Tuesday, December 14, 2010
On the dangers of signing Cliff Lee
Surely by now you have heard the big news of the day. Around midnight last night, the Phillies signed Cliff Lee to a five year deal worth $120 million. Lee, their former ace, is the biggest free agent signing of the hot stove season. He's a player just about everyone in the city has been pining for since he was traded to Seattle almost exactly one year ago.
Surely this is no time for complaining, right?
Okay, I agree. It's been a wild and wonderful ride today. And I don't mean to be one to spoil the party. But let's take stock of what kind of beast we are building and what kind of fans we are in danger of becoming. George Vecsey's column from today's New York Times makes a valid point worth mentioning.
Here's the line that hooked my attention:
"Remember when Phillies fans had a surly underdog mentality every time the Mets and their raffish fans came to town and took over their ballpark? Ha! That era is long gone, on both sides."
With the signing of Cliff Lee, the Phils become the pre-season prohibitive favorites to win the National League pennant and win another World Series. With such free agent signings come high expectations that are hard to fulfill. The Phillies have suddenly turned from being gallant hunters into prey. Worse yet, the team I have long rooted for have become as reviled by the New York Yankees. We are no longer rooting for lovable underdogs.
This paradigm shift will take some getting used to. And it worries me that so many of the young fans who crowd the Phillies' lovely ballpark have already been spoiled by this team and that they will turn on the team with a vengance if their expectations are not met. That's not a kind of fan I wish to associate myself with.
I have long taken pride in being a loyal Phillies fan. "Loyal" is the key word. I lived and died with the team, mostly died. Expectations were always high in April and rarely if ever did the team live up to my hopes for it.
I got to see two world championships during my 50-plus years on Earth and that's two more than Phillies fans got to see who supported the team all through those dismal and disasterous decades of the '20s, '30s, '40s and '50s. Back then, the Phils were perennial basement dwellers and had become the franchaise with the most losses of any team in professional sports.
I often tell my students being a Phillies fan is my cross to bear in life. I tell them when I get to the gates of heaven, I am going defend a lifetime's pursuit of wine, women and song with just one lame excuse: "Please forgive me sir, I've been a life long fan of the Phillies" and that St. Pete would crack open the pearly gates and wave his arm into heaven and yell to the heavenly hosts: "Let him in, boys! He's suffered enough!!"
You can't buy that kind of Earthly penance. It has to be earned. Mine was. I suffered a lot. I lived through the collapse of '64 and sat in a left field seat at the Vet on Black Friday when Luzinski juggled a fly ball against the wall and the catastrophic disaster of '77 transpired. I fear the younger brethren amongst us will no longer get that free pass into heaven. They'll have to find another way in. They've been spoiled. And now, so have I.
Yes, today it feels good to be on top, it's a red-letter day to bleed red. But I have to wonder any more if I won't be spit upon the next time I wear my Phillies cap in Chicago. There's be a price to pay for the joys of today. And the bill is gonna be a steep one.
To read Vescey's column in its entirety, cut and paste this link into your web browser.