On a cool October night in St. Louis during the 1999 season, Cardinals pitcher Larry Luebbers needed one out to get his team through the third inning against the Chicago Cubs.
Unfortunately, Slammin’ Sammy Sosa, the famed Cubs slugger, was at the plate.
Luebbers threw a fastball and missed the strike zone by about a foot. Sosa stretched his swing anyway and effortlessly lifted the ball to left field and out of the park. The three-run bomb, Sosa’s 63rd that season, tied the game 4-4.
“With Sosa it was either I’d strike him out or he’d hit a homer,” said Luebbers, sitting behind his desk at MainSource Bank.
Luebbers and the Cardinals ended up winning the game 9-5.
On June 19, MainSource named Luebbers, 39, president of its Kentucky operation, putting him in charge of the Frankfort, Lawrenceburg and Harrodsburg branches of the Indiana-based bank.
“The opportunity kind of opened up for me here,” the 12-year Frankfort resident said.
He worked primarily in commercial lending at Citizens Bank in northern Kentucky before accepting the new job.
Luebbers and his wife, Carol, weren’t ready to move. Their daughter Ashleigh, 12, will be in sixth grade at Good Shepherd School and their other daughter, 6-year-old Kaitlyn, will be in first grade there.
“I heard about the opening at MainSource and got the job.”
Like his work in banking, Luebbers’ baseball career began with a chance opening at the University of Kentucky in 1988.
Luebbers, a 6-foot-6-inch righty from Boone County, went to support a high school teammate during his tryout with the Wildcats baseball coaches.
“I really didn’t have much of an interest in trying out,” Luebbers said. “I went because he didn’t want to go alone, but I ended up trying out too.”
UK coach Keith Madison gave Luebbers, a business administration major, a spot on the team, but wasn’t interested in his former teammate.
“He still says that I owe him money or something big,” Luebbers said.
After two years with the Wildcats, the Cincinnati Reds took Luebbers in the eighth round of the Major League Baseball draft in 1990.
His first taste of the big stage came in 1993 when the Reds called him up from the Indianapolis Indians, then its AAA affiliate. He ended the season with a 2-5 record and the Reds sent him back to perfect his craft.
Luebbers spent six seasons bouncing around in the minor leagues before his next stint in the majors. During this time, Dennis McEvoy, the father of a high school student Luebbers gave pitching lessons to, introduced him to banking.
“He told me ‘I don’t care what you do or how successful you are in baseball, at some point you’re going to be finished and you’ll be running a business or working for a business,’” Luebbers said.
McEvoy told Luebbers to go to the Bank of Kentucky, take any job available and learn as much as he could. Luebbers began as a part-time teller while also a part-time baseball player.
“It was funny because I’d be getting calls from my agent while I was at work,” Luebbers said. “This was pre-cell phone days so I had to take the calls at work and negotiate contracts during my 10-minute breaks.”
Luebbers and his family moved to Frankfort in 1995 because his wife is from here and wanted to be closer to her family. He worked at Farmers Bank and learned about commercial and retail banking.
“Really, it’s because of the time spent with the people there that I learned a lot about banking,” he said. “I owe the people there a lot.”
Luebbers continued to jump around the minor leagues during baseball season before getting another shot in 1999 with St. Louis. He had a short stint in 2000 with the Reds before being sent down for good.
Luebbers retired after the 2002 season with the Sacramento River Cats, the AAA affiliate of the Oakland Athletics.
Luebbers said competing with his former pupil, Casey McEvoy, for a spot on the River Cats’ roster caused him to rethink his career.
“I knew it was about time after that,” he said.
Other factors contributed to his decision. The velocity on his fastball dropped from the low 90s to the high 80s and his body began to ache. Carol was also pregnant with Kaitlyn at the time.
“It just wasn’t a good lifestyle for a family,” Luebbers said. “It’s a lot of fun, but I had to think of my wife and kids.”
Luebbers’ career is stable now. He doesn’t have to sweat out offseason after offseason looking for a place to pitch and he’s able to give back to the community. He is one of the Frankfort 12-year-old All-Stars’ coaches and gives pitching lessons.
“So many people in my community helped me with baseball when I was a kid,” he said. “Now I have an opportunity to do the same here.”
He also began coaching Kaitlyn’s softball team during her first season this year.
“It’s different,” he said. “On the way to the field we had to stop and buy ribbons for their hair. That was a new one for me, but it was great.”
He will also complete his business administration degree next year.
Luebbers played a part in some recent TV shows of baseball’s greatest moments on ESPN Classic.
“My buddy told me that I was on there,” he said. “I couldn’t figure out why, but it was the game in 1993 when Mark Whiten (St. Louis centerfielder) hit four homeruns and had 10 or 12 RBIs. He hit his first homer off of me.”
Luebbers told Kaitlyn about the TV show but she had no interest. After all, the game occurred about nine years before her birth.
Many retired baseball players still have the urge to keep playing. Luebbers misses parts of the game but is happy with his spot on the corporate ladder.
A press release from MainSource announcing the new Kentucky president noted Luebbers’ 14 years of banking experience and strong participation in the community.
“Larry completes our objective of operating locally and will be empowered to make decisions for his market,” Daryl R. Tressler, president of MainSource, said in the release.
For Luebbers, the baseball ladder was trickier to navigate.
“The problem with climbing the baseball ladder is you don’t know which rung is not going to be there. You could take a step and then you’re falling to the floor because there could be nowhere else to go.”