Brian Matusz deep over the right field fence.
During the 2013 season Ibanez helped rewrite the record books again. With the Mariners he hit 29 home runs tying him with Ted Williams for the most MLB home runs hit in a season by a 41-year-old. Barry Bonds did hit 28 as a 42-year-old.
Just one more stat for consideration to put his 2013 season in perspective. Only nine MLB players have ever had an OPS+ of 100 or more as a 41-year-old. Raul Ibanez ranks fourth on that list at 129 topped only by Carlton Fisk (136), Stan Musial (137) and Barry Bonds (156).
In reading about Raul Ibanez there was much more written about the man than his baseball achievements, although his achievement were indeed notable.
His name has come up in managerial positions that have opened up with other teams in the past few years. Back in 2014 he was included among eight candidates that were being considered for the Tampa Bay Ray’s field manager position. He was named one of the three finalists even though he had not yet officially retired. Former catcher Kevin Cash was hired by the Rays. In January his name was mentioned as a possible bench coach hiring by the Chicago Cubs. It was thought that former Dodger catcher David Ross had the inside track if interested in the position. Former infielder Mark Loretta was hired indicating that Ross may not have been interested. It is not clear if Raul Ibanez was interested in a bench coach position.
One expects, as a layman, that Ibanez is a manager in waiting or may have general manager aspirations, perhaps qualified for both positions. At present he may well be happy in his present position with the Dodgers and sees it as a learning preparatory experience being involved in scouting for the amateur draft, trade discussions and probably much more with the Dodgers. Ibanez has reportedly turned down offers for managerial openings for 2019.
Ibanez is a graduate of the school of hard knocks. He was a 36th round selection out of community college and went through free agency on seven different occasions. His father, whom he says never took shortcuts, died in 1992 never to even see his son get selected in that draft. Ibanez and his brother were in route to the hospital when their father died.
Noted for his work ethic and dedication, he was/is willing to try new things. He was influenced by, “The Science of Hitting”, the Ted Williams version of hitting which Williams co-authored with John Underwood. The book was given to him by Greg Tekerman who was the security guard at Miami Sunset Senior High School and also served as a coaching assistant on Ibanez’s baseball team.
“He was very open-minded, and he liked to try different things,’’ Underwood said. “He was always trying to soak up everybody’s information.”
Ibanez and Tekerman kept in touch over the years and during the 2012 season when the player was struggling the coach visited him with something unusual. It was paddle-like bat with an ultra-thick handle and flat-sided barrel. It looked more like a cricket paddle than a bat but had a definite purpose. The heavy black bat is designed to keep a hitter from rolling his wrists as he makes contact. It forces the back elbow to stay down and tight to the body, so a hitter can swing with his upper and lower halves combining forces. Ibanez used it in the indoor cage and the next season (2013) asked Mariners hitting coach, former Dodger Dave Hansen, to help him tweak it a bit. His historic age-41 season followed.
“You’ve got to give him credit for trying something like that so late in his career,’’ Hansen said. “I wish I’d had it in me to do something like that. But that’s just Raul. He’ll be open to anything if he thinks it might help.”
Just a couple more anecdotes about the man. He began the 2014 season as a possible designated hitter for the Angels. A 24-year-old rookie – C.J. Cron – was also vying for the spot. Ibanez took the young man under his wing doing all he could to help him adjust to MLB. He explained why he not only helped Cron but why he needed to as the rookie took at bats from his mentor.
“As human beings, we have a need and a longing to help others, it’s how God created us. And C.J. is a great kid, a great hitter. I’m a big fan of his as a player and person.”
“I’ve picked his brain, and he’s helped by showing me what he does to stay focused, to be prepared for every at-bat,” Cron said. “Ever since spring training, Raul has been awesome.You can talk to him about anything, and he’ll help you no matter what.”
My interest in Raul Ibanez also peaked last fall when I read a report from the Arizona Fall League regarding Dodger prospect Jared Walker and his encounter with Ibanez. Walker indicated that Ibanez helped him with the game in his head and felt over time it will help him become a more complete hitter.
“He (Ibanez) spoke on ‘when you’re out on this field, I know it is just the Fall League, but not anybody goes to the Arizona Fall League and not just anybody goes to the big leagues. You are a different player,’” Walker said. “He basically told me that I am a different player, and told me that when I am on this field, know that you are the best player on this field, no matter who the heck is out here, even if it is the number-one prospect. You are the best player on this day, on this pitch and on this out.”
To add to his resume, Raul Ibanez has had broadcasting experience with Fox and ESPN. He was hired as a studio analyst with Fox in 2015, along with current Dodger play-by-play announcer Joe Davis.
“Raul is a guy who has great credibility, is really smart and is well-respected by those in and out of the game of baseball,” Fox Sports executive producer John Entz said of Ibanez after the network hired him in March 2015, per Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated. “As an analyst, we think he has an incredibly high ceiling.”
David Freese, acquired by the Dodgers last August, was recommended to the Dodgers by Ibanez. Will Raul Ibanez be acquiring the David Freese’s in the near future or managing them in the dugout?