Phillies Nation


On Cliff Lee, Sports Bigamy, and the End of the Civilized World

I assume that everyone here is a Phillies fan, and has either cheered for the men in red pinstripes their entire lives or jumped on the bandwagon sometime between August 2006 and September 2008. But even though we all root for the same team, each of us has his own idiosyncratic biases about non-Phillies baseball teams. Sure, we all hate the Yankees (because everyone does), and we take special pleasure in the misfortune of Phillies rivals like the Braves, Mets, and Dodgers. But apart from that, I’d wager that our team preferences are somewhat disparate.

Now, I don’t think that having a passing interest in another team makes me a sports polygamist any more than enjoying Gemma Arterton’s brief appearance in Quantum of Solace makes me an adulterer. I enjoy baseball in all its forms, and it’s fun to have someone to cheer for when the Phillies aren’t playing.

For instance (if you’ll forgive an NFL example), I pull for the Houston Texans because their owner endowed the scholarship that paid for my college education. But if they were to play the Eagles? No doubt where my allegiances lie. My point is that we all have secondary preferences in sports for one reason or another.

With that said, I’ve started hearing rumblings. It’s mid-June, and teams are starting to figure out what their needs are, and whether they’re good enough to pursue the playoffs this year. I love trade rumors. But I heard one over the weekend, from Ken Rosenthal, Rumor Geyser, that could ruin the Phillies’ hopes at a second World Series title. Not only that, it could cause violence and lawlessness in the Phillies blogosphere and cast a black cloud over this entire half-decade of National League supremacy.

That rumor: Cliff Lee to the Yankees for prospects, possibly including 20-year-old catcher/Tokyo-wrecking radiological monster Jesus Montero.

My reaction: To become the world’s biggest Tampa Bay Rays fan.

For a city prone to sports-based mass panic, the dual trades that sent Cliff Lee to the Mariners and Roy Halladay to the Phillies occupied a special place. Like T.O. doing crunches in his driveway panic. Like Eric Lindros concussion panic. The cries of “the Phillies are too cheap to win a title” and “to hell with the prospects, I want the three-headed monster this season” seemed to blot out the sun. Even after Roy Halladay started off better than any Phillies starter in recent memory, it seemed like no number of MS Paint illustrations or French-speaking slurves from Phillippe Aumont could stem the insatiable bloodthirst of the Philly sporting public.

Now imagine the following series of newspaper lead sentences.

July 29 SEATTLE (AP)—The Mariners threw in the towel on their season this morning when GM Jack Zduriencik announced that the team had traded ace pitcher and free agent-to-be Cliff Lee to the New York Yankees for three prospects, including prize catcher Jesus Montero.

Oct. 27 NEW YORK (AP)—“It’s good to be back,” said Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard as his team arrived at Yankee Stadium for the second straight October.

Nov. 3 NEW YORK (AP)—If you can’t beat him, trade for him. Cliff Lee, the one pitcher the Yankees couldn’t solve in the 2009 World Series outdueled former teammate Cole Hamels for the second straight game to tie up the Series at 3-3. The 4-1 victory sets up a Game 7 matchup of Phil Hughes against Joe Blanton.

Let’s say Hughes beats Blanton (which he would in most cases) and the Yankees beat the Phillies in the World Series again, this time behind the one guy Philly fans wanted to keep the most. Where the Phillies were either unable or unwilling to pony up to keep Lee, the Yankees were, and were rewarded with a World Series title. The blogosphere would blow up. WIP’s switchboards would catch fire and burn down half the city. I’m imagining the scene in Mean Girls where Regina George sprinkles photocopied pages of the Burn Book down the halls of the high school, except it’s neither funny, ironic, or narrated by Lindsay Lohan.

Granted, this scenario is far from a certainty. First, the Yankees have to trade for Lee. Then, the Phillies and Yankees have to both make it back to the World Series. Then, Lee has to win two games (both against Cole Hamels, in the worst-case scenario) and the Yankees have to take the Series.

But I’d give almost anything to avoid this scenario. I wouldn’t sell my own soul, but I’d certainly sell someone else’s. Which is why I’m throwing my full karmic weight (such as it is) behind Tampa for the rest of the season, in the hope that they prevent the Yankees (either through some confluence of regular-season events or in the ALCS) from reaching the World Series. If you don’t want this to happen, you’ll do the same.

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