Tonight the Phillies will induct catcher Mike Lieberthal to the Phillies Wall of Fame prior to tonight's game against the St. Louis Cardinals. My teenage through early adult years of Phillies baseball were perhaps some of the leanest times in recent Phillies history, but one steady favorite was Mike Lieberthal, who transformed from a .200 hitting catcher to an All-Star and a fan favorite.
I first saw Mike Liberthal play in 1993 in Reading. He was an up-and-comer, one of the Phillies top prospects. He caught the other top prospect in the Phillies system, Tyler Green. As a 12 year-old, I was very excited about the first batch of future-stars I got to see. We all know that Green would battle injury and have a short career, but Lieberthal would be a solid major league player for many years.
Lieberthal got his first break in 1994, the year after the Phillies were National League Champions, thanks to an injury to catcher Darren Daulton. Thanks to the baseball strike, Lieberthal ended back at AAA Scranton-Wilkes Barre. In 1995 he would get the call again after Darren Daulton caught his last name, tearing his ACL sliding into second base. Daulton would never catch again, and it seemed that Lieberthal's time had come.
But it hadn't. In the offseason prior to 1996, the Phillies signed veteran catcher Benito Santiago to a one-year contract. The Phillies did not feel they were ready yet, and they still hoped for a shot at postseason play. The 1996 Phillies featured the likes of Todd Zeile, a return of Pete Incaviglia, Wendall Magee, and Ricky Otero and went nowhere. Then it was time to rebuild and time for Lieberthal to get a chance.
1997 started off rather tough for Lieberthal and the Phillies. Lieberthal flirted with the Mendoza mark in the early going. One major highlight: Lieberthal caught Curt Schilling's dominant 17-11 season where he struck out 319, arguably Schilling's best season on the Phillies. Of course, when the rotation is filled out with Mark Leiter, Matt Beech, Garrett Stephenson, and starts from a mostly-injured Tyler Green and Calvin Maduro, the Phillies were not going to go very far.
1998 was the biggest year of the rebuild. Out were Kevin Stocker and Mickey Morandini; in came Bobby Abreu and Doug Glanville. Scott Rolen played his rookie of the year season, and Rico Brogna was a defensive whiz at first base. Lieberthal hit just .256 but he seemed primed for some of his best work.
In 1999, Lieberthal was finally an All-Star. In his best Major League season, he hit .300 with 31 home runs and 96 RBI. He followed it up with a 2000 season also on the All-Star team with 157 home runs and 71 RBI.
2001, Lieberthal injured his ACL and MCL in a pickoff attempt at first base and would miss the rest of the year. The Phillies were had begun to contend that season under new manager Larry Bowa. Despite Lieberthal's injury, the Phillies went 86-76.
2002 Lieberthal returned to the Phillies healthy and would go on to be the National League Comeback Player of the Year. He hit .279 with 15 home runs and 52 RBI. He would be a .300 hitter again in 2003, batting .313 for the year as the Phillies narrowly missed a playoff birth.
2004 through 2006 we saw Lieberthal winding down. At the end of the 2006 season the Phillies saw Carlos Ruiz ready to take on a bigger role and it was time for Lieberthal to move on. He would play one more season with his hometown Los Angeles Dodgers as a backup to Russell Martin before retiring after the 2007 season.
My Favorite Mike Lieberthal Moment: June 16, 1998
Mark Parent started that day. Scott Rolen got ejected. Going into the 9th inning the Phillies trailed 7-1. One of my dad's closest friends and someone I admired very much never left games early. This was one game he left early.
The Phillies would score four runs and get two more runners on, and Mike Lieberthal came on to pinch hit. There were two outs, and Robert Loiselle only needed one more out to close out a Pirates victory. Drunk Phillies Fan blog remembers Harry's call:
"LONG DRIVE...COULD IT BE? IT IS! A GAME-WINNING, PINCH-HIT HOME RUN, MIKE LIEBERTHAL AND THE PHILLIES WIN IT, 8 TO 7!"
Lieberthal Makes Prime Time Television
Maybe you never noticed it, but some of the items on Dwight Schrutte's desk on NBC's The Office include a Marlon Byrd duck giveaway and a Mike Lieberthan Scranton-WilkesBarre Red Barons bobblehead. Look for it next time. It's pictured here:
He Never Played in the Playoffs
Mike Lieberthal may have never made a playoff game for the Phillies, but I grew up on those Phillies teams from 1994-2006. And as a teenager going down to the Vet on the subway and buying $5.00 general admission seats, he was one of my favorite players to root for.
In some ways, they were the good ol' days.
CF Doug Glanville
LF Ron Gant
RF Bobby Abreu
3B Scott Rolen
1B Rico Brogna
C Mike Lieberthal
2B Marlon Anderson
SS Desi Relaford
P Curt Schilling