This year, the Phillies are sending four All-Stars to Arizona with a possibility of a fifth if Shane Victorino can win the final vote. Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Placido Polanco will all wear the red pinstripes next Tuesday and all are veterans of the Midsummer Classic; Hamels and Halladay have represented the Phillies once each, while both Lee and Polanco represented different teams in the American League after being traded, but before being reacquired, by the Phils. Four Phils All-Stars would be the most since they sent five in 2009 and Victorino’s inclusion would match that mark. It is only the 2nd time in the last 10 seasons that the Phillies will send four players to the All-Star game. If Victorino is voted in, it will match the record for Phillies All-Stars in a single game, matching efforts of 2009, 1995, 1981, 1979, and 1976.
Here’s what the last 10 years of Phillies’ All-Stars looked like (click to enlarge):
Not too many surprising names on that list. I had forgotten that Vicente Padilla and Tom Gordon were All-Stars as Phillies and thought Jim Thome made more than one in a Phillies uniform. The Phils have been well represented in the last 11 seasons; they average 2.63 players per game and have had no less than 3 All-Stars per game since 2005. While it may not be surprising to hear that the Phillies have had 29 unique appearances in the All-Star game since 2001, what may be surprising is that they have signed or traded for 29 All-Stars, which includes Cliff Lee twice, since 2001 as well including four in each of the last three seasons (click to enlarge):
Of the 29 former All-Stars acquired, only 7 made the All-Star team with the Phillies after being acquired while both Dave Hollins and Ricky Botalico had previously made the All-Star team with the Phillies and were later reacquired. Of the players acquired, only a few were reasonably expected to be All-Stars. The Phillies got as-advertised players with Halladay, Lee, Jim Thome, Brad Lidge, and Billy Wagner, while Tom Gordon was a bit of a pleasant surprise. While Jose Mesa did not make the All-Star team with the Phillies after being acquired, he pitched very well as the Phillies’ closer. Jose Contreras has exceeded expectations and has been excellent out of the bullpen and Jamie Moyer was a pivotal part of the Phillies’ transformation into a World Series club. Some of the players acquired, including but not limited to Ronnie Belliard, Luis Castillo, Mike Sweeney, and Jeff Conine were no-harm, no-foul acquisitions while others cost the Phillies players who would mature into top talent.
For instance, the acquisition of Freddy Garcia cost the Phillies two pitchers who have pitched well in the past few seasons: Gavin Floyd and Gio Gonzalez. Gonzalez is headed to his first All-Star game this year after being incredibly effective for the Oakland Athletics. He is one of eight players that the Phillies have either traded or released from 2001-2011 that have made the All-Star game after departing the Phils (click to enlarge):
Of those players, the Phils have since reacquired Lee and only Michael Bourn and Gio Gonzalez appear to be long term assets that would help the Phillies in 2011 and beyond. Between 2001 and 2011, the Phillies have seen the departure of most of the All-Stars that they have acquired, but the positive take-away is that in recent years, they have been able to retain the All-Stars that have been the most productive from their own system. They haven’t traded away too many future All-Stars and the ones of value that they did, they either received an All-Star in return or the verdict is still out. Some trades have been better than others and their are two major clunkers that stick out that luckily did not sink the Phillies and were the right moves at that time: the 2006 trade of Bobby Abreu and the 2007 trade of Gio Gonzalez and Gavin Floyd for Freddy Gonzalez. The Thome for Rowand swap in 2006 filled a need and opened up a spot for Ryan Howard, while the Michael Bourn trade addressed the closer and utility roles that ultimately helped win them a championship.
I’ve collected baseball cards as long as I can remember. It’s definitely something I picked up from my brother. He used to collect Phillies’ fan favorite Lenny Dykstra, now known more for his problems off the field than for his brief streak of dominance and near-MVP miss on the field and I couldn’t get enough of the Kid, Ken Griffey Jr., with his backwards hats, beautiful swing, and baseball cards blowing bubble gum. I hadn’t quite got the whole local loyalty thing down until age 10 or 11 but I could pick out Phillies’ players cards from a very young age. One card we always used to take with us was the card to the left, a 1990 Classic Yellow Mike Lieberthal card.
My brother and I had some luck over the years getting autographs at the ballpark. He got Steve Avery when Steve Avery was the hottest pitcher on the planet, in recent years I’ve gotten Chase Utley and Shane Victorino. We’d root through his cards before games and take who we thought would be at the ballpark. Mike Lieberthal was always in that stack. We didn’t know who he was, we’d never seen him play, but this was before we, or I at least, had any concept of minor league players. From the time this card came out until our parents stopped regularly taking us to games, 1995 or so, we brought Mike Lieberthal just in case. We never saw him play.
Lieby would burst on to the scene in 1997, a 68-94 finish for the Phils, good enough for dead last in the NL East. But Lieby, at age 25, put up 20 HRs and 77 RBIs. Injuries, as would become the story of his career, slowed him down in 1998, but his 1999 season, a 77-85 finish for the Phils good enough for 3rd in the tough NL East, earned him his first of 2 consecutive All-Star births, a .300 average, 31 home runs, and 96 RBIs. Lieby would make the All-Star team again in 2000, but the progress the Phillies had made under manager Terry Francona could not be sustained, as they finished last, with a 65-97 record. But these seasons by Lieby were important. They gave us someone, a seemingly hard-nosed, determined backstop to root for.
Lieby, in 1997, replaced long-time Phils’ backstop Darren Daulton, whose 1995 injuries forced a 1996 move to the outfield and whose 1996 injuries limited him a trial run in 1997 at first base for the Phils and later the eventual World Champion Marlins. Lieby had gigantic shoes to fill; to this day Dutch remains
one of the most beloved Phillies players of all-time, playing parts of 13 seasons for the Phils, leading the NL in RBIs in 1992, earning 3 All-Star selections in 4 years, and leading the Macho Row Phillies wire to wire to the 1993 NL Pennant. Dutch is still a very visible figure in local media, appearing on both Comcast Sports Net and 97.5 FM the Fanatic. And the ladies love him. To this day.
Mike Lieberthal’s legacy was forever cemented in my mind as the guy whose card I had but never saw play until the really lean years happened. He, Scott Rolen, and Curt Schilling were our only players of real name value in those weird years where every other team in the division was better than us. And of those three players, he was the one who was the least vocal about wanting to skip town and play for a contender.
Lieby lost most of the 2001 season, which was very unfortunate due to the Phillies’ amazing come-from-left-field run at the NL East crown. They finished the year 86-76, their best finish since 1993 and only 2 games behind the dominating Braves. Lieby only played 34 games that year, hitting .231 with 2 HRs and 11 RBIs. I have no doubt Lieby would have out hit Johnny Estrada‘s line of .228, 8 HR, and 37 RBIs if healthy. Sadly, this became Lieby’s MO. He faced a string of minor and major injuries, had an excellent 2003 where he hit .312 with 13 HRs, but could never fully recapture his All-Star form. As a high schooler and then college kid, I heard crowds voice their displeasure with Leiby. There was anecdotal evidence tonight on 97.5 the Fanatic that Leiby was booed on opening day 2006. Many Phillies’ fans remember him as the guy who always got hurt, who never played a full season. But what if I told you that perception was different from reality?
This is where we get to the meat of this post. Darren Daulton was inducted to the Phillies Wall of Famethis past Friday. Daulton patrolled the backstop for parts of 13 seasons in the Phils’ pinstripes, catching 1018 games, hitting 123 home runs, with 525 RBIs, with a triple slash line of .244/.423/.777 as a backstop. He is currently one of two catchers currently on the Phillies’ Wall of Fame; similarly beloved Bob Boone, who also made 3 All-Star games at catcher for the Phils, catching 1112 games for the Phils, was a member of the 1980 World Series championship team, perennial Gold Glove contender and seven time winner, and part of the coolest Phillies’ play/advertisement of all time. Boone hit 65 HRs in a Phils uniform, with 456 RBIs, and a .259/.325/.370 triple slash line. Disclaimer: Boone played 13 games at positions other than catcher that were included in the triple slash line. Both Daulton and Boone are and were very popular, as the city of Philadelphia seems to take to catchers. See: Ruiz, Carlos. Would it surprise you to know that Lieberthal had better numbers than both of them?
As a Philly, Lieby had 150 HRs as a catcher in 1174 games behind the plate with 609 RBIs. His triple slash line was .275/.338/.788, out-pacing offensively both Daulton and Boone in a similar number of games. Lieby caught the most games in Phillies history, which should count for something, or at the very least begin to soften the blow retroactively that he did miss a number of games throughout his career.
Lieby spent his final season, 2007, as a Los Angeles Dodger, serving as a back-up for upstart Russel Martin. The team went 82-80, good enough for fourth place in the suddenly explosive NL West. Coincidentally, the Phillies would break their 14 year playoff drought that year. Lieby had played on all 13 of the teams that missed the playoffs in that span. In 2008, there was a slightly happy ending. Lieberthal signed a brief contract with the Phils in 2008 and officially retired as a Philly on June 1, 2008, mimicking the actions of Doug Glanville in 2005. Is Lieberthal Phillies’ Wall of Fame worthy? Let’s take a look at the positives and negatives.
Lieberthal played the 2nd hardest position to field, according to the Bill James’ Defensive Spectrum, won a Gold Glove there, and made two All-Star games.
Lieberthal had better stats than the two other Phillies’ catchers on their Wall of Fame.
Lieberthal caught more games for the Phillies than any other player.
Lieberthal struck out very rarely, an overlooked fact of his career. His career high was 86 K’s in 1999 and averaged a strikeout per 7.39 ABs as a Phillie.
Lieberthal was a home grown player, drafted, came up through our system.
Lieberthal was a key piece of the teams that helped get the new ballpark built.
Lieberthal’s perception with the fans is nowhere near as positive as it is with Darren Daulton or Bob Boone.
Lieberthal never played on a Phils playoff team and, in fact, might be damaged by the fact that he played on teams that came up just short of the playoffs for five out of his last six seasons.
Lieberthal was never the best player on his team even in periods of extreme weakness for the team. This award goes to Scott Rolen, Bobby Abreu, or Jim Thome, depending on the year.
Mike Lieberthal, in short, is a really puzzling case of a guy who put up pretty numbers for his position for a few years but gained the fans’ eyer at the end of his run for inability to stay healthy late into his career. His case for the Phillies’ Wall of Fame is muddled by the dark ages that were the late 1990s, years Lieby really began to come into his own. He received a large ovation on Saturday, so Phillies’ fans may be beginning to soften their stance on him. His numbers and presence as the literally one player who survived as a Phil all thirteen years in between playoff births should be recognized but it likely won’t be. Unfortunately, Lieby doesn’t carry a whole lot of popularity and his name isn’t referenced very often unless its in a conversation about how beneficial it was in 2007 that his $7.5 million per year contract expired or how he likely could have helped us win the 2001 NL East if he would have been healthy the whole year. I think he should be up there, but it is unlikely he will be featured. Only time will tell.