LP – Leibrandt

Charlie Leibrandt was a principal in one of the best trades John Schuerholz ever made, and in one of the worst; the latter was also maybe the second-best trade Bobby Cox made after the Smoltz-Alexander deal.

In the middle of 1983, Royals GM Schuerholz made a swap of struggling lefthanders, sending Bob Tufts to the Reds in exchange of Leibrandt. These aren’t the trades they write books about, but it was quite a heist; Tufts never pitched for the Reds, while Leibrandt would win 71 games for the Royals over the next five seasons. But after a subpar 1989 season (Leibrandt went 5-11 with a 5.14 ERA; you could give him a lot of blame for the team losing the division by seven games but their .387 team slugging percentage had a lot more to do with it), and with free agency a year away, Schuerholz traded Charlie to the Braves for Gerald Perry, apparently in an effort to deny at-bats to Danny Tartabull or something. After the 1990 season, Leibrandt (who had been hurt some but by far the team’s best pitcher when healthy) signed an extension.

But this isn’t about that. I think you know what it’s about.

Retrosheet Boxscore: Minnesota Twins 4, Atlanta Braves 3

Eleventh inning, Game Six, 1991 World Series. Avery had gone six, allowing three runs for the minimal quality start. The Braves had tied the game in the seventh. Bobby used his best setup man, Mike Stanton, to pitch the seventh and eighth. He brought in his closer, Alejandro Pena, to pitch the ninth and tenth. (And if Pena hadn’t pitched two innings, might he have had more in the tank the next day?) But the Braves couldn’t score, so Bobby has to make a decision.

Bobby had used basically three relievers in the series: Pena, Stanton, and Jim Clancy. The rest of the pen (Mark Wohlers, Kent Mercker, and Randy St. Claire) pitched only 3 2/3 innings combined. The first two were kids, Wohlers with only 20 major league innings under his belt. Mercker was not 100 percent healthy. St. Claire was a 30-year-old journeyman with a subpar ERA. None of them was going to pitch in a tied World Series game unless Bobby ran out of options. Marvin Freeman, the fourth reliever from the season, wasn’t on the roster at all. (I believe he was injured.)

Clancy was a veteran, familiar to Bobby from Toronto. He was also 35 years old and had a 5.71 ERA after coming over from the Astros in a late-season trade. He had won the series’ first marathon, game three, in relief, and pitched two innings, allowing a run, in the blowout game five. That was the last time he would pitch in a major league game. Leibrandt had pitched the first game of the series, poorly, and not been seen since. But during the season, he had put up a 3.49 ERA. He was the only really experienced playoff pitcher that the Braves had. He was clearly, to my mind, a better option knowing what Cox knew than Wohlers or Clancy.Of course, Charlie then gave up the walk-off homer to Puckett. Yes, Puckett was righthanded, but you can’t manage an extra-inning game like that, so bringing in a lefty instead of a righty there was a minor consideration — especially with the Twins’ leading home run hitter, the switch-hitting DH Chili Davis, on deck. (One thing that is rarely noted about the 1991 Series is that the Twins’ best hitter on the season was Davis, and he was largely restricted to the bench during the Atlanta games. That’s the real home field advantage.)

So, should Bobby have made the decision to go with Leibrandt? I can’t see who else he could have gone with. The only argument I could see would be for Mercker, but again he wasn’t 100 percent and had thrown only 1 2/3 innings the entire postseason.

You know what the real mistake might have been? Going with Pena (who, after all, had pitched two innings the night before) for a second inning in Game Seven. He had Tom Glavine, who had pitched just 5 1/3 in Game Five, in the bullpen. He’d fallen apart in the sixth inning of that game, and he was no doubt exhausted, but Pena was tired too. The closer (who was magnificent in the stretch run) or the Cy Young winner? To my mind, that’s a harder question than whether to go with the best pitcher you have available in Game Six.

23 thoughts on “LP – Leibrandt”

  1. That one was a toughie, no question about it. I guess I’d pick Leibrandt too. I mean, sending in a kid to go up against Kirby Puckett? Noooo. Good thinking, bad result, I say.

  2. I don’t really have any problems with Bobby there. I recall never quite having the feeling that we were ever going to win that game, whereas I always kinda felt that we’d win Game 7. (We essentially got beat by a stupid carpet double–a Texas Leaguer that bounced so high you couldn’t throw Gladden out at second.)

    I know that Charlie lost consecutive ATL Game 6’s in the WS (and weirdly, Jimmy Key won consecutive ATL Game 6’s in the WS), but I thought he gave us a better chance to win than the other guys. It doesn’t keep me up nights thinking about him.

  3. The first entry made me smile; this one almost made my cry. Actually, I was 11 or 12 when Puckett hit that home run and, in fact, did cry. But I do remember thinking that Leibrandt was the best – probably only – option. And in case the game kept going, he had the endurance for the long haul. To be honest, the only thing I would change from that series was Lonnie Smith – whose base running blunder haunts me still. As for Glavine, it’s possible Bobby was a little shell-shocked from using a starter in extra innings the night before; with the benefit of hindsight, maybe he should have allowed Glavine to pitch.

  4. Bring back my nightmares why don’t ya. I was only 11, but that series stick out so vividly as a braves fan. I almost wanted to jump through the screen when Hrbeck was pushing a first base and then when Lonnie fell for Knoblach’s antics. Seriously, the only stupider thing to fall for would have been the old pitcher fakes to 3rd and throws to first pick off move. I can’t fault Bobby for that particular decision. You can’t go with the rookie when you’ve got a vet as an option that late in a WS.

  5. I’ve argued this for years on internet message boards, but this was a good move that didn’t work out. Leib was the best choice. Good decisions give you the best chance of winning; they don’t guarentee it.

  6. What is the most consecutive number of losses to start a season for the Atlanta Braves and what year did it occur?

    anyone know the answer to that? lol… I’m gonna go try and look it up for now

  7. I never had any problems with Leibrandt in that situation. Jim Clancy had been a disaster–I remember being unhappy that he was on the postseason roster–and Mercker and Wohlers were hardly more obvious options.

    One more point, I feel that Leibrandt made a greater contribution to the Braves than is more often realized. I believe that he provided the young pitchers–Glavine, Smoltz and Avery–with a role model, who could pitch with savy.

  8. Fortunately, Jenny was about 6 months old during that wonderful time, so Jenny wasn’t subjected to it. But she hears about it constantly in stories invariably beginning with, “Back in my day,” the same way her grandparents tell all their fascinating tales about the Great Depression.

    Anyone see where Dayton Moore is going to interview with the Royals in preparation for the imminent sacking of Allard Baird? I can’t remember if I stuck it in another thread, but if I didn’t, there it is.

  9. Stephen,
    I agree with your assessment–it was much like the decision with Pendleton. He was not only a gold glover defensively, but he helped younger Braves (like Justice and Gant) as well. To what degree these moves were planned and to what degree they were luck, we’ll never really know. But, with 14(?) titles in a row, it’s probably more of the former…

    Great job on these posts, Mac! You continue to make this site even better!!!!

  10. Actually, I remember the Orioles back in 1988. It’s good to keep in mind. If you think you have problems now, just think back to the 1988 Orioles.

  11. And don’t forget that, after a disasterous 1988 season, the 1989 Orioles made it to the final weekend before the Blue Jays nipped them in the end. If I recall, it was a Gregg Olson wild pitch that did them in.

  12. Game 6, you just have to tip your cap to Kirby. Game 7 was a complete disaster. Lonnie’s baserunning was obviously great, but the Braves did have runners on second and third with NOBODY OUT. What happened? Gant popped out, Justice walked, and Sid grounded into double play. I remember Bobby almost threw his cap onto the ground after the double play.

    I always hated Gant for not getting at least one run in for that at-bat…on the other hand, I can’t expect too much out of him because he has the plate discipline of somewhere between Frenchy and Andruw…sigh…

  13. Off topic question, speaking of decisions: Why didn’t the Marlins send Dontrelle down for the last couple of weeks of last year after they were out of contention? He’s young and jumped straight from AA, right? So he had to have options left. He was literally the LAST Super Two, and the Marlins could have saved like four million dollars by just sending him down a couple of days at the end of the year.

  14. I just read this in an article:

    “If the Braves fall out of contention in the NL East, Hudson could be available, because money matters to the Braves and Hudson, 31, next month, is due $33 million from 2007 to 2009 and $2 million more for the second half of this season.”

    I dont think this will ever happen.

  15. On Leibrandt’s influence on the young Braves, specifically he either taught (or helped perfect) Tom Glavine’s circle change. That was Leibrandt’s best pitch and at that time he was one of the few who was using it. It is Glavne’s relative success against right handers (compared to typical left hander splits) that has made the difference between him being an above average to good pithcer as compared to a great to Hall of Fame caliber pitcher. That success is and was dependent on that very circle change giving him a reverse break on a pitch. He has used it effectively to drop off and away from the outside corner and to drop in to the inside upper and lower corners against right handers for years. It is a perfect complement to Glavine’s fastball.

  16. Terrific post. I hope you’ll consider Bobby’s decsion to send Glavine back out for the 8th in his start in the 1999 WS. That Yankee team was an all-time monster.

    I don’t know how controversial that might be, but it was certainly dramatic. The cameras showed Bobby, literally on one knee, asking Tommy how he felt. You know what a competitor like Glavine would say.
    It will always put the Grady Little-Pedro decision in perspective for me. These are real people.
    But somebody has to ask what a bullpen is for. Whaddayathink, Mac?

  17. There were two real problems.
    1) What if Otis Nixson had played in the WS?
    2) The “Vet” Lonnie Smith, RUN YOU SON OF A BITCH!

  18. You know what a competitor like Glavine would say.

    You mean like when he told Cox & Mazzone that he was done after 8 innings of the clinching game of the ’95 Series? Both Glavine and Maddux fairly often were allowed to dictate when they were pulled and neither abused that trust. If Glavine didn’t do so when pitching a 1 hit shutout in the deciding game of a Series, why do you think he did four years later?

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