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Cole Hamels: Cliff Lee chose Phillies over Rangers, not Yankees

By Tim Kelly, Sports Talk Philly editor 

Cliff Lee's return to Philadelphia in December of 2010 was a magical moment in Phillies history for a variety of reasons. The first reason was that Lee joined Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt, creating the greatest rotation in team history, dubbed "The Four Aces." Secondly, the narrative put forward was that Lee chose to sign with the Phillies for less money, as opposed to signing with the New York Yankees. 

While many Phillies fans rejoiced at the idea of a superstar taking less money to join the Phillies, rather than the Yankees, one of Lee's former teammates says that's not exactly what happened. 

Cole Hamels spoke to Randy Miller of NJ Advance Media, and corrected the record on Lee's December 2010 free-agent decision: 

At the conclusion of the 2010 season, Lee became a free-agent. Though he had appeared in the World Series in consecutive years, Lee was still chasing a World Series ring. The Rangers and Yankees, two World Series contenders with deep pockets, publicly competed for Lee for much of his free-agent stint. ESPN's Jerry Crasnick reported at the time that the Yankees offered Lee a six-year/$132 million deal, with a $16 million player option for the 2017 season. The Rangers, hoping to retain Lee, offered a six-year/$138 million deal that featured a $23 million vesting option for the seventh year, per Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports

Phillies Nuggets: What Should One Make Of Jorge Alfaro's Season Thus Far? 

In the end, Lee, despite a pretty magical run with the Rangers and a lucrative offer from the Yankees, took a shorter deal from the Phillies. He rejoined Hamels, along with Halladay and Oswalt, who had been acquired since his first stint in Philadelphia. 

"I never wanted to leave this place in the first place," Lee said at his reintroduction press conference. "To get an opportunity to come back and be a part of this team and this pitching rotation is gonna be something that's historic, I believe. Can't wait to get to Spring Training and get this thing going." 

Lee chose one team where he had a magical playoff run over another. The third team was the Yankees, who Lee continuously eluded and then dominated in the postseason. Is it possible that a sense of familiarity - along with tremendous rosters and deep pockets - led Lee to ultimately choose between the Phillies and Rangers? Sure. Some feel there was more to it, though. 

USA Today's Bob Nightengale published a piece prior to Lee's decision alleging that during the 2010 American League Championship Series, Lee's wife was mistreated by Yankees fans. Lee's wife, Kristen, was quoted in the story, saying that Yankees fans "did not do good things in her heart." Nightengale wrote (didn't quote) that Kristen dealt with being cursed at, having beer thrown at her and being spit on from fans sitting above her. 

However, at his reintroduction press conference, Lee balked at the notion that any reported mistreatment of his wife worked against the Yankees in his free-agent decision. 

"Let me clarify that whole thing right quick," Lee said, interjecting during a reporter's question. "That was way overblown. No one came up to my wife and spit on her, nobody poured anything on her. You go to any stadium and the opposing team's [fans] stand up and start cheering, especially in the postseason, fans are gonna say something to them, they are going to do stuff like that. That's part of it. That story was way overblown, it was false and it had to do with the whole thing." 

Still, whether there were exaggerated details in the story about Lee's wife, she was still quoted as not being particularly fond of how she was treated in New York during the 2010 playoffs. Lee may have been less concerned about that than his wife, but it's fair to think she had input on his decision and may have helped push Lee towards deciding between Philadelphia and Texas, two places he and his family had been received extremely well. 

Ultimately, if his decision did come down to the Phillies and Rangers, as Hamels says it did, he may have just enjoyed his time in Philadelphia slightly more than in Texas. There was also speculation that Lee's family liked the idea of being within close proximity to CHOP (Children's Hospital of Philadelphia) because his son Jaxon was in remission from Leukemia. That and the positive experience he had in Philadelphia created a sense of comfort in Philadelphia, which according to Hamels, led to Lee returning to the Phillies over re-signing with the Rangers. 

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