- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 13, 2009

PUTTING UP NUMBERS? MUST BE JUiCIN’

Major league players, be warned - there’s a new standard of proof when it comes to performance-enhancing substances.

It doesn’t take elevated testosterone levels or secret prescriptions.

The undeniable evidence is on-field success.

Eight home runs in April? Must be HGH. Sixty RBI before the All-Star break? He’s gotta be back on the juice.

There is no better poster boy for this paradigm shift than Phillies left fielder Raul Ibanez, who has 21 home runs and 58 RBI after signing a three-year, $31.5 million contract in the offseason. On Thursday night, he cracked a three-run homer in the 10th inning at Citi Field to send Philadelphia to a 6-3 win. Ibanez, who turned 37 last week, had a career year of sorts in 2006, when he batted .289 with 33 homers and 123 RBI. Otherwise, he had never hit more than 24 home runs in a season.

Ibanez’s exploits - especially because he is in his late 30s - have drawn scrutiny. On June 8, a blogger named Jerod Morris posted a lengthy essay on midwestsportsfans.com in which he analyzed the jump in Ibanez’s numbers and found no plausible on-field cause.

In his post, titled “The Curious Case of Raul Ibanez: Steroid Speculation Perhaps Unfair, but Great Start in 2009 Raising Eyebrows,” he concluded: “Maybe the 37-year old Ibanez trained differently this offseason with the pressure of joining the Phillies’ great lineup and is in the best shape he’s ever been in.

“And maybe that training included…

“Well, you know where that one was going, but I’d prefer to leave it as unstated speculation.”

As expected, Ibanez angrily fired back a day later, denying any use of performance-enhancers. But it didn’t really matter how Ibanez responded. After all, who hasn’t spoken Ibanez’s name and “steroids” in the same breath this year?

Often, such a statement is followed by “Well, maybe it’s legit.” But it does nothing to dim the doubt.

Post-Mitchell Report, post A-Rod admission, that’s the new reality for baseball players, fans and the media. In the past, when players put up amazing numbers, they inspired awe, wonderment and comparison to hallowed greats. Now they just spark accusations, speculation and links to liars and frauds.

It’s only natural, after you have seen so many heroes fall, to not trust anyone else who comes along wearing the same clothing.

Toxic as it may be, that’s the new atmosphere in baseball.

Be warned.

HE SAID WHAT?

“My team always comes back. That’s what’s good about them.”

- Phillies manager Charlie Manuel after his team rallied to beat the Mets 6-3 in 10 innings on Thursday

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