As Phillies' storied 2009 team reunites, one can't help but wonder where Cliff Lee might be

As Phillies' storied 2009 team reunites, one can't help but wonder where Cliff Lee might be

Most of the 2009 Phillies were on hand Saturday to reunite on the same night Bobby Abreu, a Phillie from 1998-2006, was inducted into the team's Wall of Fame.

The big question, though, was "Where is Cliff?"

Cliff Lee, who had another commitment, was notably absent. He's gone radio silent since vanishing after 2015, his final season under contract with the Phils. He never formally retired, just kind of faded away.

That '09 season was the one that made Lee a household name. Sure, he won the AL Cy Young the year before with the Indians, but it was in 2009 that he was traded at the deadline, went on a dominant regular-season run and then mowed down his competition in the postseason. Lee was masterful in the 2009 playoffs, going 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA in five starts against the Rockies, Dodgers and Yankees.

Every Phillies fan remembers Lee's complete game in Game 1 against the Yankees, the game in which he had the smooth, casual catch of a pop-up back to the mound. How cool a customer Lee was on the mound resonated as much with Phillies fans as his effectiveness.

And yet Lee, who is still thought of fondly in this city even after the way his career ended, hasn't been heard from. Toward the end, you could tell Lee just wanted to "take it to the house," his euphemism for walking away from baseball and living out a peaceful life of retirement.

It's not as though you can blame him. Lee earned the estimated $143 million he made as a player, and any player is within his right to fade away. Lee was never a big personality. He went about his business and didn't much like to break down or analyze his performances after games. He was an old-school baseball man, a guy from Arkansas who enjoyed simplicity.

Still, Lee's absence Saturday stood out as Charlie Manuel, Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth, Raul Ibañez, Pedro Feliz, Greg Dobbs, Matt Stairs, Eric Bruntlett, Paul Bako, Ben Francisco, John Mayberry Jr., Jamie Moyer, Kyle Kendrick, Brad Lidge, Chad Durbin, Clay Condrey, Brett Myers and Tyler Walker congregated in the media room at Citizens Bank Park.

There was a lot of, "So what have you been up to lately?" Some guys have remained around the game. Some are selling commercial real estate. Some are enjoying watching their kids play. Some, like Myers, haven't watched much baseball over the last decade.

Myers said that the 2019 Phillies reignited his desire to watch baseball. He talked about how much fun he has watching Harper, and how much he used to hate facing Jean Segura.

Ibañez spoke eloquently about the electricity Phillies fans provide. "It's not like this anywhere else," he said. 

It would have been nice to hear Lee's recollections of that run. He was responsible for so many Phillies memories. Who could forget Lee's Phillies debut in 2009, a complete game in San Francisco? Who could forget those first five starts with the Phillies, when Lee allowed three earned runs in 40 innings and looked like he might be on his way to a Greg Maddux-like peak.

Few Phillies fans will forget the ill-fated trade of Lee to Seattle in December 2009, when the Phillies sought to replenish their farm system with Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies and J.C. Ramirez. Few forget the night 12 months later when Lee shocked the baseball world by signing with the Phillies over the Yankees or Rangers.

In 2011, Lee had two of the best months a starting pitcher has ever had. He allowed one run in 42 innings for a 0.21 ERA in June. He allowed two runs in 39⅔ innings for a 0.45 ERA in August.

The 2011 playoffs were a different story. With the Phillies leading 4-0 after three innings of Game 2 and on their way to a commanding 2-0 series lead over the Cardinals, Lee gave away the lead by surrendering five runs in the middle innings. The Phillies, who won a franchise-record 102 games that season, were eliminated in five games by St. Louis, the eventual World Series champion.

Unfortunately, that playoff game and Lee's injury-filled final two years diminished some of his overall story with this franchise. But there is no denying that from 2008-13, Lee was one of baseball's best pitchers. And there is no denying that the story of the 2007-11 Phillies cannot be told without him.

It's a shame the fans haven't had a chance to feel more connected to one of the most important Phillies of the last 15 years.

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A summer of appreciation for Ed Wade — and it's long overdue

Brett Davis/USA Today Images

A summer of appreciation for Ed Wade — and it's long overdue

The Phillies will honor Bobby Abreu with a place on their Wall of Fame before Saturday night’s game.

It is a well-deserved honor for a man whose career, with the passage of time and the aid of new perspectives, has become more and more appreciated.

Abreu’s spot on the Wall of Fame and his place as one of the top players in Phillies history is a testament to Ed Wade, another man whose career, with the passage of time, looks better and better.

And maybe this summer is finally being appreciated.

(Dan Loh/AP Images)

It has been a summer of ceremony at Citizens Bank Park. Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard — world champions and club icons — were all honored with retirement nights and the fans came out in force to show their respect.

Rollins went first in early May and his speech included a notable tip of the hat to Wade for his role in putting together the 2008 World Series championship team.

Two months later, Howard did the same thing.

Utley’s remarks in June were shorter than his two infield mates’, but he’s mentioned Wade’s impact on the best era of Phillies baseball many, many times in the past.

Wade was Phillies general manager from late 1997 until the fall of 2005. Those were difficult years for the franchise as it walked a tightrope between building a roster that could win and a ballpark that could fuel the revenues needed to compete in baseball’s new world.

Wade was let go after the 2005 season. It wasn’t necessarily a baseball decision because things were moving in the right direction. The Phils won 88 games that season and finished two games behind first-place Atlanta and one game out of the wild card. Under today’s system of two wild-card teams, the Phils would have made the playoffs in 2005 and Wade’s place in the future probably would have been secured.

Wade was let go more for business reasons. Attendance dropped by 600,000 in the second year of the new ballpark, a place Wade had helped design. That loss of revenue was a sign of fans’ impatience. It called for change and Wade was let go.

Tough business, baseball.

Wade never moaned about his firing in Philadelphia. He acknowledged that the rise to the playoffs that the franchise sought and eventually got didn’t happen fast enough. He acknowledged his mistakes — it’s an unpredictable game and all GMs make them — said he was proud of the good things that he’d done and moved on to Houston a couple of years later where he brought eventual NL MVP Jose Altuve to the majors and oversaw the drafting of eventual Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel and eventual World Series MVP George Springer. Those three players helped the Astros go from a rebuild to a World Series championship in 2017. Wade was not around to enjoy that title. He got caught in an ownership change and was let go after the 2011 season, but his fingerprints were all over that Houston title team — just as they were the Phillies title team.

(Tom Mihalek/AP Images)

When Pat Gillick was hired to succeed Wade in Philadelphia, he acknowledged that he was taking over a good club that had worked the ball into the red zone and just needed a little help getting over the goal line. In his opening press conference, he talked about the good work Wade had done, and as the Phillies got better and better and won the NL East in 2007, and bigger titles in subsequent years, Gillick, class man that he is, never forgot Wade in passing around the credit.

“This is Ed Wade’s team,” Gillick once said.

Of course, there were others who had a hand in the construction of those great Phillies clubs, people like Lee Thomas (Rollins was drafted when he was GM), Mike Arbuckle, Marti Wolever, Ruben Amaro Jr., and many more, but Gillick, a huge contributor himself, was dead on in his praise of Wade.

Wade was GM when the Phillies drafted and developed Utley, Howard, Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Ryan Madson and Pat Burrell, all contributors to the championship years.

He was the GM who put a young front office man named Mike Ondo in charge of the Rule 5 draft and said, “Let’s get him,” the year Ondo identified a kid named Shane Victorino as worthy of being selected.

He was the guy whose famous, from-the-heart Thanksgiving morning email helped put Jim Thome over the top as he agonized over whether to take the money in Philadelphia or stay in his comfort zone in Cleveland.

He was the guy who did not cave to pressure and trade Howard when he was a young minor-league prospect blocked by Thome.

He was the guy who did not trade a minor-league second baseman named Utley to Oakland for Barry Zito.

And he was the guy who had the ba … OK, guts … to hire Charlie Manuel when the whole town wanted Jim Leyland.

That hire has been validated hundreds of times over — just listen to the cheers Manuel gets these next few days during Alumni Weekend — most notably with Manuel’s raising the World Series trophy in October 2008 and Gillick’s saying that hanging on to Manuel (Gillick considered a change after the 2006 season) was the best move he ever made.

(Rusty Kennedy/AP Images)

Wade watched the Phillies celebrate the 2008 World Series from afar. Abreu watched it from his home in South Jersey. He actually opened a bottle of champagne and toasted his former mates. A little piece of him was still with that nucleus of players, even though he had moved on in a trade to the Yankees in July 2006.

Abreu played nine seasons and 1,353 games with the Phillies. He hit .303 with 195 homers and 814 RBIs. He stole 254 bases. He had an on-base percentage of .416 and an OPS of .928. The people who run baseball teams these days go absolutely gaga over his career numbers and you can bet that Abreu will receive strong Hall of Fame consideration when he hits the ballot for the first time this winter.

But first, it’s the Phillies Wall of Fame.

It’s an honor that never would have happened if it weren’t for Ed Wade.

Back in the mid-90s, when he was assistant GM under Thomas, Wade was assigned a couple of teams to scout during spring training. One of them was the Astros. Abreu caught Wade’s eye and when it looked like the young outfielder might not be protected in the expansion draft of 1997, Wade hounded Thomas to get the kid, some how, some way. The Phils ended up convincing Tampa Bay to select Abreu in the expansion draft and send him their way for Kevin Stocker.

It was a pretty good get, as they say.

(George Widman/AP Images)

One of the first things they teach you in this business is to pick up the phone and talk to the people you write about. Sorry. There are no comments from Ed Wade in this story. Had I called him for some thoughts, he would have protested — “Go away, angle boy,” — and tried to talk me out of writing this. He no longer works in baseball and is content watching from afar, away from the headlines.

But make no mistake about it. Ed Wade had a significant influence on the game and a huge influence on two championship teams.

On Saturday night, he will sit quietly in Citizens Bank Park and hear yet another star player thank him for the impact he had on his career.

The appreciation is long overdue.

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Bobby Abreu named as Phillies Wall of Fame inductee

AP Images

Bobby Abreu named as Phillies Wall of Fame inductee

Former rightfielder Bobby Abreu has been selected as this year’s inductee for the Phillies Wall of Fame. 

Abreu, who played for the Phils from 1998-06, was one of 10 nominees. 

He will be honored before the Phillies’ game against the White Sox on Saturday, Aug. 3 at 7:05 p.m. as a part of Alumni Weekend. 

“Bobby Abreu was one of the most consistent offensive players of his generation,” Phillies executive vice president David Buck said in a statement released by the team. “His power and speed, combined with his patience at the plate, probably put him ahead of his time in Major League Baseball. We are very excited to be honoring him for his contributions to Phillies history with his Toyota Wall of Fame induction.” 

Here’s a recap of Abreu’s career with the Phillies: 

• Hit .303/.416/.513 in his nine seasons in Philadelphia

• Hit 195 home runs and knocked in 814 runs 

• Third all-time in Phillies history in walks (947), OPS (.928) and on-base percentage (.416) 

• Seven straight seasons with at least 20 homers and 100 walks 

• Most outfield assists (89) among all Phillies since 1970

• Two-time All-Star (2004, 2005) 

• 2005 Gold Glove winner 

• 2004 Silver Slugger 

Abreu, now 45, joined the Phillies’ organization back in 1997 in a trade for shortstop Kevin Stocker. Abreu was taken by the Rays in the expansion draft, but was quickly dealt to the Phils. In his first season with the Phillies in 1988, Abreu hit .312 with 17 homers and 74 RBIs. He was a consistently productive hitter for years in a Phillies uniform. 

In the 2006 season, Abreu was traded to the Yankees  for prospects. After that year, Abreu played six more seasons. He had 100-plus RBIs in the three seasons after the Phillies traded him. 

Abreu has been a guest instructor at spring training for the past two seasons. 

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