Cliff Lee is a great pitcher – I totally get that and appreciate it. He’s one of the best pitchers of his generation and one of the best pitchers the Phillies have had in the last three decades. But I have a little bit of a hard time understanding why Phillies fans treat Lee like Yankees fans treat Derek Jeter or Cardinals fans treat Albert Pujols.
Monday night, when Lee caught a fairly routine pop-up, the fans erupted like he was Willie Mays in the ’54 Series. When he flew out to left field, Citizens Bank Park exploded like they just witnessed The Shot Heard 'Round the World. And whenever Lee does anything even remotely impressive, the Phils announcers all but take their shirts off and twirl them around their heads. Sorry for the visual.
In actuality, I do understand the love affair with Lee. He’s calm and cool, tough and determined, and obviously has terrific numbers with the Phillies this season, not to mention a superhuman effort to help the team reach the World Series in 2009. The fact that he also took less money to return to Philly last winter also is a significant factor.
But in the end, isn’t Cliff Lee trying to do what Cole Hamels already has done? Lee nearly pitched the Phillies to a championship. Hamels did it. Lee has only pitched two half-seasons for the Phillies. Hamels has been on this team for six years now. In short, Lee would trade Phillies résumés with Hamels in a second. But still, the fans act like Lee is the savior while Hamels continues to be somewhat of a lightning rod for criticism. I get that Lee is more “old school” and Hamels needs to be coddled a little bit. But in the end, isn’t it all about winning games (Hamels has 73 regular-season wins and 6 playoff wins, Lee has 20 and 4) and winning championships (Hamels – 1, Lee – 0). Maybe I’m wrong, but it just seems like Phillies fans need to take some of that Lee lovin’ and point it in Hamels’ direction. Not all of it, just a little.