Saturday, May 22, 2021

Phil Lombardi, Former Yankees and Mets Catcher, Dies At 58

Phil Lombardi (l.) a former MLB catcher with the New York Mets and Yankees died May 20, 2021 from brain cancer surgery complications.

Phil Lombardi
, a major league catcher who played parts of three MLB seasons with the New York Mets and New York Yankees from 1986-1989, died May 20, 2021 from complications due to brain cancer surgery. He was 58.

Lombardi was a third round draft pick of the Yankees in 1981. He played mostly as a September call-up during the 1986 and 1987 seasons with the Yankees. They traded him during the 1987 off-season to the New York Mets for shortstop Rafael Santana. 

Injuries plagued Lombardi throughout his career. Years of catching took a toll on his knees, with Lombardi enduring two knee surgeries by the time he was traded to the Mets. He had a third surgery in 1988 and recovered enough to play 18 games with the Mets in 1989. 

“When I was with the Mets, (catcher) Todd Hundley watched me behind the plate one day,” Lombardi said to the Los Angeles Times in 1992. “He could tell I was hurting and noticed that I had all my weight shifted onto my right leg to alleviate the pain. Then he told me his father (longtime major league catcher Randy Hundley) had the same type injury to his left knee when he had been catcher, and shifted his weight onto his right side too. 

“The result was that his father’s hips were thrown out of alignment and at the age of 50 he had to have a hip-replacement operation. Right after he told me that story, my hips started to hurt. I swear.”

The Braves invited Lombardi to spring training in 1990 with the promise of being their third catcher, but the thought of getting behind the plate for another season was too painful to bear. Instead of signing on with Atlanta, Lombardi retired. He was only one of five players to spend their entire MLB careers with the Mets and Yankees.

“I had idols like Johnny Bench and Pete Rose because I thought I could have a career like they did,” Lombardi said. “Instead, I became a so-so player, in all honesty. My career was one step forward and one step backward. A lot of things happened, but in the end, my injuries wiped me out.”

Lombardi turned to real estate, launching a successful career with Pinnacle Estate Properties in Valencia, California. As a parent of three daughters, he also turned to coaching softball. He lent his MLB expertise to hundreds of girls throughout the years, including his children.

His two eldest daughters played college softball at Long Beach State, while his youngest, Gianna, is currently playing for Cal State University-San Marcos

Looking back at his injury shortened baseball career, Lombardi acknowledge the pain of knowing he never reached his full potential. 

“All I’ve got left is my baseball card,” he said. “Really, I was just a common player. My card isn’t worth a nickel. And it hurts, because I know I could have been so much more.”

 

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