Tag Archives: New York Yankees

Cliff Lee, The Phillies, and The Night I Realized Twitter was The Place To Be for Breaking News

For much of the fall months, I have devoted this space solely to the Eagles — Either mini-think-pieces, analytical posts, Cody Parkey kickoff contests, trolling national writers who thought Chip Kelly had any interest in the Florida job, and haikus. Mix in a post or two about Penn State, and that has essentially comprised the entire blog.

Today, we are going to go down a different route because tonight marks the four-year anniversary of one of my favorite baseball memories.

Favorite baseball memory on December 13? Is that even possible? 

Yep, it sure is, and it has nothing to do with a perfect game, walk-off home run, or World Series moment.

Rather, it marks the four-year anniversary of Cliff Lee — my favorite baseball player of all-time — spurning the Yankees (and Rangers) to re-sign with the Phillies in free agency after having been surprisingly traded by the Phillies one year earlier.

Furthermore, it was the key moment in an intersection of sports and social media for me, as it was that night when I realized that Twitter was truly the best source for breaking news.

To appreciate how significant of a moment this was though, you first have to understand how unlikely it was.

After giving them fits in the playoffs in back-to-back Octobers, the Yankees were far and away considered the favorites to land the most prized free agent on the market. They needed an ace to team up with C.C. Sabathia, and it was no secret that Lee was the apple of Brian Cashman’s eye as the winter meetings went down the previous week.

The Rangers — Lee’s team for the second half of the 2010 season — were also thought to be trying their hardest to not let Lee get away, but few thought they would be able to go toe-to-toe with the Evil Empire. Some Phillies fans — myself included — held out hope that a Philadelphia reunion was possible, but we also knew the reality of the situation.

The Phillies had dished out some massive contracts in the previous years and already had a rotation featuring Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt. Even if there was some mutual interest, they financially couldn’t match what the Yankees would offer.

It seemed like a near forgone conclusion that Lee would soon call the Bronx home, and many were surprised that a deal wasn’t completed the previous week.

On Monday, December 13, 2010, things started to heat up when Jon Heyman reported early in the day that a “mystery team” might be in on the Lee sweepstakes.

The use of the term “mystery team” is normally pretty hollow, thrown around by agents to reporters to drum up more interest in their client, but Heyman might have been onto something here.

Heyman initially did not provide a ton of context, but later in the day, Jayson Stark took a stab that the mystery team might actually be the Phillies.

At this point in time, I did not even possess a Twitter account. I was one of the folks who was fascinated by the site enough to search for things but hadn’t yet joined and started tweeting on my own for whatever reason.

I began reading about Stark and Heyman’s tweets from my Facebook feed though and quickly texted some of my friends who I often talked baseball with.

It was my Finals Week in school, and with no exams until Wednesday, I had a lot of time to spend on the Internet between studying, and nothing had me more excited than the idea that my favorite player might come home again.

A few of them knew what I did. Others had not yet heard. This was no doubt moving quickly though, and as the afternoon transitioned to early evening, I must have typed “Cliff Lee’ into whatever the Twitter search bar looked like in December 2010 a good 100 times looking for any legitimate updates that existed.

Stark seemed to be picking up steam.

Heyman jumped in again, this time with a bit less vagueness.

At this point, any additional studying that night was a distant thought. I was locked into this, eagerly searching for news on Twitter every second.

One of my friends responded to a text at one point as the night got deeper with:

Where the hell are you finding this stuff? 

“Twitter, dude, we gotta be on Twitter. This is where it’s going to go down,” I answered.

Nothing was official yet, but as the night wore on, reports came out that the Yankees and Rangers had been informed Lee would not be going to either club. The context clues were all there.

“Dude, holy shit. He’s coming back. This is really happening. He’s coming back.” 

Bam.

A few hours later, SportsCenter came on the air with “Cliff Lee is a Phillie again,” but the news had already dropped on Twitter earlier.

An Associated Press article published in the wee morning hours may have summarized things most succinctly in terms of what Lee’s decision represented for the sport:

This was a rare instance in which the Yankees’ financial might failed to land a player they wanted.

The baseball world was turned upside-down. Now embattled Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro was praised for getting his man. I have pointed out before, that for as much as some folks may currently hate Amaro, they certainly loved him on that epic December night.

From a baseball standpoint, the move hasn’t completely worked out as envisioned. The Phillies have only been to the playoffs once in Lee’s four seasons, and after three fantastic individual years, Lee suffered through an injury-plagued 2014 campaign that saw his season come to an end on July 31st as he reached for his elbow and walked off the mound in Washington D.C.

At the time, it looked like it could be a career-threatening injury. Thankfully, that does not appear to be the case and Lee should hopefully be ready for spring training, but I wrote at the time about how it was a classic example of how cruel and unfair baseball is.

Derek Jeter received a well-deserved farewell tour. One of the best big game pitchers of this generation possibly got a random Thursday night with hardly anyone watching.

Like most big contracts, the final years normally result in some buyer’s remorse, and that will likely be the case with Lee should effects of the elbow injury decrease his trade value.

What a night though. What a night for the Phillies, for baseball, for social media, and for myself, whose favorite player told the Yankees no and came back.

Not to completely internalize something that wasn’t about me, but I think about how Twitter has been a big part of my early career and my life over the past four years, and the origins trace back to that night.

I have turned Internet friends into real friends through that website and was once even invited to a wedding by someone who I had first met on Twitter.

Baseball stories first broke on Twitter prior to that night, and bigger ones have gone down since, but nothing was more meaningful to me than the one that night.

Nowadays I’m not too excited to be on the site when news breaks concerning the Phillies. The demolition of a once great roster could happen at any moment, and the first shoe already dropped this week with the trade of long-term shortstop Jimmy Rollins. For things to get better, all of it needs to happen, and at some point it will likely involve Cliff Lee.

Regardless of when and how it happens though, I wouldn’t trade what transpired four years ago tonight for anything.

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Cliff Lee Got Hurt and Everything Sucks

Everyone who would potentially care about Cliff Lee getting hurt already knows that Cliff Lee got hurt last night. I realize that I’m not telling you anything groundbreaking here.

When I introduced this blog, I made it a point to say that despite my previous experience covering sports it wouldn’t be branded as up to the minute sports news.

One of the advantages to operating it how I currently am is that it affords me the luxury of time when I want to reflect on something or maybe go deeper on a topic rather than spitting out a short, immediate take.

I find that when teams go as south as the Phillies have gone, one begins to identify better with individual players on the club than the entity itself. The final result might not matter a whole lot in those situations, but the players you care about still do.

Sometimes things get so bad where a late July game turns into background music while multi-tasking, almost an afterthought until something awful catches your eyes and ears.

When a frustrated and distraught Lee pointed to his elbow and removed himself from a baseball game last night in the third inning, my first thought wasn’t ‘There goes Cliff Lee’s trade value and the Phillies’ August plans.’ Instead it was ‘There goes Cliff Lee, I wonder if I will ever see my favorite pitcher again.’

That approach might be considered overly sensitive by some. When I covered Penn State football, a few people who were known to dislike my coverage thought I was too soft. They wanted a whipping boy every time a game was lost, and while I’m all for holding people accountable and believe I did that, demanding weekly firings wasn’t my style.

On another level, watching the injury unfold made me think about Ryan Howard’s controversial “Want to trade places?” line from a week ago.

Upon first hearing this, most people would probably utter some variation of “HELL YEAH!” When I slow down and think more about it though, it’s a difficult question for only being four words long.

It’s complicated to ponder for me because I point back to what happened less than 24 hours ago. At age 35, Lee’s elbow may have stopped him from doing what he does best. Certainly they are well compensated, but returning to Howard’s question, I’m not sure how I feel about a primary career ending before age 40. Average Joe’s may never have that financial security but also don’t see some of their best attributes erode so quickly.

I don’t have the answers; I just find it interesting to discuss.

What I do know is that if last night was the end for Lee, he deserved better. It is becoming increasingly likely that one of the greatest playoff pitchers of this generation will never see another October.

I don’t want this to completely go the route of eulogizing Lee’s career. He insisted after the game that he simply re-injured the flexor pronator muscle that cost him two months of the season.

Ruben Amaro said earlier this afternoon that there is no evidence of ligament damage. On the opposite side of that good news, he mentioned that Lee would likely see Dr. James Andrews at some point. A visit to Andrews doesn’t mean a pitcher is on track for major surgery, but the name Amaro uttered might be the scariest three words when it comes to sports injuries.

Hopefully this is indeed just a strain and Lee, who averaged 6.5 WAR a season and a 2.89 ERA between 2008-2013, comes back next April good as new, but one has to be realistic.

Think back to Roy Halladay in 2012 and 2013. If one of the hardest working and best-conditioned pitchers the game has ever seen cannot overcome a shoulder injury, that doesn’t leave a ton of hope for others, Combine that example with the Tommy John epidemic sweeping baseball, and it becomes easy to understand the pessimism.

I have been told by people over the years who would know that Lee is kind of a dick to deal with. Every time I hear it, I proceed with a combination of ignorance is bliss and ‘Alright, maybe he is a dick, but he’s our dick’ mindset. Never in any sort of trouble, I had no reason not to love him.

Even though you learn quickly that athletes have plenty of flaws, actually hearing evidence of them and seeing one of your heroes reduced to a mortal can be tough to come to grips with.

Lee earned better, but unfortunately this movie has plenty of previous editions. For as much press and fanfare as Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter’s yearlong farewell tours have received the past two years, there are tons of players every year who aren’t afforded the opportunity to go out on their own due to injury or ineffectiveness, and in some cases both.

Baseball isn’t fair, and last night shortly before 8 p.m. eastern time was another sad reminder of that cold, hard truth.

Lee didn’t need or merit a Rivera or Jeter retirement party, but he deserved far more than walking off the mound yelling “Fuck” on a random Thursday night in Washington D.C with many Phillies fans not even watching.

The baseball gods show no mercy, and last night, they came for Lee’s elbow, zapping him of a once golden arm. What a cruel game sometimes, man.

I want to say this isn’t goodbye, Cliff. It’s see you later, hopefully with a few more memories and a well-deserved standing ovation next spring at Citizens Bank Park, but unfortunately I lost my innocence when it comes to knowing the career trajectory of a baseball player a long time ago.

Right now, it is hard to believe that aforementioned wish with much conviction.

Cole Hamels is on the Mound Tonight and I am Hella Hella Pumped

One of the longest tenured and most polarizing athletes in Philadelphia sports makes his season debut tonight. If a five-year pattern holds up, it will likely be a complete disaster, and I cannot wait.

I really mean that. I love baseball, but if tonight’s Phillies-Dodgers game featured any other starting pitcher for the away team, it would be well below the NHL playoffs and the NFL schedule release show on my priority list. The return of Cole Hamels has bumped it up.

Watching the Phillie pitcher get lit up during his opening start is a spring ritual for Phillies fans. Unfortunately the annual tradition was delayed just a few weeks this year due to some shoulder tendinitis.

Now, before you close this tab without reading another paragraph, I’m not trying to troll you nor am I a Cole Hamels hater. He just historically has real rough outings in his opening start dating back to 2009. Here’s the pitching lines to prove my point and to make your eyes bleed a little:

Rockies 09: 3.2 IP, 11 H, 7 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 17.18 ERA, — L, 10-3

Nationals ’10: 5 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 5 K, 3.60 ERA — W, 8-4

Mets ’11: 2.2 IP, 7 H, 6 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 20.25 ERA — L, 7-1

Marlins ’12: 5.1 IP, 8 H, 3 ER, 0 BB, 9 K, 5.06 ERA — L, 6-2

Braves ’13: 5 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 9.00 ERA — L, 7-5

I’m excited for tonight because Cole Hamels can’t go on to have his typical very good season without some sort of first start. I’m excited for tonight because I remember fondly when this trend wasn’t yet a thing nearly eight years ago.

On May 12, 2006, a 22-year old lefty from San Diego, California with Hollywood looks and a nasty changeup went into Great American Ballpark and shut down a Cincinnati Reds team that entered the contest 11 games over .500. Five shutout innings, only one hit, seven strikeouts in his Major League debut.

I knew watching on that Friday night that he was something special and I would likely still be talking about him 95 months later.

Here’s a list of active MLB starting pitchers who are still with the same team dating back to that memorable night:

Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, Matt Cain

Jered Weaver missed the cut by two weeks, Jon Lester by a month. Adam Wainwright was with the Cardinals but as a reliever.

That’s a pretty impressive trio right there to join. The three of them combine for 13 All-Star games, two Cy Young awards, two perfect games, two no-hitters, and two World Series rings.

Pitchers just don’t last nine seasons in the majors on the same club without doing something incredibly right, and with his current contract, Hamels has a chance to be in the same place for at least 14 years.

On that memorable May night, you knew that if the Phillies ever caught the Mets and Braves in the NL East, Hamels would be a part of it. Seventeen months later, that happened, and it was a Hamels gem that gave the Phillies their first lead all season in the division after 160 games.

A year later, he put the city on a parade float. The fact that someone seven months younger than the city’s championship drought was the driving force behind a World Series title is almost unfathomable.

The landscape began to change as 2008 turned to 2009. Hamels initially didn’t handle success well and showed up to spring training behind schedule and unprepared for the title defense season. While he didn’t miss a start, it was the worst year of his career.

If we break things down with sabermetrics, it honestly wasn’t that bad. His .317 BABIP was 22 points higher than any other professional season. Still, a hanging curveball to Andy Pettite essentially handed the Yankees the 2009 World Series.

The Phillies were two-wins away from back-to–back titles, and if Cole Hamels was Cole Hamels, they get it. A lot of fans — myself included — held this against him.

In 2007 and 2008, Hamels days were something to look forward to because he was so much better than Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer, Kyle Kendrick, Adam Eaton, Joe Blanton, J.A. Happ, and anyone else who made a start. If you had tickets to a game and anyone else was scheduled to pitch, you were a little upset.

I was lucky enough to see him work in person a few times during those two years including June 2, 2007 when he made Barry Bonds flail at a ninth-inning changeup on the way to a complete game. If I ever have kids and they like baseball, I will tell them about that early summer night when 45,000 fans of a team two games below. 500 stood and went wild as a budding ace struck out one of the game’s greatest hitters ever.

Hamels represented hope that gone were the days of Andy Ashby, Robert Person, Omar Daal, Jon Lieber, or some other in-over-their-head pitcher trying to play ace and anchor a rotation. Things were about to be very different.

After delivering on that hope though, things got way, way different. Cliff Lee arrived, then Roy Halladay, then both of them. Hamels stabilized into a very good, consistent pitcher but sort of faded into the background, occasionally hearing boos at Citizens Bank Park after a rough start.

I knew some people who were big 2008 apologists. They believed anyone on that World Series winning team was immune to criticism. I hated that thought process. It was so lazy and complacent, but I also knew forever holding that 2009 debacle against someone who brought you a championship wasn’t exactly fair.

I don’t even love Roy Halladay as much as most Phillies fans love Roy Halladay, but I loved Roy Halladay because he’s Roy Halladay. I love Cliff Lee because he told the Yankees to take 150 million and shove it, instead choosing to come back to Philadelphia.

While the same amount of love might not exist, there’s something Hamels has on them. He’s ours. Lee and Halladay were hired guns from Cleveland and Toronto brought in to keep a good thing going. Hamels was here before they arrived and will be here long after they’re both gone.

There was a brief time though where that wasn’t a slam dunk. Slated to become a free agent at the end of 2012, the Phillies had to either work out a long-term deal or trade him for prospects before the deadline. They couldn’t risk losing him that winter and getting nothing back. The ball was more or less in his court, but the desire to be courted by multiple MLB teams as the prize of a free agent class is tempting. No one was certain how it would play out.

On July 21, 2012, it suddenly dawned on me that I might be watching his final start as a Phillie. I choose the word “suddenly” because my Phillies watching had slacked a bit that summer.

If you’ve ever met me, you know that there’s a 5-6 year stretch where if you name a date, I can tell you what happened in that particular game right away, but they were having a pretty pedestrian season and Penn State football was two days away from being hit with unprecedented sanctions.

It was going to be a long week, and the Phillies had been far from the top of my priority list, but I made sure to watch every pitch of that Saturday afternoon start.

Don’t go Cole, I said to my TV as he walked off the mound to a standing ovation after 7.2 innings. Normally 10 hits and five runs allowed doesn’t earn you that, but despite the occasional rocky relationship, fans knew it could be their final chance to a World Series hero in red pinstripes at home.

Less than a week later, he and the Phillies agreed on the richest contract in team history. Phew. Whether that deal was a good baseball move still needs to play out over time, but when it was inked, I celebrated because that’s what you do when your homegrown ace decides this is the place he wants to be.

He was here before things started to get good and saw things get bad again after five straight NL East championships. While this all happened, off the field he grew from a laid-back kid to a husband with children including an adopted Ethiopian baby. His wife runs a successful charity foundation with a global impact.

If the Phillies can snap out of this downward spiral and right the ship over the next few seasons, he’ll be a huge reason why, just like back in 2007.

This city has taken too many good athletes for granted over the years only to become aware of it long after they had either left town or left the game entirely. While it’s not always perfect, I don’t want to realize in 2024 that I did that with this one.

That’s why I’m excited as all hell for Cole Hamels to be back on the mound tonight, and you should be too.