Mike Lieberthal Retires: An Ode to 'Lieby'

Ian ThomasCorrespondent IJune 3, 2008

Call me crazy, but I'm going to keep a permanent spot in my heart open for Michael Scott Lieberthal.

No, he wasn't a Phillies great. Some would argue he wasn't even a Phillies good, or a Phillies adequate. But when you break his numbers down, you'll see Lieby—who was behind the Phils' plate for the better part of thirteen years—is certainly among the best Phillies catchers of all time.

He kept a career batting average of .274, which is more than acceptable for a backstop. He managed 150 home runs, as well (which puts him fifth all-time for Jewish-born ballplayers, making him the Willie Mays of Team Jerusalem).

He was a two-time NL All Star, achieving the honor in both 1999 and 2000. He won a Gold Glove in '99, as well, and captured the NL Comeback Player of the Year award in 2002.

In 1999, Lieberthal carried an underwhelming Philadelphia team, hitting .300 and slugging .551 while clubbing 31 home runs and 96 RBI. It's not quite a Barry Bonds-esque type of year, but for a scrawny, scrappy catcher, I'll take it.

Sure, Lieby heard his fair share of Philly boos, and, at times, he deserved them. High expectations followed Mike throughout his entire Philadelphia tenure—a result of being selected third overall in the 1990 Draft out of high school. But the man did his job, and did it well.

And for reasons I can't quite explain, I always really liked the guy.

I got a Lieberthal No. 24 home Phillies jersey for my 11th birthday. I cheered for him the loudest—louder than Burrell, Thome, or even my beloved Bobby Abreu. Lieby had a sort of everyman persona that I really appreciated, and I liked how he always took the field without a millionaire's swagger. He knew he was just another player, and I liked that attitude.

He was booed when he left men stranded on base (which he seemed to do frequently) and when he performed one of his 571 strikeouts. But Lieberthal ended up with a solid .991 fielding percentage, meaning he saved just as many games as he blew.

And, really, unless you're Mike Piazza or Yogi Berra, are you really being counted on to consistently provide offense from the catcher position? A solid catcher is one who can manage his pitching staff effectively and provide as much offense as possible from the bottom of the lineup. Lieberthal did both.

When Lieberthal officially retired on June 1, after signing a one-day contract to retire as a member of the Phillies, I felt a twinge of sadness for the team's all-time leader in games caught.

He had become an afterthought to most Phillies fans—he was coming off a one-year backup stint with the LA Dodgers—but not to me. He was a good player to look up to: a defensively consistent, intelligent guy behind the dish. He'll never make the Hall of Fame, but he should go down as an important part of Phillies history.

And yes, I still have that jersey. I'll never get rid of it.