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Jon Lieber

Updated: Apr 11, 2021

A 20 game winner in 2001, the Opening Day starter for three different major league teams, a one-hit shutout against the Cincinnati Reds, those are just a few of the many highlights of Jon Lieber’s 14-year major league career. But when asked about his number one highlight, Lieber says it was a 1-0 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1994. That game was his major league debut, which is a highlight for anyone who ever makes it to “The Show”. But what added to Lieber’s special day was that he shared it with his parents on their 30th anniversary. Also in attendance were his wife, his brothers, family friends, one of his host families, and over 50,000 fans on Mother’s Day.

Jon Lieber (b. 1970) grew up in Council Bluffs, and by his own admission didn’t think he was good enough to make it to the next level. As a kid he enjoyed hitting more than pitching, but his high school baseball coach Rick Wahl recalled that his right fielder “had a cannon for an arm”. It was a J.V. tournament as a junior when he got his first chance to show off that arm on the mound. After graduating high school, Lieber walked on at the local community college. After a freshman year of languishing in the bullpen, he talked openly about quitting the game. With encouragement from his parents, he stuck with it and started to showcase his potential during his sophomore year, and at a New York Mets tryout camp the following summer. Lieber transferred to the University of South Alabama for his junior and senior years. It was there that pitching coach Ronnie Powell challenged him, and things started to click. After going 24-10 over two seasons, Lieber was selected by the Kansas City Royals in the second round of the 1992 draft.

Lieber spent parts of two seasons in the Kansas City Royals organization to begin his professional career. On July 31, 1993 he was sent to the Pittsburgh Pirates at the trade deadline along with Dan Miceli. The Royals received closer Stan Belinda from the Bucs in a move to make a run for the play-offs. Lieber advanced quickly through the Pirates minor leagues and made his major league debut on May 15, 1994. He gave up a lead-off walk to Lenny Dykstra, who scored the only run in the 1-0 loss. Five days later Lieber pitched eight shutout innings to earn the first of his 131 career wins. The following season Lieber was named the Opening Day starter for the Pirates. After struggling early in the season, he was sent back down to the minors until the September call-ups. He spent three more seasons with the Pirates. He was again their Opening Day starter in 1997, but overall he was inconsistent.

Following the 1998 season, Lieber was dealt to the Chicago Cubs for Brant Brown. It was with the Cubs that Lieber had his best years. In his second season with the Cubs he was their Opening Day starter and led the National League with 251 innings pitched. His most successful season came in 2001. He one-hit the Cincinnati Reds on only 78 pitches on May 24, he was named to the National League All-Star team, and he became the first 20-game winner for the Cubs since Greg Maddux in 1992.

Lieber began the 2002 season with high hopes after finishing fourth in the Cy Young Award voting the previous campaign. However, by August he was experiencing right elbow problems, and was placed on the DL for only the third time in his career. He underwent season ending Tommy John surgery on August 8, thus ending not only his 2002 season, but also the entire 2003 season as he rehabbed.

Lieber was a free agent after the 2002 season and signed a two-year contract with the New York Yankees. He returned to the majors in 2004 and helped the Yankees reach the post-season with his 14 wins. In Game 2 of the AL Division series against the Minnesota Twins he gave up three runs in 6 2/3 innings and received a no-decision in a 12-inning, 7-6 Yankees victory. In Game 2 of the AL Championship Series Lieber allowed only one run on three hits over seven innings to earn a 3-1 win against the Yankees archrival Boston Red Sox. But this was the year of the famous Red Sox comeback from being down 3 games to none. Lieber got the start against the Red Sox in Game 6 of their improbable comeback, and took a 4-2 loss.

After the 2004 season, Lieber signed a three-year free agent contract for $24 million with the Philadelphia Phillies. At the beginning of the 2005 season, he was named the Opening Day starter for his third different team. Lieber finished his first season with the Phillies with a 17-13 record. Over the next two seasons with the Phillies, Lieber had some highlights, such as taking a perfect game into the seventh inning against Cincinnati, but he also spent parts of both seasons on the DL, and ended up with losing records over both seasons. The Phillies made the play-offs in 2007, but he was left off of the post-season roster.

Lieber signed a one-year contract returning to the Cubs in 2008. He suffered through his third straight losing season while also spending time again on the DL. The Cubs made the post-season in 2008, but for the second year in a row, Lieber was left off of the post-season roster.

Jon Lieber retired from baseball after the 2008 season. His 14-year career ended with a 131-124 lifetime record, and a 4.27 ERA. He retired to Mobile, Alabama, where he lives with his wife, daughter and three sons. He is involved with residential development, and spends time watching his kids at their activities.

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