Tag Archives: World Series

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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Our Dude Madison Bumgarner is Dominating

If you follow this blog at all, you know that Madison Bumgarner is my dude, and if you have found any time to watch the MLB playoffs, then you know that my dude is absolutely crushing it.

After keeping the Giants season alive a week and a half ago with a complete game shutout against the Pirates, my preseason NL Cy Young pick was at it again last night, out-dueling noted big game pitcher Adam Wainwright and defeating the Cardinals in Game 1 of the NLCS.

In between, Bumgarner lost a start against the Nationals but still more than held his own, only surrendering two earned runs over seven innings.

Bumgarner’s playoff stats through three games are as follows:

23.2 IP, 14 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 23 K, .76 ERA

Screen Shot 2014-10-12 at 4.14.42 PM

This was not difficult to foresee though when you recall that he nearly threw a perfect game against the Rockies back in late August.

If I am being honest, I am rooting for whichever team advances from the American League, but if I had to predict a World Series winner right now, it would be the Giants. They get hot every time they see October, and Bumgarner is a huge reason why at the moment.

Clayton Kershaw is obviously going to eventually take home the NL Cy Young award, but NLCS and World Series MVP would be a pretty sweet ‘consolation’ prize.

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.

A Reminder that Ruben Amaro Loves July 29th

If Ruben Amaro ever rules the world — humor me for a second — I imagine his first act will be to wipe away the 12-month calendar system and have all 365 days of the year be known as July 29th.

Paul Holmgren and the date June 23rd became synonymous for many Flyers fans with the club making big trades in both 2011 and 2012. The lockout didn’t give Homer a chance to keep the streak alive in 2013, but Ron Hextall started it up again a month ago.

The Flyers’ June 23rd is Amaro’s July 29th. It just happens to date back a bit further.

A quick recap:

  • July 29, 2009 — Traded pitcher Jason Knapp, pitcher Carlos Carrasco, catcher Lou Marson, and shortstop Jason Donald to the Indians for Cliff Lee and Ben Francisco.
  • July 29, 2010 — Traded pitcher J.A. Happ, shortstop Jonathan Villar, and outfielder Anthony Gose to the Astros for Roy Oswalt.
  • July 29, 2011 — Traded pitcher Jarred Cosart, pitcher Josh Zeid, first basemen Jonathan Singleton, and outfielder Domingo Santana for Hunter Pence.

Even though there is no true link to this pattern other than the dates falling on a busy transaction time in the sport, you start to believe there’s really something to the trend.

The first two years, at least, of this timeline should serve as a reminder that Ruben Amaro was once pretty good at his job. The Lee trade was absolute highway robbery. It put the Phillies two wins away from repeating as World Series champions and not one of those four prospects panned out. Knapp, considered the centerpiece of the deal by many pundits, never even made it to the show.

The 2010 trade with the Astos didn’t quite measure up with 2009. Gose and Villar are still only 23 years old. The jury is out as to what type of players they become but both are receiving playing time (with Gose now on the Blue Jays).

Happ has survived in the back end of the Blue Jays rotation most of the season. Oswalt hasn’t pitched for the Phillies since 2011, but he was fantastic in 2010 when they acquired him and was instrumental in the August and September surge to make the playoffs.

It wasn’t a slam dunk, but anyone who big time rips Amaro over this is subscribing to some major revisionist history.

The same unfortunately cannot be said for 2011. Cosart and Singleton look like future stars and including Domingo Santana in the deal may haunt the Phillies for years to come. Pence was great in two months with the team but they only won two games in October, and he didn’t really add much that wasn’t already there. Worst of all, Amaro got much less than what he originally gave up when he shipped Pence off to San Francisco a year later.

The difference between now and those three trades is obviously that the Phillies were all-in buyers, and currently they’re on the opposite end of the spectrum as sellers. That partly explains why there is no edition to the July 29 timeline for 2012 and 2013.

I provided my take on Amaro and the Phillies approximately two months ago in preparation for this week. Things are slightly different in that I didn’t think Cliff Lee would be on the disabled list for so long, but if interested, you can read my original thoughts here.

Now, I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if nothing happens because outside of maybe Marlon Byrd and Antonio Bastardo, Amaro doesn’t have many assets to offer. Value is bogged down by large contracts, vesting options, and no-trade clauses.

There is a chance the 4 p.m. Thursday deadline passes without the Phillies doing anything, but if Amaro does make a blockbuster move, history suggests it may happen today.

It is Time for Ruben Amaro to Act Like a GM Instead of a Fan

Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat:

Ruben Amaro is not as bad of a general manager as you think he is.

Sports may be a “show me/what have you done for me lately?” business, but in order to evaluate the job performance of the Phillies GM since he inherited the gig in November 2008 fairly and in a non-scorching take manner, we need to look at the big picture and remember 2009-2011.

It may feel like eons ago now, but Amaro once turned a 92-win team into a 93-win team. He then followed that up overseeing a squad that won 97 games before topping out with 102 victories in 2011.

Appreciate that number for a second while allowing the next paragraph to sink in.

Since then, no team in Major League Baseball has finished the regular season with more than 98 wins. The last National League club other than those 2011 Phillies to reach the 100-win mark goes all the way back to the 2004 St. Louis Cardinals.

During the aforementioned time frame, there was no shortage of good moves made by Amaro. Even though he was a drag on the lineup by the time his contract expired after 2011, replacing Pat Burrell with Raul Ibanez proved to be the right call. The Cliff Lee trade in July 2009 was highway robbery.

By not giving into J.P. Ricciardi’s outrageous asking price for Roy Halladay, Amaro essentially got the Blue Jays GM fired at the end of the season. Two months later, he got his man anyway. Not one player moved in either of those deals has gone on to have any type of successful MLB career.

While they weren’t the slam dunk trades that Lee and Halladay were, he essentially got Ed Wade fired for the Roy Oswalt and the Hunter Pence deals too.

Trading Cliff Lee to the Mariners on the day Halladay was acquired proved to be a disaster, but Amaro had way more hits than misses during that three-year span.

Travel back to December 14, 2010 when Lee spurned the Yankees and came back to Philadelphia. I guarantee that I could go back and find a ton of tweets from everyone talking about what a great job Amaro was doing as a general manager.

I’m not going to do that because it’s a waste of everyone’s time. I’m not the baseball Twitter police, and this is a blog post, not some in-depth investigative piece, but if you can honestly tell me that you never believed Amaro was a good GM between 2009 and 2011, reach out to me. I’ll take your word for it, but I’ll also be incredibly surprised.

The problem obviously is despite the increase in regular season wins each year, the Phillies never hoisted the World Series trophy again. Those 2009, 2010, and 2011 squads were not without their flaws, but they were certainly capable of winning 11 games in October.

I often wonder how differently Amaro might be perceived had they won again. If Cole Hamels was his typical self against the Yankees, if Ryan Howard lifted the bat off his shoulder when facing Brian Wilson, if Cliff Lee — one of the greatest big-game pitchers of this generation — had just protected a 4-0 lead against the Cardinals. The trophy case would be more crowded, and Amaro would have one to call his own.

In many ways, the odds were stacked against Amaro to sustain the success of 2008. The Phillies were on top of the baseball world, and aside from the 1998-2000 Yankees and 1992-1993 Blue Jays, teams don’t repeat. Furthermore, Amaro had inherited the keys from one of the best ever in Pat Gillick.

The architect behind the aforementioned Blue Jays repeat, he always left a team better than he found it, and teams always got worse once he decided to move on. Even though he’s now 76 years old, I’m honestly surprised no struggling club has tried to lure him with a lucrative offer to work his magic one more time.

What Amaro did during his first three years was impressive, but as the final result got worse each year, a troubling theme sticks out.

Just about all of the good decisions were big-name moves. When handed a very good team, Amaro has no trouble adding another piece come late July, but when the foundation begins to leak as it did in 2012 and 2013, he doesn’t know how to fix it.

It’s kinda like a driver who knows how to operate the vehicle but is awful with directions. He can fly down I-95 no problem, but once he gets off at the exit for Center City and has to navigate downtown Philadelphia streets, he’s lost and just praying the GPS gets him to his destination.

More to the headline, he begins behaving like a nostalgic fan instead of remembering that his actual job is to make smart baseball decisions that might annoy your 2008 apologists who believe everyone is above reproach because they delivered a championship a half decade ago.

When the tables are turned and Amaro is the seller, he’s either getting fleeced with the July 2012 Hunter Pence trade to the Giants, curling up into a ball and doing nothing last summer, and last but certainly not least, doubling down on old players who are now a shell of their former selves, but Amaro remembers the good ole days and dammit, he’s not loosening his grip no matter how hard the game pulls.

Not all of these individual moves are bad ones. Chase Utley is still sabermetrically one of the best players in the game. The contract extension handed to him last July looks alright.

A lot of Phillies fans have this confirmation bias at work whenever Amaro does anything. It goes something like:

I think Ruben Amaro sucks, and I can rattle off past decisions he’s made that sucked, so I’m going to look for any reason possible to say this particular move sucks because I think Ruben Amaro sucks. 

That’s not the case. Marlon Byrd and A.J. Burnett — while certainly playing into the old narrative — have been very good signings.

The real issue is that Amaro has inspired no confidence that he has a any type of long-term vision and is simply trying to catch lightning in a bottle as the lid gets tighter and tighter.

A spontaneous go with the flow and let the chips fall where they may lifestyle can be fun, but when running a sports franchise, you need a blueprint.

As the crowds at Citizens Bank Park get smaller and the calls for his head get louder, it’s somewhat understandable from a human nature standpoint that Amaro doesn’t want to undergo a full rebuilding process considering his contract only runs through the 2015 season.

That reasoning is good enough in late May. No one blows it up 47 games into a season, however that won’t be good enough come late July.

Between now and then, the Phillies ownership needs to approach Amaro with a loaded yet valid question:

WHAT’S YOUR PLAN? 

If Amaro presents a realistic strategy, he should be given ownership’s blessing and promised that his job is secure through the length of his deal.

A franchise cannot be completely turned around in a year, but there will be signs to determine whether or not progress is being made when evaluating Amaro’s future.

I’m not paid a hefty salary to come up with a plan, and I haven’t really begun studying prospects that I would want back in trades, but let’s start with Cliff Lee — one of my favorite athletes of all time. If this injury is just a minor blip and Lee is back and effective, he’s the type of player who could bring you back a couple of guys that go on to be future franchise cornerstones.

Jonathan Papelbon is pitching well enough that a contending team would be willing to overlook the salary and give a decent return. Jimmy Rollins — if willing to waive his no-trade clause — is having a good enough season to fetch something back. The list goes on with similar players like this.

The one wildcard here is Utley. CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury has a solid piece on just that topic today where he advocates for pulling the trigger if the right offer comes along. Salisbury, in my opinion, is the best on the Phillies beat, and 10 months ago, I would have completely agreed with him, but now I’m not so sure. Even at age 35, Utley looks like a guy you could rebuild a team around.

Either way, the worst thing that can possibly happen in two months is a repeat of last year where Amaro sits on his hands and does nothing — Another year of prolonging the inevitable as the wheels spin but the car remains stuck in mud.

If ownership is convinced that he has no plan after speaking with him, then it’s time for them to move on rather than accepting the status quo.

Amaro has shown in the past that he can be a competent general manager.

Quite simply, it is time for Ruben Amaro to do his job, and if he won’t, it is time for the Phillies to find someone else who will.