Raul Ibanez is a straight cheater.
We’re not talking steroids or other PEDs. The 41-year-old Seattle Mariners basher is cheating Father Time, Mother Nature and the omnipotent Biological Clock.
With almost two weeks left to play before the Midsummer Classic pops off, Ibanez (21 homers and 49 RBIs) has already become the first 40-something cat to ever have at least 20 dingers and 40 RBIs before the All-Star break.
The company that he’s chasing is true-religion baseball royalty.
Ibanez has already recently tied HOF outfielder Dave Winfield (1993) for the fifth-most homers in a full year for a player in his 41-or-older age group.
In 1960, the “Splendid Splinter” Ted Williams banged 29 homers at age 41, with 14 of those coming before the break. Barry Bonds hit 26 at 41 and 28 at 42, with 17 homers at the break, before being blackballed by the league amidst damning PED allegations.
Not even in the recent MLB era of rampant, unchecked PED abuse and medically-prolonged careers, has a player hit 30 dingers at age 41 or beyond. Ibanez will probably stumble upon nine more homers by accident.
The most refreshing aspect of Ibanez’s boss player season, is that none of his success has come by accident or via any type of enhancement. It’s been attributed to his incomparable passion for the sport and his work ethic.
Ibanez was raised on hardcore work-and-reward principles, by his father, Juan Armando, who relinquished a bright career as a chemist when he fled Cuba in the 1960s. He came to the U.S. and took a job grunt-working for Carnival cruise ships. Being sick was not an excuse to miss work; that’s just not the Ibanezes’s steez. In this age of baseball, where every accomplishment comes with a cloud of suspicion, Ibanez — who languished for half a decade before breaking out with the Kansas City Royals in ‘02 — is a shining example of where genuine hard work gets you.
The MLB blog Bomber’s Beat describes his pre-game regimen as “a marathon of constant, compartmentalized activity.”
He’s a hard cat to get up with. It’s not that he’s too Hollywood. It’s the complete opposite. You can’t find dude because he’s either in the cage taking hundreds of rips, in the weight room, taking extra reps or immersed in video, trying to gain any edge he can.
It’s that 24-7 search for any advantage that made Ibanez a Yankee legend in his one memorable Bronx season as a 40-year-old reserve. Ibanez turned what could have been one of the ugliest moments in Yankees history (When Girardi pinch-hit for the $275 million man) into another improbable playoff win by coming off the bench to slam two homers, the game-tying ninth inning shot and the game-winning 12th inning bomb against the Orioles in the ALDS.
“Most people realize they got to a certain place for a certain reason,” Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long said in an interview with NJ.com. “And Raul Ibanez believes he got to where he’s at…because of his work ethic. He’s not going to leave any stone unturned.”
Legend has it that sometimes, on the drive home from high school baseball practice, Ibanez would pull over on the side of the road, pop his trunk, grab his bat and hit tattered baseball’s off a cone until he felt like he put in enough work.
“I was always pretty good, but I got overshadowed by other players that were better,” Ibanez recalled in an interview with MLB.com. “There were always other players that were better. That’s why it’s really all about working hard and outworking everybody else…that will take you further than pure, raw talent,” Ibanez said.
It’s like Ibanez stuck around just long enough to get his due and a coveted piece of baseball history. It’s only right. When a player respects the authenticity of the game and works as devoutly as Ibanez, that player should be recognized as a blazing MLB product.