If Rick Telander can wonder, can I?

scope-1Mid-May, the esteemed Rick Telander from the Chicago Sun-Times penned a controversial article about the small Ryan Theriot who was on a mini-home run binge (for him). Telander wondered aloud, that given the cloud of PED use enveloping MLB, could we assume that Theriot was doing this cleanly.

To wit, Theriot — no disrespect, but if he’s 5-11, I’m 6-12 — hit two home runs Wednesday night at Wrigley Field against the Padres, giving him five times more home runs in 33 games this year than he hit all last season.

That rings the steroid/HGH/ whatever-designer-drug-is-in bell, doesn’t it?

To see that from an established MSM cornerstone like Telander and the CST was, um, revealing. The jokes about David Ortiz’s downfall have been mostly around him “being off the juice”, though I tend to agree with Bill Simmons’ take more than a lack of “juice”.

The point of the run-up is that I have to wonder aloud what’s going on with Raul Ibanez? He’s been a quietly consistent run producer in relative anonymity for years in Seattle (and KC before that). He hit a career high 33 home runs with 123 RBI in 2006. His 162 game average is 23 home runs and 95 RBI. A solid major leaguer and from all reports, an even better person. The kind of guy who’s hard to root against.

Last night, on his 37th birthday, Ibanez pounded 2 more home runs, giving him 19 on the season, 50 games into the season. We can point to a better lineup and a smaller home ballpark, but it was precisely this type of late-career spike that we ignored 10 years ago. Isn’t it?

Ibanez is “on pace” (the dreaded term in stats) for 61 HR and 165 RBI. Really?

Wondering if he’s a product of his small-park? Not really. He has hit 11 of his 19 HR away from home. Only 8 HR and 23 RBI (he’s at 51 now) have come at home. Maybe it’s due to having Howard, Utley, Victorino, et al surrounding him instead of Yunieski Betancourt, Adrian Beltre and Russell Branyan.

Playing at age 36/37, Raul Ibanez is having a career year. Know who else had a career year at the same age? That Barry dude. Yep, 2001. Remember that year? Barry turned 37 mid-season and hit 73 home runs that year (after a previous career high of 49 the year before). Phillies fans, before you sharpen your spears, please just finish reading and allow yourself to consider this.

Do I think that Ibanez is cheating in some way? No, I don’t think so. But doesn’t it, at least, look like the same late-career outlier that we now look back at for other players and point out “ah ha!”? We’ve done this for every player we thought/knew was using.

One thing we (all of us baseball fans) have the benefit of is the ability to look back and point to outliers and spikes. Players DO have career years. We’re good at looking back and saying “see, this guy was a good ballplayer for years and suddenly, BOOM”. But given the climate and the cloud that remains over the game, should we just ignore what we are seeing this year because of better testing? If Manny Ramirez could get caught while still trying to skirt the PED testing policies and procedures, who’s to say others aren’t doing the very same thing?

I’m as sick of the PED discussions as anyone else, but we’re witnessing an incredible spike right now for Ibanez. We at least have to wonder if he’s clean. That’s a real shame. There’s no way to prove innocence. We just have to hope that he’s clean. But it’d be lazy to assume it.

About the Author

Jason Rosenberg began his blogging career in late 2007 at his own baseball-focused blog, ItsAboutTheMoney, Stupid.