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.
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.