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The Cliff Lee Sweepstakes

The drama and excitement of the 2010 Winter Meetings is now behind us, although there is plenty of news remaining to be made, principally: whither Clifton Phifer Lee? Does he sign with the New York Yankees? The Bronx Bombers have made a massive seven-year deal that rivals and possibly even outstrips the biggest-ever contract they signed C.C. Sabathia to just two years ago, for seven years and $161 million dollars. C.C., in a gesture of collegiality towards his friend and former Cleveland Indians’ stable mate assured the Yankees that he would not exercise an “escape clause” in his contract if they sign Lee to a bigger one. C.C., even more than adding another Cy Young Award, wants another World Series championship ring.

Or might he decide to stay with the Texas Rangers, whom he led to their first ever post-season series win, first ever American League pennant, first ever World Series appearance? It’s generally assumed that the Rangers, who emerged from bankruptcy earlier this year when Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan and Pittsburgh, PA labor lawyer Chuck Greenberg led a new ownership group to a $593 million dollar purchase, wouldn’t offer as much in terms of years or dollars but would emphasize working conditions, proximity to Lee’s Arkansas’ home, and the lack of an income tax as attractants.

The fact that Darek Braunecker, Lee’s agent, left the meetings before they were finished was noteworthy, and as this weekend progresses, speculation is building that the Rangers have sweetened their offer (silent partners Ray Davis and Bob Simpson have deep, deep pockets) and are taking the lead as Lee and his family make their decision; this goes against the New York-based media wisdom most often heard on ESPN, MLB Network, etc. and I think doesn’t take into account the single most important factor in Lee’s decision, outside the contract length and money: what will make his wife, Kristen, happy.

We do know that Mrs. Lee was rudely treated by Yankees’ fans during the American League Championship Series last fall, including reports she was spit upon; and while no doubt the Yankees’ front office offered apologies and genuine concern, I don’t think that really goes far in giving the impression of a friendly place to live and work. Cliff is a devoted family man; he and Kristen battled for their son Jaxon’s life early in his childhood as he struggled with cancer and last month the Lees donated $1 million to the Arkansas Children’s Hospital. By next week, we should know the outcome of this drama.

Let’s offer shout-outs to Pat Gillick, elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee last week. The architect of winning teams in Toronto, Baltimore, Seattle and Philadelphia, Pat was the only eligible participant who made the cut. As a lifelong Philadelphia Phillies’ fan, I couldn’t be happier for him.

Other noteworthy achievements of the week were the selection of Florida Marlins (and former Montreal Expos) announcer Dave Van Horne as the winner of the Ford C. Frick Award for Broadcast Excellence, and Philadelphia Daily News’ sports columnist Bill Conlin who won the J.G. Taylor Spink award from the Baseball Writers of America Association. I’ve been reading Conlin’s work since 1960 when he wrote for the now-defunct Evening Bulletin.

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