Sports

Ibanez is valuable on and off the field

Seattle Mariners left fielder Raul Ibanez breaks his bat on a swing during a game against the Los Angeles Angels.  - Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter
Seattle Mariners left fielder Raul Ibanez breaks his bat on a swing during a game against the Los Angeles Angels.
— image credit: Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter

One of the often cited minuses of trading Raul Ibanez is that he provides the intangibles of the “great clubhouse guy” for the Seattle Mariners.

Lately, he has also been something even rarer for the club: a great guy in the house with a club. Ibanez has been driving in runs like a 21st-century Hack Wilson (his 191-RBI season set the big-league standard in 1930), even while teammates have been playing like the hacks they’ve been during much of the season. That’s why it’s particularly gratifying for fans to recall that, until a fortnight ago, Ra-u-u-u-u-l was said to be a certain tra-a-a-ade item. As the July 31 trade deadline approached, it was said by many on both coasts and in either league that the M’s left fielder would go to the New York Mets or, much less likely, the Toronto Blue Jays, the latter pretty much out of a pennant chase and hence disinclined to trade for anybody or anything.

A few nights after Ibanez didn’t get traded, he set an M’s record with six runs batted in during a single inning. Just as impressive was his walk-off ninth-inning line drive over the right-field wall for a 2-1 win on Thursday, Aug. 6. It gave him 16 RBIs during the first week of August. It also had some of us in the press box at Safeco Field that night harking back to other M’s walk-off triumphs. One came during Aug. 24, 1995, when a Ken Griffey Jr. clout in the ninth frame started the Refuse to Lose miracle finish that also may have saved baseball for the region.

It reminded me more of one hit during a modest (which is to say, typical) M’s season. About 30 years ago, M’s all-star Bruce Bochte accomplished the feat to end what otherwise was just a shrug of a matinee game at the Kingdome. Many of us who witnessed it no doubt felt terrific about the Mariners, but only for about five minutes. The same case may be extant after the Ibanez walk-off. One reason is the realization that team execs still may be planning tradesies involving Ibanez and others; big-league rules allow clubs to acquire playoff-qualifying players through August, subject to a waiver clause.

The other reason for a lack of ongoing giddiness is the fact that the M’s once again are in a major rebuilding phase. It could take two to three years for the team to be a pennant contender, as partisans were assured that it was at the beginning of this season. Indeed, by the time the Mariners make it to a World Series, Seattle might have the last franchise to do so. If the Tampa Bay Rays play in this year’s fall classic, the M’s will be one of just three current franchises (along with Texas and Washington) to have never made it to a World Series — with or without any great clubhouse guys.

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