The Cliff Lee Sweepstakes II

The Cliff Lee Sweepstakes II
Once again the axiom is proven: In baseball, you never know. Just last week I wrote that whether Cliff Lee signed with the New York Yankees or Texas Rangers was in large part going to be determined by what Kristen Lee wanted. Well, I was right about that.

But boy did I not see what happened happening! Now let me say as a Phillies fan I could not have been more stunned or happy than when I woke up Tuesday morning to find that Cliff Lee had accepted the Phillies’ offer of five years and $120 million dollars over more years and more money offered by both the Yankees and the Rangers.

Most Phillies fans, and I am involved with several dedicated chat boards, still haven’t touched the ground. They’re calling it “Cliffmas”, for heaven’s sake! And surely the unease and discomfort that the Lee trade caused so many Phillies fans a year ago seems to have been palliated. That unease and discomfort was not entirely addressed by the acquisition of the estimable Roy Oswalt last July, and certainly was exacerbated by the unexpected and disappointing exit in the National League Championship Series. But now it has been replaced by a palpable excitement and anticipation for 2011 that only a World Series victory will satisfy.

What’s important and needs to be stressed here is that Cliff Lee the ballplayer listened to Cliff Lee the husband and father. When the Lees moved to Philadelphia in July 2009 they immediately acclimatized and became comfortable with the city and its people. Kristen Lee went to great lengths about how she enjoyed the city and its resources, how it was a wonderful opportunity for her children to have great museums and libraries available, how she and Cliff enjoyed the restaurants and the shopping and most of all the people.

When Cliff was unceremoniously traded to the Seattle Mariners a year ago their disappointment was immediate and their longing to return was set in place. So much so that during the past weeks Lee’s agent Darek Braunecker actually contacted the Phillies (who had in fact tried to trade for Cliff last summer before the Rangers nabbed him) and said, in effect, “Can’t we work something out?”

The Phillies are a big-market team with a passionate and dedicated fan base; they have a string of sell-outs that will stretch into the 2012 season now. On Monday, December 13, they sold 1,500 tickets; on Tuesday, after the announcement of the Lee signing, they sold 40,000. Still, they don’t possess the nearly unlimited funds of the New York Yankees or the Marianas-Trench-deep pockets of the Boston Red Sox. General Manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. went to his ownership and they said: Make a deal happen.

So here’s to Kristen Lee, a woman who made her wishes known, and to Cliff Lee, who still, despite “leaving money on the table”, will be the highest-paid pitcher in Major League Baseball; not exactly a “home-town discount”, but still a very friendly gesture that warms the hearts of Phillies fans (and let’s face it, Red Sox fans, too) everywhere.

Let’s note the passing of Hall of Fame great Bob Feller, who was 92. Even more than his accomplishments on the mound, Feller’s great service to his country sets him apart, in much the same way as Ted Williams’. When I served in the Navy in the early 70’s, Feller was a revered figure, the only Hall of Famer who was a Chief Petty Officer. He was the first big-leaguer to enlist immediately after Pearl Harbor, and served into the latter part of the 1945 season; he literally gave up a prime during which he could have won another 100 games. He served as a Chief Gunner’s Mate on the U.S.S. Alabama (BB-60) and was Gun Captain of an anti-aircraft battery, seeing combat in the North Atlantic and the Pacific, earning five combat ribbons and eight battle stars. His bunk is marked on the Alabama, which is now a museum at Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile Bay. Anchors Aweigh, Bullet Bob.

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