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Raúl Ibañez’s outfield defense

Raúl Ibañez was a pretty decent baseball player. Not a Hall of Famer, not particularly close, but decent. He mostly helped the teams he played on and sometimes outright carried them. He got one MLB All-Star Game nod, which is probably about right, and ended his career with an impressive .272/.335/.465 batting line over 19 seasons. Not bad.

But we’re not here to talk about Ibañez at the dish. Plenty of left-handed outfielders have made a bit of contact and had a bit of power. That line you saw just now could be anyone, really. This, on the other hand, could only be the handiwork of one man:

This is the sort of throw one might expect from a 4-year-old still learning the cruel subtleties of their own body. It’s the sort of throw that might make a teenager swear off organized sports forever out of pure, unbridled shame. It’s the sort of throw so unprecedented at the Major league level that it might as well be impossible. We call it the “Lawn Dart.”

Do you know how hard it is for a professional baseball player to forget how to throw a baseball and instead huck it into the ground 10 feet away? As far as I know, a Lawn Dart has only happened one other time in recent MLB history. The perpetrator? Yep, it’s Ibañez again:

Ibañez’s woes were not limited to unprovoked assaults on the outfield grass. He had a nose for calamity in all shapes and sizes, an Andrelton Simmons in reverse. The video at the top of this post, for instance, contains one of the most spectacularly ill-judged routes in the history of the position. But there’s more. So much more.

Want to see a left fielder misjudge a bounce off the wall and chase it all the way back to shortstop? Ibañez is your man.

Ibanez misjudges a bounce

Want to see one forget where the wall is entirely, warning track be damned? Here’s Ibañez again.

Raúl Ibañez forgets where the wall is

His long-time teammate Ichiro was a master of the sliding catch. So was Ibañez, orthogonally.

A sliding un-catch

This might seem mean-spirited. Perhaps it even seems unfair. After all, Ibañez didn’t pick himself to start in left field despite having a glove built solely for DH. But to call this criticism cruel misses the point entirely.

There’s nothing romantic about merely bad defense. If Ibañez’s particular take on defensive ineptitude had been of the bad-range, poor-first-step variety, you wouldn’t be reading this (or, more accurately, looking at the funny gifs). There are a gazillion of those guys active at the moment, and several gazillion more crowding the pages of Baseball-Reference. There’s nothing memorable about being bad in the traditional sense. Ibañez was able to elevate — deprecate, possibly — his game to splendid, undiscovered realms. And for that, we praise him.

In Matt Taibbi’s glorious evisceration of American economist Thomas Friedman, he points out that Friedman’s writing isn’t bad in the sense that, for instance, mine might be. Instead, Friedman commands a peculiar subset of bad writing which might be best described as ‘anti-writing’:

It’s not that he occasionally screws up and fails to make his metaphors and images agree. It’s that he always screws it up. He has an anti-ear, and it’s absolutely infallible; he is a Joyce or a Flaubert in reverse, incapable of rendering even the smallest details without genius. The difference between Friedman and an ordinary bad writer is that an ordinary bad writer will, say, call some businessman a shark and have him say some tired, uninspired piece of dialogue: Friedman will have him spout it. And that’s guaranteed, every single time. He never misses.

Taibbi’s run at Friedman was far nastier than anything Ibañez deserves. Unlike Friedman, Ibañez has never been in position to seriously influence anyone’s worldview. But the fundamental point rings true. Ibañez’s notion of defending was not just bad, but backwards, a twisted perversion of greatness far more impressive than its mere absence.

In the pages of the New York Times, that sort of perversion coupled with Friedman’s muddled politics might be considered dangerous. In a baseball game? It’s magnificent. Ibañez added a depth and color to defensive inability that few before him had ever envisioned. He experimented with (and mastered) countless forms of ineptitude.

When we watch the greats, we know that they’re capable of turning even the most mundane moment into a searing, vivid memory. So too was Ibañez, the outfield gift I didn’t ask for but will never stop appreciating.

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Overall 8.5

Ed note: Helpful commenter Cleveland Sasquatch points out that Ryan Raburn has also committed a Lawn Dart. We regret the error, but very much enjoy the video.

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