A Yearlong Journey: How did we get here?


lee.jpgMonday, December 14, 2009. Moments before I sit down to take my first final exam of the semester, I receive a text saying a deal is imminent that would bring Roy Halladay to Philly. Before I could even begin to celebrate, a second text followed mentioning a minor detail….Cliff Lee would be shipped to the Pacific Northwest as part of a three-team deal between the Phils, Seattle, and Toronto.


RUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUBEN?!?!?!? How can you take an exam after that….after your ace pitcher, who genuinely loved this town and this team, gets shipped about as far away from Citizens Bank Park as possible? Without Clifton Phifer Lee, the Yankees likely sweep the 2009 World Series in an embarrassing fashion.


Did Halladay come here with credentials that are second to none? Of course. Should Ruben Amaro Jr. have been scrutinized for the trade as repetitively as he was over the last year? No. Some fans don’t realize that you have to give something to get something in any trade. We traded a stud; we received a stud. Bottom line.  

halladay.jpgIt was impossible to read the comments section on any Philly.com article without having some moron bring up Cliff Lee.


A poll question would be, “Who should start at quarterback this week? Kolb or Vick?”, and “username: clifflee4lyfe” would write-in “CLIFF LEE!!!!” A running joke, but annoying nonetheless.


I felt bad for Mariners fans in the great state of Washington. I’m sure some reside in Oregon, Idaho, and Montana, too. As exciting as it is to acquire of Lee’s caliber, you also want him to be amped up to come to your city. Amped up, Cliff Lee was not. How much did he dread making the trek to Seattle? He postponed his formal introduction at Safeco Field until January 22nd, a mere 38 days after the trade was finalized! (His re-introduction to the Phillies came just 38 HOURS after the trade was announced.) He tried to say all of the right things at the press conference – the clichés that fans want to hear – but he continued to reminisce on his stint in Philadelphia.


“I thought I’d be spending the rest of my career there. I was under the impression they wanted to keep me there for a long time.”


“It took me a few days [to get over it]. It was just shock….disbelief.”


If you’re an M’s fan, you want to hear, “I can’t wait to get out there in April, form a 1-2 punch with Felix [Hernandez], and win an AL West title.” General Manager Jack Zduriencik noticed Lee’s somber tone and said the Lee family was “very excited” to be in The Emerald City.


lee2.jpgIn his brief three-month tenure, I had bought a Lee burgundy/pale blue and an “unbeLEEvable” t-shirt. Those went out of style quicker than the snuggie. Now I’d have to buy a Halladay shirt? When I visited Modell’s, authentic Lee jerseys were $80 off…only $20…the same price as a Halladay tee! I went with Lee and would wear it to Halladay’s Opening Day start in Our Nation’s Capital. Some people, including the local Fox TV station, thought it meant I disagreed with the trade. Hardly. It has the wrong number, but who’s nitpicking?


Lee battled an abdomen injury that kept him sidelined for the first month of the season. A lot of Phillies fans took joy in this, saying Ruben had made the correct move as Halladay cruised through April! Inevitably, every Lee start was compared to Halladay, as if he asked to be traded. Clifton’s first outing was against Texas, coincidentally, and he shut out the Rangers over 7 innings of 3-hit ball. Meanwhile, the prospects acquired from Seattle were struggling in the minors. Phillies fans panicked for less than a day until Doc threw a complete game gem versus the Mets. No overreaction there!


I stayed up late every 5th day to watch Lee’s starts in Seattle. The calm, cool, composed nature in which he plays the game is too addicting NOT to watch. And that sprint from the mound to the dugout after each inning….legendary.


In early July, reports came out that Seattle and the Yankees had agreed on a trade that would send Lee to the Bronx. I could live with Lee in Seattle….not, however, pitching in pinstripes. Upon hearing this news, I proceeded to rip down my Cliff Lee Fathead in frustration.


Dear New York Post: Get your facts right next time. Thanks.


cliff.jpgIn August, Lee struggled mightily in Texas, while Roy Oswalt excelled in Philly. I argued with another passionate Phillies fan that I’d still rather have Cliff because of his desire to play for this team and city. Oswalt didn’t want to waive his no-trade clause to come to Philly. He wanted to win, but in St. Louis, closer to his home in Mississippi. Houston didn’t like the Cardinals’ package, so Oswalt relented to make the “Chutes and Ladders” jump up the standings.


No two Lee/Halladay starts were compared more so than game 1 of their team’s respective divisional playoff series on October 6th. Lee went 7 innings, allowing 1 run with 10 strikeouts in the afternoon against Tampa Bay. Halladay? Yeah, he one-upped Clifton a few hours later….if you don’t know why, you wouldn’t have read this far along.


After the Phillies were abruptly eliminated by the Giants, a majority of fans either didn’t watch the World Series (that’d be me…too soon) or took pleasure in seeing Lee struggle, Pat Burrell struggle, and Aaron Rowand ride the pine. But why, after they contributed so much to the Phillies organization?


Fast forward 52 weeks to Monday, December 13, 2010 at around 8 p.m. Earlier in the day, a source said there was a…..drum roll, please…..”mystery team” in on the Cliff Lee Sweepstakes. OMG MYSTERY TEAM!!! So, you’re saying we have a chance? The source also said that “mystery team’s” offer is much lower than the Yankees, but also a place Lee “loves.”


(::thinking:: The Phillies don’t have the financial flexibility to offer a contract a la the Yankees 7 year/$154 million offer…..and he loved his time as an Indian in Cleveland more than Lebron, but not as much as his time in Philadelphia! COULD IT BE?!)


mystery.jpgSo, 8 p.m. Just like last year, it’s finals week and I’m getting ready to sit down and study. Almost simultaneously, it’s announced that “mystery team” has been renamed the Philadelphia Phillies.


(Studying suspended.)


Four long, excruciating hours later, Lee becomes a Phillie as the clock strikes midnight. The Phillies are hardly a Cinderella story when it comes to spending money; however, whenever the Yankees don’t get their guy, it has to be considered an upset.


For the fans who thought Amaro’s hand was forced to trade Lee for prospects last year, so as not to lose him in free agency and get nothing in return? Lee never indicated that he was out to get every last dollar on the open market. While playing at Benton High School in Arkansas, he probably couldn’t have dreamed of the offers that he’d have an opportunity to sign one day thanks to baseball.


“At some point, enough is enough. [$120 million] is plenty of money. It’s a matter of where you’re comfortable, where you’re happy, where your family is most comfortable.”


As fans, we often ask when is “enough really enough?” When Jayson Werth traveled down I-95 to sign with the Nationals, a lot of Phillies fans were mad he sold himself to the highest bidder and accused him of not caring about winning. The Phillies highest offer to the right-fielder was reportedly 4years, $64 million. To these fans, I honestly ask, “Would you turn down $127 million for $64 million? Or more fathomable, $127,000 for $64,000?” Of course not.


cash.jpgBut Cliff Lee might have. He left about $34 million on the table from the Yankees (which if anyone finds this table full of cash, please let me know). Yes, I understand taxes are higher in New York than Pennsylvania, but it’s still considerably less. He and his wife, Kristen, simply decided that the quality of life in Philly would bring happiness that an extra $34 million in New York couldn’t buy. What were Kristen’s reasoning for initiating talks with the Phils? Compared to New York, Philly has an easier commute to the ballpark, better dining options, and teammates have more kids who are the same age as the Lee’s.  Who knew recruiting was so easy?


(Opening Day 2011 is April Fool’s Day. Why do I have a feeling that this rotation is a joke?)


family.JPGLast month, Cliff donated $1 million to the Arkansas Children’s Hospital. His son Jaxon, 9, was treated for cancer there as an infant.




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