It’s GREAT to be a Philadelphia sports fan — even if their fans won’t admit it

The most coveted free agent of this offseason chose to return to Philadelphia mainly because he loved his three months there in 2009. That’s quite a compliment to the city, the team, and their fans.

Cliff Lee’s decision seemingly came out of nowhere, fooling 99% of the ‘expert’ writers, who not only missed this one all November and December, but mocked the only guy (SI’s Jon Heyman, now hopefully everyone’s source for accurate baseball info) who continuously advised us that a  ‘mystery team’ was still involved in the sweepstakes. (More on Heyman the Hero later…)

Cliff Lee

The Philadelphia media and their passionate fans should be ecstatic , but as always, it infuriates them to accurately read — as it did when Philly first signed Lee in July 2009 — that this is another example of a rich club getting richer.

The Phillies have been the “Yankees (or Red Sox) of the NL” for a few years now, but every time I, or someone else, says this, we’re lambasted. Check comments under my Lee column from last, peruse my archive’s comment sections, or my twitter account for proof.

Today, in lieu of discussion, I was already called “the most negative person on the planet” by a friend in Philadelphia; in the past I’ve been deemed “racist,” “hater,” and much else for having the temerity to question Ryan Howard. And the furor Jerod Morris caused by fairly and factually observing Raul Ibanez’s power surge in 2009 is legendary for the overreaction it caused among Philadelphia fans and media.

All of these cop outs are easy for Philadelphia suburbanites who cheer on winning teams to mutter considering their team’s payroll and roster. But rather than agreeing that Philadelphia is just playing within the same rules as any other big market club and spending on talent, Philly fans become apoplectic at compliments?

Part of this aberrant mentality is a refusal to be grouped with New York, and instead maintain their proud “second city” status, despite Philly’s baseball (and football and hockey) team’s sustained success. Residents and fans of teams playing in the “Cradle of Democracy” sell out nearly all home games, and therefore have revenue to buy (yes, buy) the best players around.

Folks, please embrace the excellence capitalism offers; stop looking for pity from fans whose teams are miserable and unable to fork over the necessary dollars to acquire three frontline starters in the past year. You think fans of Cleveland and Pittsburgh want to hear excuses? You are blessed. 

2008 World Championship Parade

But the self-pity pervades, even today, from beat writer Phil Sheridan:

“Cliff Lee wants to win and, brace yourselves for this, he wants to win here. In Philadelphia. He wants to do it here so much that he took less money and agreed to return to the team that traded him away a year ago.”
Brace yourselves? Phil (and Philly fans), he’s always wanted to play for you. Last year during this very week, when traded to Seattle to make room for your purchase of  perhaps the only pitcher better than Lee (Roy Halladay), Lee said:
“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.”
And so now the Phillies have the best of both worlds.
Philadelphia is not Buffalo, Milwaukee, Kansas City or Detroit. It’s the fifth largest city in America, sandwiched between the Nation’s Capitol and America’s largest city, with gorgeous suburbs, and more than 40 million people in a 200 mile radius. Isn’t that appealing?
{And oh by the way, just to stir more ire, Lee didn’t necessarily take less money from Philadelphia than New York. That myth has been exposed today too.}
On the flip side, there’s been a lot of talk today with respect to Philly’s incredible starting rotation being among the best staffs ever, but no analysis of the club’s hitting. In fact, the only ‘critiques’ are comparing the ‘foursome” potential greatness to other baseball eras. Didn’t we learn to avoid such exaggerated analogies via the Miami Heat hype this fall?

In truth, Philadelphia struggled mightily at the plate last season as compared to prior campaigns. This continued into the playoffs, costing them a third consecutive pennant. The team’s best hitter last season, Jayson Werth, is gone. And the ‘best of the rest’ — Ibanez, Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley — are all aging hitters with varied levels of diminishing skills and/or nagging injuries.

Due a ridiculously emotional contract in April, the Phils are unfortunately now stuck with Howard — who couldn’t make much contact or knock in a run when it mattered most this past October  — for six more long years and well  over $100 million! Ibanez is already on the trading block. More on the weaknesses of the NL East champs are discussed here, though naturally the media avoids writing anything negative on precious Ryan Howard’s struggles.

And lastly, since I delved into many tangents today, the ethos of this essay should not only be about Philadelphia, but another strike against our irresponsible mainstream media, who, whether it’s sports or news, continuously shows its painful combination of laziness and arrogance.

Kudos to one ‘crusader’ though, as mentioned earlier:

Sports Illustrated’s Jon Heyman.  

Mocked by the envious elites at ESPN & elsewhere all week for noting Cliff Lee had a “mystery team,” he deserves an apology from the Peter Gammonses (ESPN for decades, now MLBN), Keith Laws (ESPN) and Buster Olneys (ESPN) of the world for their mean-spirited, unprofessional and incorrect tweets. I doubt that will occur, unless it’s ‘quantified.’ Those feckless bozos won’t be held accountable by their networks and will move on, likely doing this again next winter.

It truly would take some mental gymnastics to believe any others, like ESPN and Philly’s own Jayson Stark, saw this deal coming.

But ONLY Heyman was intrepid enough to go on record.

NOTE: Tomorrow I’ll explore the New York ‘angle’ of Lee’s choice.

About the Author

AJ Kaufman

A former schoolteacher and military historian, A.J. now works in public relations. As an MSF columnist since 2009, he supports anything baseball-related. Raised in San Diego, A.J. has since resided in numerous parts of America, including Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, Ohio and Washington State. After departing the coasts in 2005, he's traveled the back roads of all 50 states and prefers the Heartland. Married to Maria, A.J. is the author of three books and enjoys reading presidential biographies.