12/14/10 – Cliff Lee


I eagerly woke up this morning to watch the MLB Network’s coverage of last night’s absolutely shocking signing of Cliff Lee by the Phillies. Instead, I was treated to a replay of Game 1 of the 2009 World Series… the game that solidified Lee’s folk hero status in Philadelphia. Because of the circumstances that revolved around this World Series with my father passing away the morning of the last game (and the fact the Phillies lost the Series), I have refused to watch any of the games again. This time, it was completely different. When I turned on the TV, the game was in the third inning, Phillies up, no score, Chase Utley at bat. Home run. All the excitement and emotion from that night came flooding back. Lee’s complete domination that night, combined with his cool-as-a-cucumber demeanor, brought such incredible hope to every fan. We could win our second World Series in a row. Even better, we could do it against the Yankees.

As was the routine, my dad and I called each other as soon as the game finished. Just like he did to every Phillies fan, Lee won over my dad almost instantly. In fact, I don’t think there was ever another Phillie my dad was so thrilled about to don the red and white pinstripes. He LOVED Cliff Lee. On this night, my dad’s voice had as much excitement in it as he had after Game 5 of the 2008 World Series. We could not stop lauding his performance that night.

——————–

A little more than a month after my father’s passing, the Phillies traded away Cliff Lee in a three-team deal that brought Roy Halladay to Philadelphia… the original plan for the ’09 trade deadline. This was easily THE most bittersweet deal any Philadelphia sports team had manufactured. I was thrilled to have Halladay, but my baseball heart was absolutely broken over the departure of Lee. I thought about my dad and how deeply disappointed he would have been over this move. I was able to hear every word of his hypothetical tirade. Even with Halladay living up to every dream of Phillies fans, I know my dad would still be watching Cliff Lee’s progress with the Seattle Mariners, and later the Texas Rangers. And I know his performance in the postseason with the Rangers, who went further than the Phillies, would get him cracking open a couple extra cans of Coors Light to ease the pain.

——————-

What happened last night was magical. 

A week ago, the Phillies were the victim of a free agent signing that rocked the GM Winter Meetings. Jayson Werth left an incredible situation in Philadelphia to simply go where the money was… his sole intention. The Washington Nationals’ massive contract to Werth was eye-opening. Werth’s decision to commit to a less-than-stellar baseball club was head-shaking (I had plenty of opinions about this, so I’m not going to bother wasting more time on that subject).

Last night, the Phillies were involved in an even more Earth-shattering transaction… something practically no one saw coming. At the 11th hour, Cliff Lee gracefully declined the two extremely generous offers given to him from the Rangers and Yankees, both considered the favorites and only two teams in the running, and signed with a “mystery team” that spun the rumor mill to dangerous speeds. That team? The Philadelphia Phillies. 

Unlike Werth, he chose a team that he wanted to play for, not who gave him the most lucrative contract. Lee and his family adored Philadelphia during his first stint with the club, and he made it very clear that he was disappointed he was being shipped out. Now he had the chance to return and he took it. Yes, he still got paid very handsomely (5 years/$100 million with a 6th year option. Total: $120 million). However he left upwards of $41 million on the table by not accepting either of the offers from the Rangers or Yankees. This was not completely about the money. This was simply about being happy. Cliff Lee was already a legend to Phillies fans. This decision just upgraded him to “mythical god” status. 

Apart from the obvious thrill that comes from this reacquisition, what is really making this move emotional for me is knowing that somewhere, my dad is jumping up and down in joy. His favorite player has returned to the Phillies. And he returned for all the right reasons. 

Now I can watch Game 1 again… not with sadness, but with eternal hope and a very warm heart.

Welcome back Cliff.

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