Jon Lieber: Former Chicago Cubs 20-Game Winner Interview Part 2
In the second part of my interview with former Chicago Cubs pitcher Jon Lieber, he tells me what it was like to play with Sammy Sosa, why pitchers don't throw inside anymore and what he thinks of the salaries athletes make today.
Darrell Horwitz: Would you consider Wrigley Field a good pitchers ballpark?
Jon Lieber: Absolutely. I think it's a great ballpark. The one thing I loved was the day games. I think it's a great field to pitch at, and I think it goes to the surroundings. That's what makes it more comfortable.
DH: Going back to the day games that we discussed before, and maybe the day games bring on a little fatigue towards the middle of the season. Is it more the day games or more the nightlife that has kept this team from winning?
JL: I think it's the day games. I'm not sitting here speaking for everybody, but I'm sure there were some guys who like to spend some time out, and everybody has a right to that, but how often to you do it? I lived in Lake Forest and rode the train in, but I think it could have an effect on guys if they were caught up in that lifestyle.
DH: In Wrigley, it is a little schizophrenic from a pitcher's perspective. One day the wind blows out and every ball hit up in the air is gone, and the next day, no matter what you throw up there, they're never going to hit it out of the park.
JL: You're definitely right. It can definitely play on their mind a little bit for a visiting team, and I know it did to me coming in as a (Pittsburgh) Pirate. You were really hoping that wind was blowing straight in.
DH: What do you see different in the game today compared to 30 or 40 years ago? When I was growing up, if a batter hit a homer, he would be expecting to eat dirt the next time up. Why do you think pitchers don't throw inside much anymore, and if they do the batter looks at them cross-eyed and threatens to come out to the mound? Is it money, and why do you think that has changed so much?
JL: I think Major League Baseball made changes in that respect when they took the umpires out of the game. I believe the umpires were what made the game, and what I'm trying to say is when you had a certain umpire on any given night, you knew what his zone was, and where he was going to call it. It wasn't just the pitcher, it was the hitter also.
Now they have put such an emphasize on the strike zone, and where pitches need to be thrown and the first warning of any ball inside, even though sometimes you might get it inside farther than you intended, and they are already throwing warnings at you.
I think it's a little ridiculous. They need to let the players play the game.
Don't give so many warnings or throw guys out because they threw inside. I think you're absolutely right. It should be a part of the game, and it always has been, but in the last ten years or so, they've tried to really set that back for some reason.
It's really a shame, because that's a part of history. I know they're trying to cut back on the fights and such, but you know what, that's the way the game's played. It's played with aggression and pride, and those things are going to happen.
DH: Years ago the player expected the pitcher would throw inside at them?
JL: Exactly right. They knew that and they took it. It is a totally different ballgame, and for some reason like you said earlier, they're just trying to protect these guys.
DH: You played with Sammy Sosa when you were on the Cubs, and he was a lightning rod for controversy. What are your thoughts of him as a teammate?
JL: There were some things he did that I didn't agree with, but as a person, and the way he treated me in the clubhouse, I have nothing but high respect for him. He always treated me and my family with kindness and respect. That's what I really look at.
As far as 24 other guys, there were some questions about his actions, but that's where I think a manager needs to get involved, and that brings me back to Joe Torre. You lay the rules in place, and this is what everybody has to abide by. He should be held accountable for it.
DH: Was he always held accountable, or did he just march to his own drummer so to speak?:
JL: No comment.
DH: There were a lot of questions about Sosa and if he used anything stronger than his Flintstones vitamins. As a teammate, did you notice anything while you were there that cast suspicion on him?
JL: I never heard anything or seen anything. I came over in 1999 after he and Mark (McGwire) made that great run. So when I came over in '99, he was obviously hitting balls out of the ballpark like crazy. I never noticed anything that wasn't different. He was built like an ox, and strong, but there was nothing suspicious around the clubhouse or being talked about.
DH: What are your thoughts on the salary structure in baseball today? We met on the cruise ship and Ken Berry mentioned when he played, the minimum salary was $7,500 and guys had to work to survive in the offseason. Today, you don't even have to work after you retire if you don't want to. What are your thoughts on that?
JL: I think it's great if you're a ballplayer. I don't think anybody would disagree with that. Now, is it fair...that might be a little bit too much, but it's obvious to see where the game has come from.
You know, the owners were crying broke in 1994, and people remember the strike. It's obvious to me that they weren't broke. They were holding out for the salary cap, and you can see how the game has flourished within the last 18 years.
There was really nothing wrong with the ballgame back then. It was just a stand by the owners because the salaries were getting a little bit high. It's entertainment, and if they can afford to pay it, I'm all for it. I never took for granted being able to make that much money as a ballplayer.
DH: Do you think athletes make too much money today?
JL: I think it's fine where it's at. I don't think there needs to be much more being made. There are some that are a little bit crazy. I don't think players need to be making $30 or $40 million a year. That's a little ridiculous.
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