If Charlie Leibrandt’s career could be summarized in one word, it would be - underappreciated. Leibrandt was a model for consistency and high-quality pitching at the highest level of competition. Yet the relatively small percentage of Braves fans that remember Leibrandt have probably cursed his name.
Leibrandt was an unheralded ninth-round pick by the Cincinnati Reds in the 1978 MLB Amateur Draft out of Miami University of Ohio. He after appearing in four major league seasons with the Reds with some success, he was traded to the Royals in 1983. In Game 3 of the 1984 American League Championship Series with the Royals facing elimination against the Tigers, Leibrandt pitched a spectacular complete-game three-hitter. However, he allowed a run on a fielder’s choice and lost the game 1-0. This game served as an omen for Leibrandt’s postseason misfortunes.
Leibrandt’s 1985 season, however, was the highlight of his career. Leibrandt pitched 237.2 innings to a 2.69 ERA, which was good enough for second in the AL that season but not good enough to make the all-star team. The Royals would make it to the World Series that year. Leibrandt pitched eight shutout innings in Game 1 of the World Series only to unravel in the ninth inning and lose the game. He redeemed himself in Game 6, though, by throwing eight strong innings, and the Royals went on to win the World Series in seven games.
After six impressive seasons with the Royals, Leibrandt was traded to the Braves before the 1990 season. Leibrandt’s three seasons with the Braves from 1990 to 1992 were remarkable – each with a 3+ fWAR and sub-3.50 ERA. Yet his name will always be an afterthought in that early 1990’s rotation, buried behind the colossal names of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and even Steve Avery. Perhaps “afterthought” is even optimistic, too.
Leibrandt’s Braves career
Unfortunately for Leibrandt, most Braves fans probably remember him for the most regretful pitch of his career. In Game 6 of the 1991 World Series, the Braves were one win away from winning it all. The game remained tied after nine innings and went to extras. Leibrandt was brought out of the bullpen in the bottom of the tenth inning. The first batter he faced was Kirby Puckett. Needless to say, Leibrandt would lose that battle, and the Twins went on to win the World Series in Game 7.
The Braves made it back to the World Series in 1992, and Leibrandt had a shot at redemption in an identical spot as the previous year. He entered Game 6 of the World Series in the tenth inning again but this time pitched a scoreless inning to start. However, Leibrandt would surrender two runs in the eleventh inning, and the Braves would go on to lose the game and the World Series – again.
Despite all of his playoff heartbreaks, Leibrandt earned a championship with the Royals and overall pitched well in the postseason. In 57.1 postseason innings pitched in his career, Leibrandt had a 3.77 ERA and 3.11 FIP. Yet his 1-7 record is likely more indicative of how his postseason career will be remembered.
Leibrandt’s career numbers are even more impressive. In his 13-season career, he pitched 2308 innings with a 3.71 ERA and 33.1 fWAR. In more than half of those seasons (seven), Leibrandt had 3+ fWAR seasons and twice had 4+ fWAR seasons. Yet he never made to an All-Star Game. Leibrandt did make it onto the 1999 Hall of Fame ballot but did not receive any votes.
In full transparency, I’m biased when it comes to Leibrandt. In fact, I probably would not be as passionate about the Braves nor being writing for Talking Chop if it weren’t for him. Leibrandt is my sister’s godfather. He and my father played college baseball together at Miami of Ohio, and to me, he was always “Uncle Charlie.”
I was ages six to eight growing up in the Atlanta area when Leibrandt pitched for the Braves. I used to go into the dugout before games with him, sit in his reserved seats during the game, and on occasion go into the locker room with him after the game. As a boy who loved baseball and the Braves, this was all of my dreams come true.
I will never forget the first time Uncle Charlie took me into the Braves’ locker room. I remember shaking my childhood idol Ron Gant’s hand and thinking he had the biggest, strongest hands in the world. I ate chicken wings with Steve Avery while he iced his shoulder. I remember thinking that the Simpsons’ shirt that David Justice wore where all of the characters were black was the funniest thing. These images are still imprinted on my mind, and I am forever thankful. Yet as Leibrandt and I walked from the locker room to the parking lot, he looked down at me and asked, “Who’s your favorite Braves player now?” I replied, “It’s still Ron Gant.”