By Shannon Drayer
Lost in the frenzy of the Mariners’ managerial hire last week was Hisashi Iwakuma’s well deserved honor of being named one of the three finalists for the Cy Young Award and Raul Ibanez winning the Hutch Award. I caught up with Ibanez late last week to talk about the award and a few other items of interest.
Ibanez and his family are spending their first full offseason in Seattle. They tried this once before years ago but were chased off by the cooler temperatures even before winter struck. Things are different this time around as they are no longer trying out the Seattle area. This time it is home and Ibanez said that he is loving it here.
What made a good Northwest fall day even better for Ibanez last week was receiving the call that he had won the Hutch Award.
“I was shocked and at a loss for words,” he told me. “It is a huge honor and a great moment for me. To be on that list, with those names? I am so happy that it happened while I was with the Mariners.”
Those names include Mickey Mantle, Sandy Koufax, Johnny Bench, Trevor Hoffman, Jamie Moyer, Jon Lester and Mike Sweeney, to name a few. The award is given to the player who best exemplifies the honor, courage and dedication of former baseball player and Seattle native Fred Hutchinson, both on and off the field.
Ibanez is widely recognized as being one of the good guys in the game, having received the MLB Players Association Heart & Hustle Award three times and four times being the Mariners’ nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, baseball’s highest honor for community service. The Sporting News named Ibanez one the “Good Guys” in sports and he also received the Tug McGraw Good Guy Award from the Philadelphia chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
Away from the field he has made an effort to give back to the communities where he played with activities that include chairing the annual Mariners Care Cystic Fibrosis Golf Tournament, supporting Page Ahead Children’s Literacy Program, being the Mariners’ spokesman for Refuse to Abuse, and being involved with Make-A-Wish, Boys & Girls Clubs, Seattle Children’s Hospital, Treehouse, Covenant House Pennsylvania and Project H.O.M.E.
Giving back was a staple instilled in him early on in his career.
“Jay (Buhner), Edgar (Martinez), Jamie (Moyer), they talked about it, made a conscious effort to make the community a better place,” he said. “When you are a young, impressionable player you can’t help but take notice and make it a part of who you are.”
Ibanez does his best to pass what he learned from his former teammates to those who are currently in the Mariners clubhouse. He is of the school that playing Major League baseball is a privilege and with that privilege comes responsibility, which includes giving back.
“As pro athletes, it’s nothing compared to people who really volunteer their time and dive into it and do the work. As athletes, to show up is really not a big deal,” he said. “People at foundations who devote their lives to finding solutions and cures, the lifelong devotion to helping those afflicted, to keep fighting on? It’s really inspirational to see these people and also spend time with those afflicted. The kids with big smiles? It is rewarding and eye-opening.”
Ibanez will receive the award at the annual Hutch Award Luncheon, which has raised over $3.8 million to support the mission of Fred Hutchinson over the past 14 years. Rod Carew will be the keynote speaker at the event, which takes place Jan. 30 at Safeco Field.
Will Ibanez still be a Mariner at that lunch? He stated numerous times late last season that he would like to continue playing and he is currently preparing to do so. He is in the middle of what he calls the realignment process of his training regimen.
“It is about getting the body back in alignment so it can train in a more functional state rather than dysfunctional state,” he explained. “That way I can maximize the work I do to get stronger.”
He has yet to speak with anyone from the Mariners about returning but is open to it. General manager Jack Zduriencik appears open to this as well, telling “Wyman, Mike and Moore” last week that there would be discussions.
If Ibanez returns, he would be playing under a manager he is not completely unfamiliar with. He spoke to Lloyd McClendon once last year and came away impressed from the conversation.
“He is spoken of highly by his players and ex-players,” Ibanez said. “A no-nonsense, smart manager and a good hitting guy.”
I asked Ibanez if he had heard that there were a number of fans who suggested that he should be the next manager or a player-manager. He said he had. In fact, he put a little thought into the possibility.
“I would hit third and play shortstop every day and maybe pitch an inning or two here or there as well,” he said with a big laugh, “and dare anyone to challenge it.”
Morales and 12 others turn down qualifying offer
As expected, Kendrys Morales turned down the qualifying offer from the Mariners by the 2:00 deadline. Morales was not alone in doing so as all thirteen players who were extended the QO turned it down. These players are now free agents, free to negotiate and sign with any team including those they played for last year. Since introduced in the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, no player has yet to accept the QO.
Should Morales sign elsewhere the Mariners will awarded a compensatory pick at the end of the 2014 draft. Jack Zduriencik is interested in signing Morales to a longer term contract and having the draft pick attached to him could make other clubs less inclined to pursue him.
McClendon has company on the bench
The first member of Lloyd McClendon’s staff is in place as former Nationals coach Trent Jewett has been named bench coach. Before spending three seasons with the Nats as a first and later third base coach Jewett managed and coached in the minor leagues with the Pirates for 17 years.
If you haven’t seen this 30 for 30 documentary short, you should. This is one of those stories that most in baseball know a little about but not enough to share. Up until somewhat recently the MLB schedule was put together not by a computer program but by a husband and wife team from Martha’s Vineyard. I say hire them back and pay them double.