Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee hasn’t thrown a baseball in a major league ballpark since March. That was when Lee and the Phillies realized the second attempt to rehabilitate a torn common flexor tendon in Lee’s left elbow had not worked. Instead of surgery, which would have effectively ended his career, Lee decided to try rehabbing the elbow once again with the hope he would pitch once more.
Unfortunately, that never happened.
Lee’s time with the Phillies and most likely an incredible baseball career will officially end shortly after the conclusion of the 2015 World Series. At that time the Phillies will have to tell Lee if they plan to exercise the $27.5 million club option of his contract for the 2016 season.
On Sunday, to the surprise of no one, the team announced they have decided to decline the option and instead will pay him a $12.5 million buyout that will result in Cliff Lee no longer being a part of the Philadelphia Phillies.
It is a sad end to what should have been a Hall of Fame worthy career.
While Cliff Lee was with the Phillies organization, he accomplished some truly great things, even if a World Series championship wasn’t one of them. Two specific instances come to mind as moments that will be talked about and remembered for a long time among Phillies fans.
In 2011, Lee was part of the famous “Four Aces” rotation put together by then Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. Along with Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels (and sometimes Joe Blanton, depending who you ask), the “Four Aces” was one of the most feared starting rotations in all of baseball. They helped the Phillies to the best record in baseball for a second year in a row (102-60) and a fifth consecutive NL East title.
The team was heavily favored to win the World Series, but fell to the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS in five games.
But more so than the “Four Aces” season, I think the moment fans will look back on and remember the most with a smile on their face is Lee’s dominant performance in the 2009 World Series.
The Phillies were attempting to win back-to-back titles and Lee was sent to the hill to pitch Game 1 against the New York Yankees. What followed was a show for the ages.
Lee gave up only one run in nine innings, struck out 10 and allowed no walks in a complete game performance that showed just how good the left-hander was. The Phillies would go on to win Game 1 by a final of 6-1 and it served to put the Yankees on notice. Throw in some spectacular defensive grabs on the mound and you have a game that has become the stuff of Phillies legend.
Whether Lee will ever pitch again or quietly retire is anyone’s guess at this point. But regardless of what happens, Cliff Lee will always be remembered in Philadelphia as a player who always wanted to win, a pitcher who loved to hit almost as much as throw and as a humble everyman who was embraced by this city like few before him.
The end of Lee’s time in Philadelphia is in many ways the final nail in the coffin that was a golden age of Phillies baseball. I consider my self lucky that I had the opportunity to experience it for myself and be a part of it throughout the years.
So good luck Cliff. No matter where you may go in Philly, the drinks are on us. It’s the least we can do for so many amazing memories.