Thursday, October 05, 2006

Lieberthal Departs...Unceremoniously

With the news that Mike Lieberthal underwent successful abdominal surgery yesterday, his final chapter in Philadelphia is closed. It can be affirmed Mike went out with a whimper, which says more about the Phillies than it does about him.  The 34 year old catcher will be a free agent after the season, and there is no chance he will be coming back.

GM Pat Gillick made little effort to hide his feelings about Lieberthal simply stating that the club was going in a different direction that didn’t include him.  That is all well and good, but the club might have done something prior to the last game of the season to honor in some way the senior Phillie in terms of service, a catcher who batted .275 over his 13-year career with the team and averaged nearly a hit a game and a run scored every other one.  Lieberthal, who set a record for total number of games behind the plate, may also have led the club in surgeries endured.

For that he got one of the all-time unceremonious sendoffs.


RickSchuBlues said...

The fans should have been aware that it was likely Lieberthal's last home game when he played it, but I'm sure people will have the excuse that it was presumed the Phils would make the playoffs - even Lieberthal himself had said so.

Instead they booed him when he struck out with a man on third and two outs. Truly embarrassing. The Phils made the fans aware when Lieby passed the all-time games played mark in August, but did nothing to acknowledge this last home game. No doubt, he deserved better.

Tom Goodman said...

The same geniuses booed Bobby Abreu during the player introductions on Opening Day and would, no doubt, be first in line to complain if they were given a handshake and a pat on the back instead of a gold watch at their own retirements.

From top to bottom the Phillies organization lacks class and conscience. Boooooooooooooooo!!

George S said...

I’ve always considered Lieberthal to be a true professional, both in the way he played the game (often hurt), and in the way he carried himself off the field. I think he was a credit to the city and the uniform. On the other hand, he never really connected with the fans over all those years, and if he had charisma or leadership qualities, he did a very good job of keeping them hidden from view. Still, if the Phillies knew they were not going to sign him, they should have had a Mike Lieberthal night. I think he earned that much.

That said, I have to wonder if there isn’t a sort of double standard today in what is expected of organizations vs what is expected of individuals in terms of loyalty. In yet another way, free agency has reversed roles between player and management. Before FA, players were expected by the paying public to be loyal to their teams, grateful for the opportunity to have such a great job. Teams could act callously and often deliberately cruelly toward players without much criticism. After FA, that seems to be completely turned around in the eye of the public.

When a player who has been drafted, mentored and developed by a baseball organization decides to leave via FA to the highest bidder at the first chance, very few people criticize the move. “It’s just business”, “He has to look out for himself and his family”, “Can you blame him with all that money on the table”?, etc.. There is seldom any question of loyalty put forward. The player is not expected to be loyal to any team in today’s baseball world. Yet baseball organizations are expected to be, whether it’s in the form of honoring a player, taking care of longtime players after they retire, helping them get through injury or legal trouble, or even as far as keeping them in the lineup when they don’t deserve it on merit.
When teams are struggling, nobody blames players for wanting out, for wanting to be traded to a winner. There’s never an expectation that they should stick it out. In fact, ‘losing’ organizations are often considered to have no class if they don’t arrange for their veteran players to get to a contender at some point to experience the post-season, almost as if that is now a ‘right’.

It’s also becoming more and more common for players to rip their former employers as soon as they are in greener pastures. Yet it is considered foul play, sour grapes, or vindictiveness if management discloses anything negative about a departed player, especially if it might impact a player’s market value.

I’m not saying that players should be loyal or even grateful to their teams in today’s baseball business. But neither should organizations be expected to treat players any differently than as contracted employees unless it is in their best interest to do so (retain star players, market their stars, improve their own public image, etc). I think it was in the best interest of the Phillies to honor Mike Lieberthal.

I often wonder if some of the greats of the past, like Ernie Banks, Robin Roberts, Richie Ashburn, Ralph Kiner, even Ted Williams (and many others) would have stayed with their perennial losing organizations all those years if there was FA. Maybe, and then maybe not. It’s tempting to look back and see loyalty where there was nothing except lack of options.

Tom Goodman said...

Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken, George Brett and Robin Yount all played during the era of FA and all could have left their original teams for greener pastures and all remained. They are clearly the exceptions.

Lieberthal deserved to be honored on merit, length of tenure and committment to the team. It wouldn't have cost the Phillies much literally let alone figuratively to do so, but you knew where they stood when he learned he wasn't in their plans via a radio interview with Gillick.

Not all losing teams lack class; some merely lack means. That said, the Phillies are not a highly regarded organization.

jacquelines said...

Lieberthal was honored before the final home game (not the make-up on Monday) but on Fan Appreciation Day, with a painting of himself in action and a framed homeplate from CBP. I was at the game. I was also at the Monday make-up game and where I was on the 1st base side he was getting a lot of love from the fans. But as Jim Salisbury said recently of Billy Wagner, don't let the facts get in the way of a good rant. If some fans were not aware that they were probably seeing Lieberthal's last game as a Philly, maybe they should pay more attention. And listen less to the radio or to the erstwhile postgame analyst on CSN. If you don't attend games, you may not have noticed that the Phillies are very good about bringing back ex-players to honor them in one way or another.

RickSchuBlues said...

Jacquelines, if that's the case, I stand corrected. This ceremony before the Sunday game was not reported anywhere. It's nice that this happened. However, where the fans are concerned, I heard the treatment of Lieberthal in that last home game. He was *not* getting a lot of love.

Corey & Carson said...

I was never a fan of Mike Lieberthal, but I always rooted for him and never booed him. I hope he heals properly and I wish him well.

Lieby is another case of a player making more money than he's worth, but still being good. Burrell is good, but he's not worth the money he gets. This draws the fans' ire and they voice it by booing...part of sports, albeit ugly sometimes.

Anonymous said...

i always liked lieby - his laidback southern california-ness may not always have served him well as far as his ability to handle the ever-changing phillies pitching staff, but he always struck me as a very focused, determined player who never gave up in spite of the unfathomable number of injuries he sustained over his long career here. i agree whole heartedly that he deserved more from this team in his final year. his service should have been publicly honored in some fashion. shame on the phillies for another round of botched p.r

Tom Goodman said...

Jacqueline: thanks for providing some information to those of us who were not at the game that final Sunday, Fan Apprciation Day, not Mike LIeberthal Appreciation Day. As for linking any of us with Billy Wagner, that comment is far too ridiculous to acknowledge other than to say you clearly have never read this blog on Wagner before. Talk about not letting the facts get in the way of good comment!!

As for the Phillies' honoring of Lieberthal I can only say that it is typical of them to throw his "day" into an already-announced promo and then conveniently neglect to promote him prior to that "celebration". The Phillies may bring him back at some later date (highly doubtful in my opinion) but the way they slipped him into Fan Appreciation Day hardly does his service justice or gives the Phillies the credit you are willing to give them. I am also willing to bet the "ceremonies" were not shown on television other than a snippet in which Harry says, "Before the game..."

I was at the game Monday night and he was getting as many boos as cheers. You must have been seated in a rarified section of the stadium that night.