Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Quick Thoughts on Cliff Lee’s No Accounting for Taste Decision

C3PO said it best. It’s always possible that the Phillies will be beset by injuries, especially with a number of players on the wrong side of 30, but man, it’s hard to imagine competing with a starting rotation that includes Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt, and now Lee. Egads, they’re getting close to the rotations that the Braves trotted out in the 90s. Also, the uncomfortable thing about this acquisition is that it’s reminiscent of Greg Maddux’s decision to join the Braves in that Lee took less money because playing for the Phillies was so attractive to him. It was most satisfying when Maddux turned his back on the Yankees’ filthy lucre because pitching in Atlanta for Bobby Cox, Leo Mazzone, and this fan base was so appealing. The fact that the Yankees’ naked economic might wasn’t enough to sign a player is about the only aspect of Lee’s decision that is good for Braves fans. Otherwise, we’re just left with a reminder that the Braves used to be the preferred destination for free agents, but now, the destination is somewhere else in the division.

The other thought that’s kicking around in my brain right now is that Lee’s decision is our fault. On the radio this morning, the local hosts were making the usual complaints about Liberty Media not being “invested” in the team’s success, but the sort of investment that is being requested is really just red ink. If we use attendance as a proxy for revenue (and I know that it isn’t that simple), the Braves were ninth in the NL in butts in seats last year. How is it fair for Braves fans to demand that the team’s payroll go above its revenue? In other words, are we forgetting that professional sports teams are businesses? In what segment of the economy is it an expectation that ownership should lose money? The Phillies were first in attendance in the NL last year, so Cliff Lee is a reward for fans who turn out. Again, the Braves were once the team drawing better than their rivals, so we deserved Maddux. Phillies fans aren’t intrinsically better than Braves fans; they’re just in a place where Braves fans were in the 90s when their team was winning big and consistently for the first time in eons.

And now for a CYA paragraph. It occurred to me after writing this post that referring dismissively to the Yankees' "filthy lucre" in the first paragraph and then singing the praises of the Phillies' right to the luxury item that is Cliff Lee in the second paragraph can be seen as inconsistent. I hate the Yankees for a number of reasons, but one of the primary motives is that the Yankees and their fans are the quintessential brats who were born on third base and think that they hit a triple. The Yanks are the major team in the largest, richest market in the country. Their market is old and established (as opposed to Los Angeles), so their roots are deep. Their two local rivals both moved out of New York, which gives the Yanks a leg up on their current local rival. Thus, the Yankees win because of money and they have money for a number of factors, most of which have nothing to do with good management, but are instead the result of circumstance. (A little like Stalin taking credit for beating the Germans in World War II.) The Phillies can't be described in the same way. Philadephia is a big market, but it's not New York. The current management of the team doesn't benefit from the decisions of its predecessors because the team's history is mostly lousy. The Phillies' current success deserves respect, so I don't begrudge them a great free agent signing. And I say this as a person who has a per se rule against rooting for teams from Philly.

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