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José Ibar

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José Ibar Medina

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José Ibar was a top pitcher in the Cuban National League during the 1990s and a member of the Cuban national team from 1995-2002 before he ran into trouble with the Cuban government. Ibar was the first 20-game winner in the history of the Cuban Serie Nacional and won the Most Valuable Pitcher Award twice.

Ibar had a 2.20 ERA in the 1990 Cuban Selective Series for Agropecuarios, leading the league. His 9 complete games tied for the lead. In the 1990-1991 Cuban Serie Nacional, his 1.73 ERA was lowest in the Occidental Zone.

In the 1994-1995 Serie Nacional, he won 14 games to lead the league. Ibar joined the national team for the first time. He was 2-0 with a 3.75 ERA in the 1995 Intercontinental Cup and did not allow an earned run or get a decision in the 1995 Pan American Games. In the 1996-1997 Serie Nacional, he led in innings pitched (132 2/3), starts (17) and hits allowed (139).

In the 1997-1998 Serie Nacional, Ibar suddenly blossomed. He had been 109-83 with a 4.04 ERA entering that year, but would lower his ERA to 3.77 and increase his winning percentage from .568 to .603 in the span of the season. He did so by becoming the first 20-game winner in the post-Revolution history of the Cuban leagues. A new exercise regime in the off-season had helped him shed excess pounds. Ibar went 20-2 and led the Serie Nacional in winning percentage, innings pitched (196 1/3), strikeouts (189) and ERA (1.51). He broke Braudilio Vinent's 25-year-old Cuban record for wins. After winning the pitching Triple Crown, he was given the Serie Nacional Most Valuable Pitcher award.

Ibar rejoined the national team after a 2-year absence and was 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA in the 1998 Baseball World Cup.

Ibar continued his dominance in 1998-1999, extending his two-season record to 38-4 with a 18-2 campaign. He led the league in wins, innings (193) and strikeouts (158) and again accounted for 35% or more of his team's wins. He again won the Most Valuable Pitcher award. In the 1999 Pan American Games, he was 1-0 with a 1.74 ERA. He was yanked from the final game when a political protestor charged the mound shortly before the last out, causing the right-handed veteran to be rather shaky. Pedro Luis Lazo finished up the contest. Against the 1999 Orioles, he got the start in the historic exhibition game but struggled, allowing a 2-run homer to Charles Johnson in the second inning before being replaced by José Contreras.

Overall, Ibar was 96-35 with a 3.13 ERA in the 1990s. He led all Serie Nacional pitchers in the decade in wins, innings (1,114) and strikeouts (812) and was third in ERA behind Faustino Corrales and Lazo.

In the 2000 Olympics, Ibar struck out 10 in a 3-hit, 7-inning scoreless gem against Team USA. He fanned 8 in 5 1/3 relief innings against Italy, allowing two hits and one unearned run. In the Gold Medal game, Ibar relieved Lazo in the second with a 1-0 deficit and allowed 3 runs in 3 1/3 innings as he failed to reprise his earlier dominance of Team USA. It wouldn't have mattered, as Ben Sheets threw a shutout. Ibar went 2-0 with a 1.69 ERA in his lone Olympic appearance. His 21 strikeouts in 16 innings tied Jon Rauch for fifth, only four behind leader Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Ibar struggled in the 2001 Baseball World Cup, taking Cuba's first loss in the Baseball World Cup in 15 years after allowing 4 runs in 4 1/3 innings against the Japanese national team. In the Gold Medal game, he gave up two runs in 3 2/3 innings against the US, but Cuba rallied to win. In the 2001 World Port Tournament, Ibar had a 1.72 ERA, the worst of any Cuban pitcher on the championship team.

In the 2001-2002 Serie Nacional, Ibar went 11-3 with a 1.81 ERA and struck out 142 in 129 innings. He was second to Contreras in ERA, only .05 off of the pace.

Ibar went 2-0 with a 0.46 ERA in the 2002 Intercontinental Cup to atone for his poor turn in the 2001 World Cup. He fanned 24 in 19 2/3 innings. He struck out 13 and allowed 3 hits in 8 scoreless innings against a Dutch national team with two former major leaguers and two AAA players. He followed with 8 scoreless frames against Japan to give him the lowest ERA in the round-robin phase. In the Gold Medal game, he was yanked after a 4th-inning solo homer by Bum-ho Lee but Cuba rallied to win it, 2-1. He and Patrick Beljaards were named to the tournament All-Star team as the top pitchers. Ibar tied Tae-hyon Chong for the most strikeouts in the tourney and also tied for the most wins.

Ibar's record in Cuba from 1987-2003 was 173-100 with a 3.45 ERA. He struck out 1,709 batters in 2,311 innings, walked 723 batters and allowed 2,243 hits. He was 7-1 in international competitions. Through 2003-2004, Ibar ranked 9th in Serie Nacional history in wins, 10th in innings pitched, 10th in earned runs allowed (908), 8th in stikrouets and sixth in wild pitches (168).

Ibar's repertoire included a "devastating slider" (as per Peter Bjarkman's description), a good fastball and an assortment of breaking balls.

Ibar was banned from competition after 2003 due to an attempt to defect. He also had previously had trouble with Cuban officials over illegal possession of firearms.

Details of Ibar's defection attempt are not known, though the Baseball Almanacs, MLB.com and other sources all report that such an attempt was made and led to the end of Ibar's career. This website claims he became frustrated when the Cuban government did not let him go to Japan to finish his career as Omar Linares and others had done. The website says went by boat from Pinar del Rio but it includes errors like claiming Ibar pitched in the 1992 and 1996 Olympics and that he threw fastballs timed at 100 mph.

Sources: 2002-2005 Baseball Almanacs, IBAF site, A History of Cuban Baseball by Peter Bjarkman


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