April 2 – Happy Birthday Jon Lieber
Jon Lieber’s Yankee career was both short and sweet. After the Yankees lost the 2003 World Series to the Marlins they also lost most of their starting pitching staff. Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens and David Wells were all lost to free agency and a fourth starter, the disappointing Jeff Weaver, was traded to the Dodgers for the guy New York thought would anchor their rotation for the next couple of seasons, Kevin Brown. That same off-season, the Yankees also traded for the Expo fireballer, Javier Vazquez and signed Cuban refugee, Jose Contreras. A year earlier, the Yankees had also signed a then 31-year-old Lieber to a free agent contract. No one paid too much attention because at the time, the Council Bluffs, Iowa native, who had won 20 games for the Cubs in 2001, was recuperating from Tommy John surgery and would miss the entire ’03 campaign.
As we now know, Brown and Contreras were both disappointing in pinstripes and after getting off to a 10-5 start and making the AL All Star Team, Vazquez was just 4-5 during the second half of the ’04 season. When another starter, Mike Mussina went into a bad spell at the same time as Vazquez, the Yankee starting pitching situation looked bleak indeed. But after starting the season 5-5, Lieber’s surgically repaired arm was finally regaining all its strength and he went 9-3 the rest of the way, including five straight wins in September. It was Lieber and a rejuvenated Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez who pitched the Yankees to the 2004 AL East Division title.
Lieber did not pitch well in his first postseason start against the Twins that year but he then came back to beat the Red Sox in Game 2 of that year’s ALCS. He also pitched well against Boston in Game 6, in a losing effort that became part of the greatest postseason collapse in Yankee franchise history. I still believe it was the shock of that collapse that so stunned New York’s front office that they let Lieber get away and sign a free agent contract with the Phillies. Instead, the Yankees got Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano and Jared Wright, three more poor pitching choices, while Lieber won 17 games for the Phillies. He lasted three more seasons, retiring in 2008 with a 131-124 career record. he shares his April 2nd birthday with this former Yankee starting pitcher and this former Yankee outfielder.
When people ask me who is the best, most loyal Yankee fan I know, I answer without hesitation, Marty Tambasco. I can’t tell you how many times in my life I’ve had the pleasure of discussing Yankee baseball with Marty during the close to half-century we’ve known each other, and I am thrilled to be able to say, we continue to do so to this day. It is only fitting that a man who loves baseball and the Yankees as much as Marty does, celebrates his own birthday as each new season of our National Pastime begins anew. Have a super day Marty!