The 25th greatest Royal. - 1986 Topps Blog
Our countdown finally resumes with the crafty lefty from the 80s. Charlie Leibrandt was a diamond-in-the-rough plucked from the Reds by a savvy GM. Who will be our next Charlie Leibrandt?
Dayton Moore arrived in Kansas City in 2006 stressing pitching and developing a young nucleus. Over the course of six years, here are the young (pre-arbitration eligible at the time acquired) players of note he has acquired through trades:
It is an underwhelming list thus far, particularly in starting pitching. Dayton Moore would rightly contend he did not inherit a lot of tradeable assets in Kansas city. However compare Dayton's track record with this list of young players John Schuerholz acquired in his first six seasons:
Bud Black, Charlie Leibrandt, Steve Balboni, Angel Salazar, Danny Tartabull, Kurt Stillwell, and Jeff Montgomery.
There is no doubt that Schuerholz inherited much more talent than Dayton Moore did (Schuerholz inherited a club one year removed from winning the pennant!) But here is the talent he gave up to get those players:
Manny Castillo, Bob Tufts, Mike Armstrong, Duane Dewey, John Morris, Tony Ferreria, Mike Kingery, Steve Shields, Scott Bankhead, Danny Jackson, Angel Salazar, and Van Snider.
Danny Jackson was a valuable trade piece. Scott Bankhead was a valuable prospect. The rest of the players were expendable organizational filler. John Schuerholz spun straw into gold.
That’s not to say he had the Midas Touch. Several of his trades involving young players were clunkers – Cecil Fielder for Leon Roberts, Atlee Hammaker for Vida Blue, and most famously, David Cone for Ed Hearn. But he seemed to have a knack for identifying unappreciated talent in other organizations and turning them into useful Major Leaguers.
Maybe its unfair to compare Dayton to a future Hall of Fame General Manager like Schuerholz. Maybe the Royals coaching and development personnel at that time deserve a lion’s share of the credit. In any case, the Royals used to be THE "Moneyball" franchise that found undervalued assets in other clubs - guys like Larry Gura, Fred Patek, Amos Otis, Hal McRae, John Mayberry. Guys like Charlie Leibrandt. It seems unlikely the Royals will ever get back to that level of winning without having that kind of ability to pluck talent from other organizations. Who will be our next Charlie Leibrandt?
Charles Louis Leibrandt, Jr. grew up in the son of two Chicago restauranteurs. He was an All-Conference pitcher at Miami University of Ohio before the nearby Cincinnati Reds selected him in the ninth round of the 1978 June Amateur Draft. He immediately impressed, skyrocketing through the system with a 2.05 ERA and an 8-2 record in twelve starts combined between low A, high A, and AAA. He posted another sub-three ERA in AAA in 1979, and by the end of the year found himself in the big leagues with a cup of coffee. He was included on the Reds post-season roster that year and faced one hitter in the 1979 National League Championship Series against Pittsburgh.
At the age of 23, Leibrandt was the Reds 1980 Opening Day starter, tossing a five-hit shutout for his first MLB career win. He would get off to a great start, and was 8-4 with a 3.48 ERA by the first week of July. But he would win just two more games the rest of the year, finishing with a 4.25 ERA, striking out just 62 in 173 2/3 innings of work. The Reds would send Leibrandt to AAA for almost all of the 1981 season. When Charlie returned to Cincinnati in 1982, he was primarily a long-reliever posting one of his worst seasons.
The Reds shipped Leibrandt back to AAA for the 1983 season, and at age 26, it seemed as if his Major League career was effectively over. In June, the Reds dealt him to Kansas City for reliever Bob Tufts, a 27 year-old left-hander who had spent most of the previous season in Omaha. In 1984, the Royals gave Leibrandt a cursory look in spring training, but when the club broke north, Charlie was sent to Omaha. Leibrandt went on to dominate the American Association. After going 7-1 with a 1.24 ERA in nine starts for Omaha, the Royals added him to the big league rotation.
Charlie joined a young staff that included two rookies in Bret Saberhagen and Mark Gubicza, a journeyman lefty in Bud Black, and a veteran southpaw in Larry Gura. Leibrandt did not miss a beat, going eight innings with two runs or less in each of his first three starts. On the season he would make 23 starts, posting a 3.63 ERA with 11 wins.
The upstart Royals surprised baseball by winning the American League Western Division that year. Leibrandt would be called upon to start Game 3 of the American League Championship Series against the powerhouse Detroit Tigers. Leibrandt would go the distance, giving up just one run, but would be a sore luck 1-0 loser as the Tigers completed a three-game sweep.
"A guy that was traded for peanuts to get here and had questionable speed on the ball but was a master of not allowing teams to bunch hits. He's not a Cy Young winner or a Hall of Famer, but he's exactly what we needed that year to back up the young guys."
With his place in the rotation now secure, Leibrandt started brilliantly in 1985. He had a 1.69 ERA after four April starts and was named American League Pitcher of the Month. He finished the year with a 2.69 ERA, second in the league, and his 17 wins were good enough for fifth in the league. He led the Royals in innings pitched and finished with 6.3 Wins Above Replacement (WAR). He would finish fifth in Cy Young balloting. His teammates nicknamed him "Rembrandt" for his finesse masterpieces.
Charlie would start Game One of the American League Championship Series against Toronto, but would fail to get out of the third inning of a 6-1 loss. He would fare much better in Game Four, going eight innings and giving up just two runs, but he would be a hard luck loser in a 3-1 loss. In Game Seven, Bret Saberhagen was struck in the hand by a line-drive and had to exit the game in the fourth inning. Leibrandt took over and gave up just two runs in 5 2/3 innings of work, as the Royals defeated the Blue Jays to win the second pennant in franchise history.
In the 1985 World Series, Leibrandt got the start in Game Two and was brilliant. Over the first eight innings, he allowed just three baserunners. The Royals entered the top of the ninth clinging to a 2-0 lead with a chance to tie the series up at one win apiece.
Willie McGee led off the inning with a harmless double off a crease in the artificial turf. Leibrandt promptly retired Tom Herr and Ozzie Smith to bring the Royals within one out of victory. Charlie fell behind in the count 3-0 to Cardinals slugger Jack Clark who ripped a single just past Royals third baseman George Brett. Reserve outfielder Tito Landrum then blooped an awkward hit to right field that fell in for an RBI double to bring the Cardinals within a run.
Closer Dan Quisenberry had been warming up the entire inning, but many suspected Royals manager Dick Howser had lost confidence in his All-Star closer. After an intentional walk to Cesar Cedeno to load the bases, Howser would leave the left-handed Leibrandt in the game to face right-hander Terry Pendleton, rather than bring in his right-handed closer. Pendleton would hit a bases-clearing double to give St. Louis a 4-2 lead they would not relinquish.
"I was throwing the same pitches earlier in the game. I just didn't get the same results...It was just too painful to even think about it."
The Royals were able to scratch and claw back from their series deficit and forced a Game Six. Leibrandt got the start and was again brilliant, retiring the first fifteen hitters of the game. By the top of the eighth, the game was still a scoreless tie before Cardinals pinch-hitter Brian Harper ripped a two-out RBI single to give St. Louis a 1-0 lead. Dan Quisenberry would get the Royals out of the inning, setting up one of the most famous World Series ninth innings ever.
"One of the things I remember is we were down two to nothing going to St. Louis, and the first afternoon there I remember eating at Charlie Gitto's restaurant, a big hangout for a lot of the ballplayers, He spotted us and he said, 'Hey, whatever you guys do, don't let them clinch here in town. Please, they'll tear the city apart. ' We're thinking among ourselves, what are you talking about - clinch? That kind of made us mad."
The Royals stormed back in the ninth inning (aided in small part by a controversial call at first base by umpire Don Denkinger) and used the momentum to clobber the Cardinals in Game Seven for their first World Championship.
Leibrandt would be a solid workhorse for the Royals, winning 43 games over the next three seasons with over 230 innings pitched each season. He flirted with a no-hitter on May 16, 1987, with the only hit being a bunt-single by Brewers catcher Bill Schroeder in the sixth. After the 1987 season, the rival California Angels heavily pursued Leibrandt, but the southpaw stayed in Kansas City on a three-year deal.
"Charlie's a master out there. The way he moves the ball in and out and changes speeds, he's a master."
Leibrandt would falter in 1989, winning just five games and losing his place in the rotation with a 5.14 ERA. That winter, the Royals shipped him to Atlanta in a four-player trade that netted them former All-Star first baseman Gerald Perry. Leibrandt would rebound quite nicely in Atlanta, winning 39 games in three seasons, although he is perhaps best known for giving up the game winning home run to Kirby Puckett in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series. Leibrandt pitched one season for the Rangers in 1993, then tried to comeback with the Royals in 1994. He retired after one spring training outing.
Charlie now coaches high school baseball in the Atlanta area. His son Brodie pitched at Columbus State University in Georgia, while his younger son Brandon is one of the top pitchers for Florida State University.
"Even the close losses he had, he never got down on the players, and he was just a real professional. He went out there and gave you everything he had and kept you within striking distance all the time."
- Frank White