Doogan and I have been running a Philadelphia sports blog for more than three years now. We have seen four division titles, two pennants, and a World Series title. We have seen an NFC Championship Game and the shocking emergence of one of the most entertaining (and socially interesting) redemption stories in sports history. We have seen three Atlantic Ten tournament titles, two lottery picks, and the most exciting moment in American soccer history. But, with the possible exception of October 29, 2008, I have never been so satisfied with a sports event than I am from what took place shortly after midnight this morning, when Cliff Lee decided to leave more than THIRTY MILLION DOLLARS on the table to come play in our city.
That’s right – a quiet family man from a small city in the heart of Arkansas, who likes to spend his free time hunting and fishing has chosen our “inferior” Northeastern city, known for its harsh winters and harsher fans, over 29 other possible destinations, including two which offered him THIRTY MILLION DOLLARS MORE. He turned down the New York Yankees and their 27 championships to come play for the Philadelphia Phillies and our 10,000 losses. And, why did he do this? WHY DID HE DO THIS?!? Because of the team and its fans.
That’s right – because of the team and ITS FANS! This one is for us, my friends, and that is why this is so satisfying. We do not have a lot in Philadelphia. We are a city whose glory days as a central player in the fabric of America were more than 200 years ago. We are a city stuck between “The Greatest City in the World” and “The Capital of the Free World.” We are a city that endured 100 straight professional seasons without a title, where the most celebrated sports stories (prior to 2008) were a string of NFC Championship Game upsets and some famous home run hit in Canada.
But, most of all, if you ask any sports fan in the country, “What do you think of when you think of Philadelphia?” they will unequivocally say, “The home of obnoxious fans.” Now, as I have said many times before on this site how undeserved this reputation is, I still get it. It is a media creation, and that’s fine. But, this Cliff Lee decision speaks volumes more than any gratuitous Michael Wilbon jibe or condescendingly subtle Joe Buck quip ever will. All the Wilbons, Bucks, and Colin Cowherds of the world combine to mean absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things. Cliff Lee, on the other hand, matters – a lot – and he chose US! And…for thirty million dollars less than Dallas and New York!
Why us? Well, if you ask me, it is because he knows the truth. In fact, he lived the truth for three glorious months in 2009. And, the truth is quite simple, actually: If you work your tail off to be the best player you can be, then there is no place in the world that will treat you better than Philadelphia – Period! We respect effort. We respect hustle. We respect gamers. And, that is exactly what Clifton Phifer Lee is – a gamer, a worker, and a winner.
The story of his wife getting spit on in New York has gotten some press, but will soon be forgotten and chalked up to “passion.” The lack of energy in Arlington Stadium probably won’t be mentioned because, well, no one cares, but the Rangers have struggled to fill their beautiful stadium recently. Let us not forget that professional athletes are, after all, human beings. Their occupation may be sports, but their life is spent in the city in which they are employed. They perform for a certain geographical segment of the American population on a nightly basis. And, they feel emotions just like you and me. No matter how “manly” they may seem, they, like all of us, crave love and acceptance. No matter how introverted some may appear, they have chosen a profession based around making people happy. They live to entertain, enthrall, and captivate. Everyone – no matter who you are – appreciates, deep down, recognition, admiration, even reverence, be it by a spouse, a child, a parent, a fly-by-night sophomoric weblog, or an entire metropolitan area. In Philadelphia, we fans ask for a lot from our athletes. We ask for them to play hard, to play hurt, and to play as if winning matters as much to them as it does to us. But, in return, we unequivocally show those that do an unbridled passion, devotion, and love that cannot be replicated anywhere else in this country. And, Cliff Lee knows it. In fact, he gave up thirty million dollars to feel be a part of it again.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not a sure-thing. This is a lot of money and years for an aging pitcher. This fails to address at all the lack of a right-handed bat or a left-handed reliever. But today, at this moment, none of that matters because, regardless of all the rationalizations you will hear from Yankee fans and Yankee brass, this quiet pitcher from rural Arkansas was, without a doubt, the most coveted player on the market. And, just like Roy Halladay did last year…
…He chose Us! Pat yourselves on the back, Philadelphia. We do it right in our city, and we are starting to reap the benefits. This one’s for us, my friends, this one’s for us!