Well, I have to say I am extremely thrilled to be able to report this latest MLB news. Raul Ibanez, who has had an unexpected and remarkable 17-year career and was recently released by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, has found a new team. No, he was not just signed to some minor league contract. The Kansas City Royals signed the 42-year old Ibanez to a major league deal, the details of which have not yet been released.
Ibanez has played for many teams over the years. He is mainly recognized for his stints with the Seattle Mariners, Philadelphia Phillies and for last season’s unexpected performance in which he hit 29 home runs for the Mariners. Through his many travels across the league he also spent sometime with the Royals between 2001-2003.
Even though it is assumed that the outfielder, who was hitting just .157 when the Angels released him, will spend most of his time on the bench or filling the designated hitter spot in the lineup, he deserved this contract and level of respect.
While most people thought that being released by Angels signaled the end of the 42-year old’s career, I was hopeful that he would find a new home, that he’d be able to play out the season, finishing his career on his own terms. I understand I am being opinionated in this case but I believe it is warranted.
Ibanez has had an incredible career. ESPN’s David Schoenfield even wrote,
“What did they always say about Pete Rose? That no player ever got more out of his natural abilities than him? Maybe so. But I’d like to suggest Raul Ibanez.”
According to Schoenfield, Ibanez who was drafted in the 36th round by the Mariners in 1992, should never have been a major leaguer. He didn’t have a specific position, he wasn’t exceptionally fast and let’s face it, 36th rounders are not prospects. Ibanez spent the next four years in the minors before ever being called up to the majors. He finally found a spot on the Mariners in 1999. Even then at age 28 he had a career average if .241 and had never had more than 500 plate appearances in a season. But in 2001 he signed with the Royals and has spent the past 13 seasons in the major leagues.
Between the ages of 30 and 37, he hit .291 while averaging 24 home runs and 97 RBIs per season. Even more amazing is the number of home runs he accumulated since the age of 30. Schoenfield writes that from his age 30 season on he is 22nd on the all-time home runs list with 276 which is,
His career average now? .273. He has 303 career home runs and 1202 RBI. Not bad for a guy who wasn’t expected to ever play in the majors. He made his only All-Star appearance at the age of 37 in 2009 and took home a World Series ring with Phillies the year prior. In that World Series batted .304 with four doubles, a home run and four RBI. As previously noted he hit 29 home runs for the Mariners in 2013.
Beyond the statistics, and I think many of you fans who grew up watching Ibanez would agree, he has always been regarded as one of the most amiable players in the game. Personally, I’ve never not liked the guy even though he’s played on teams that rivaled my own favorite team. I always had an affinity towards him. He’s just a straight forward, likable guy. Schoenfield wrote of Ibanez,
“Ibanez was the ultimate good guy. Teammates loved him. Opponents respected him. Managers praised his clubhouse presence and intangibles. He ate well and worked on his body.”
He is one of only three players left playing from the 1992 draft. The other two? Derek Jeter and Jason Giambi. That’s some pretty good company and to have such a long career is impressive on it’s own, but what has endeared him to baseball fans everywhere is his quiet, likable personality. In 2012 Joe Posnanski wrote of Ibanez,
“Raul is a thoughtful man. The line that reporters in Kansas City used about him was that he was the go-to guy on any story … except a story about Raul Ibanez. If you want to talk music or books or current events, he’s your guy. If you want to talk about what makes Derek Jeter special or why the Phillies were so good for a while there or how ballplayers are in awe of Ichiro, he will fill your notebook. If you want to talk about Raul Ibanez … you need to go somewhere else. It isn’t just humbleness, I don’t think. He has this deep commitment to the idea that he’s doing a job out there.”
Ibanez, just a nice person who is “deeply committed” to his job, deserved a major league contract to finish out the 2014 season. And while it does appear to be his last, he can now end it doing the job he loves, saying goodbye to the game on his own terms. Well played, Royals, well played. A classy player belongs with a classy organization.