When the Phillies draw from their “greatest ever” pool, the names are usually pulled from the ’50s, late ’70s-early ’80s, 1993, or now. According to books, sadly, the franchise continued to exist in most of the years between those eras.
And it seems as though one of the “between-years” is finally getting recognition. This year, Mike Liberthal will join that wall in Ashburn Alley with all the other bronzed smiling faces, immortalized forever in Phillies lore whether he wants to be or not.
I’ve been weirdly nostalgic lately, and I couldn’t figure out why. Turns out it’s because the Phillies are terrible. Seeing them kick the ball at each other instead of fielding it and the crowd booing them between innings makes me feel like we’re back in the Vet, watching our players rip their faces off on astro turf and trying to get Scott Rolen to love us by screaming horrible things at him.
There were many a checkered afternoon where we’d watch a team with few or no bright spots try to navigate around a far superior lineup. I have a distinct memory of giving Joe Carter a standign ovation during one of the first interleague games where he broke a hit record or something. And I was all like, “Is this what it’s come to? Applause for the man who turned 1993 into another entry to my catalog of nightmare? I mean I know he’s a nice guy but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to poison him or something.”
And my dad would be like, “You better stop with that or we’re going to send you back to that doctor who figures out if your kid is a serial killer or not.”
“Oh, I… took care of him,” I’d say.
It was a thing we had; I’d say something awful, my dad wouldn’t speak to me for 19 years. Ha, ha, ha.
Mike Lieberthal was a big part of those years. Here was a hot young catching prospect inheriting the ropes from Dutch, I think, and debuting in June of the first year of my life that baseball went on strike. Sadly, he found himself crushed under the weight of mediocrity around him and personal injuries at an alarming rate.
Despite all that, he left Philadelphia with the most home runs a catcher has ever hit in a Phillies uniform, dotting his career with all manner of impressive feats. He is an a very exclusive club with Johnny Bench, Lance Parrish, and Ivan Rodriguez as the only catchers to ever win a Gold Glove and hit 30 home runs in the same season. He was the first Phillie since Luzinski to hit .300 and knock 30 dingers.
The list goes on for the two time All-Star, but the team was in a constant state of rebuilding and/or sucking every year he was with them, leaving Lieby with the unholy distinction of spanning his 13-year Phillies career between two years (1993 and 2007) that they made the playoffs and never seeing the post season himself. He carried us past the strike and helped ushered in the new golden era that is currently melting before our very eyes.
He drifted out to L.A., where the Dodgers gave him more money than their starter Russell Martin for some reason, then retired.
After a four game sweep at home, we can wonder: Is Lieby’s induction a reminder from the Phillies that bright spots can be found in years of horrible depression? We’ll never know, unless we decide to just say it ourselves. Are we saying that? No.
But it seems a timely statement, as we these 2012 Phillies make us think back to afternoons at the Vet, applauding the other team for their milestones, wondering why Scott Rolen won’t love us back, and ruining relationships with our fathers.