Mike Liberthal retires today as a Phillies.
“To put everything I had into the Phillies for 13 years, it’s pretty special,” Lieberthal said. “You don’t see too many players who stay with one team in any sport for that long of a period. It’s definitely an honor to come here and finish with the Phillies. I was still a Phillie at heart, even though I was in L.A. I pretty much watched every game that was on TV in the clubhouse. I still do.
“They’re deep in my heart. I definitely have some special friends on that team, guys I played with. It was really great to see them. Some of these guys I haven’t seen in a while.”
Lieberthal, who spent his first 13 Major League seasons with the Phillies, signed a one-day Minor League contract and officially retired as a Phillie on Sunday. He signed a contract which paid him a total of $4.
“Can I buy a Bud Light with that?” Lieberthal joked.
The last Phillies player to put the finishing touches on his career in this way was Doug Glanville in 2005.
Before Sunday’s game against the Marlins, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia presented Lieberthal with a plaque to thank him for the fundraising he did on behalf of the hospital. He also threw out the ceremonial first pitch and received a loud ovation from the huge crowd at Citizens Bank Park.
“It’s a special day for me,” Lieberthal said. “To come in and retire this way is the right thing to do. [Phillies president] Dave Montgomery called me in the offseason and asked me if I wanted to do it. There was no question in my mind, because it’s something special to finish my career as a Phillie.”
Originally selected by the Phillies as the No. 3 pick in the 1990 First-Year Player Draft behind Chipper Jones (Braves) and Tony Clark (Tigers), Lieberthal became a staple behind the plate, catching 1,139 games, the most in club history.
Lieberthal made his Major League debut with the Phillies on June 20, 1994, against the Dodgers. In 13 seasons with the Phils, he hit .275 with 150 home runs and 609 RBIs in 1,174 games. He batted .234 with one RBI in 38 games with the Dodgers last season.
Despite seven career trips to the disabled list, Lieberthal had a tremendous career and was an All-Star in 1999 and 2000. Lieberthal, who won a National League Gold Glove in ’99, became the sixth catcher to hit .300 with 30 homers in a season when he accomplished the feat in ’99 (31 homers). He was the first Phillies player to achieve those lofty statistics since Mike Schmidt in ’81.
“You could count on Lieby being in there every day, and that’s tough to do when you’re catching,” said left fielder Pat Burrell, who played his first seven seasons with Lieberthal. “He was very dependable and that meant a lot. He was a great teammate.”
The 36-year-old Lieberthal grew up in Westlake Village, Calif., about 35 miles west of Los Angeles. If not for a variety of injuries, he believes his career would have been extended.
“I think I could have played another three or four years,” Lieberthal said. “I had so many issues last year. Going through the season, even though I caught only 10 or 15 games, I was hoping Russell Martin wouldn’t get hurt. I was telling my wife, ‘If I had to catch more than one or two games in a row, I don’t think I could do it.’”
Former teammate Randy Wolf, now with the Padres, said recently that he wasn’t surprised with Lieberthal’s decision to retire in Philadelphia.
“He put in a lot of time here,” Wolf said. “He was a staple of this organization for a long time. I think he always associated himself with them.”
Phillies outfielder Geoff Jenkins can understand Lieberthal’s rationale. Jenkins signed with Philadelphia as a free agent after spending his first 10 seasons with the Brewers.
“When you put so much time in somewhere and give everything you have to an organization, you feel like it means more to you,” Jenkins said. “I don’t know how it’s going to play out for me, but I’ll always have fond memories of my time in Milwaukee. Mike probably feels like he gave 13 years of his career here and it must have meant a lot to him.”
As for the future, Lieberthal isn’t exactly sure what lies ahead, but he’s playing a lot of golf right now.
“I’m going to take golf to another level, as far as I can go,” Lieberthal said. “It probably won’t be the PGA level, but it’s something occupying my time and keeping me competitive.”
He would also welcome a return to the Major Leagues as a coach, specifically as a hitting instructor.
“I think I’d be very good at it,” Lieberthal said. “I love talking about hitting. I love talking about the golf swing.” (H/T Phillies.com)
Thanks for all those years sitting behind the plate at the Vet and Citizens Bank Park, Mikey. Have a good retirement. And its also a very classy move by the organization to have him retire as a Phil.