Cliff Lee's Return to Philly Shows Rare Trait For Athletes

Written By Tom Dougherty On Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Lee, unlike most athletes, put a title ahead of dollars.

In today's age of professional sports, it's not too often that you find superstar caliber players that truly value winning championships over the biggest, most lucrative contract one can get his hands on when testing the free agent waters.

Every pro athlete in every sport claims that their No. 1 goal is to win a championship. They claim that it's what they come to the ball park every day for, why they practice, why they play the game, however in most cases, it's not really why they're in the game.

It's all about money in today's generation.

With money taking over as the top priority of all in both sports and reality, it's rare to find a player or the average folk who would take less money to ensure happiness for their family. Nine times out of 10, the player/person is going to go where the money is at.

Not Cliff Lee.

Lee turned down about $20 million from the New York Yankees to sign with the Philadelphia Phillies because he loved his short time in Philly, and felt that they gave him the best chance to win a World Series over New York and Texas.

The Yankees reportedly offered the 32-year-old lefty a seven-year, $148 million contract to play in the Bronx. New York's contract would have guaranteed Lee $132 million. He signed a five-year, $120 million deal with the Phillies.

Another major factor in Lee signing in Philly was that's where his family would be the most happy. The Phillies fan base embraced Lee, and he became an instant favorite when they acquired him from Cleveland at the trade deadline in 2009.

Lee was 7-4 with a 3.39 earned run average in 12 starts with three complete games for the Phils. He wrote his legacy in Philly during the postseason when he was 4-0 in five games with a 1.56 ERA. He threw 40.1 innings with two complete games.

The name Cliff Lee reached legendary status in the city of brotherly love.

For the Phillies, it's not the first time a superstar turned down more money to come to Philadelphia. In fact, it's the second straight winter the top prize took considerably less money to play for the Phightens.

Last offseason, Roy Halladay agreed to waive his no-trade clause to come to Philly and signed a three-year, $60 million extension. It's a little bit of a different animal in Halladay's case because he was acquire in a trade, but it's still the same principal.

Halladay made a name for himself as the game's top pitcher for more than half a decade. Had he reached free agency, he would have been heavily rewarded with a huge contract. Let's just say, he would have made at least $60 more million than he did when he signed his extension with Philadelphia.

Doc cited that the reason he wanted to play in Philly was that he made enough money in his career, and at this point in his career, it was more important for him to have an opportunity to win a World Series.

The irony here is that Ruben Amaro Jr. traded Lee to Seattle when he acquired Halladay to replenish the farm system that lost seven players in obtaining Halladay and Lee at the deadline. It was not fully about the money.

That enraged Phillies fans even though they were getting the league's best arm. The reason was if it wasn't broke, why fix it?

Lee is the game's best southpaw, no question. His dominance the last couple years proves the point, and his play in the last two playoffs makes it even stronger. When you had a chance to go into a season with Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee atop your rotation, you're going to be the favorites.

Amaro opted not to do that because he didn't think he could resign Lee last winter, and wanted to get more prospects lost in getting both pitchers.

In trading Lee, Amaro acquired Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cliff Lee.

Sounds like one heck of a master plan.

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