The Cliff Lee signing completes the transformation of the perception of Philadelphia's by major league baseball players. It wasn't that long ago, prior to December, 2002, to be exact, when free agents shuddered at the prospect of playing in Philadelphia.
Bad stadium (the Vet), tough fans and, oh yes, a tradition of losing. Not an attractive picture.
Just prior to the start of the 2003 season, Jim Thome signed a six-year deal with the Phillies, who were about to move into a new stadium one year later. Thome's arrival broke the ice, at least among top-rated position players, who soon discovered what a hitters' park Citizens Bank Park was. Starting pitchers, on the other hand, deplored the short fences of the Bank and continued to avoid Philadelphia like the plague.
Following Thome's signing, the Phillies' home grown nucleus of Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels combined with the shrewd talent evaluation of Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth and the acquisitions of Brad Lidge, Cliff Lee (albeit briefly) and Placido Polanco produced winning baseball on an annual basis.
The Roy Halladay signing a year ago finally broke the boycott by front line starting pitchers. His arrival was followed in mid-season by Roy Oswalt, who waived his no-trade clause to come to Philadelphia, further banishing the old stereotypes about Citizens Bank Park and the City Of Brotherly Love. Today, Cliff Lee buried these issues for good.
Not only did Lee want to return to Philadelphia, a city both he and his wife liked, he signed for less money than the two other suitors were offering. The chance to win surely influenced his decision. So, too, did the memories of playing here before.