Philadelphia is having a love affair with a hit man. The fans swoon every time Cliff Lee guns down another batter, every time he coldly eliminates another threat with his lethal left arm. For five years now, our city has been head over heels for a hired gun.
There's really only one problem with this relationship. It is totally unrequited. To Lee, Philadelphia is just another place to display his talents and collect his paycheck. He couldn't care less about our city or its fans. That's the cold, hard truth about this one-sided romance.
If there were any doubts left about Lee's true feelings, they were washed away after his eighth win in 10 decisions against Minnesota last week. At the time, he was six games above .500 on a team three games under it. He was a winner, surrounded by losers. And, for once, he was honest about it all.
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Question: If things don't turn around, do you want to stay?
Lee: I definitely want to win. I don't know how to say it besides that. I want to win.
Question: Do you think this team can be a playoff team?
The Phillies are exactly what former manager Dallas Green said they were last month, a model of mediocrity with little real hope of taking one last run at a championship. Lee has watched the stars around him age, get hurt and underachieve long enough now to know he needs to move on again. At age 34, his baseball clock is ticking, too.
There's nothing wrong with a city admiring a star player the way Philadelphia does with Lee, nor should the pitcher be faulted for wanting to win a championship before he retires. It is the deception surrounding his time here that finally demands some public acknowledgement.
First of all, Lee didn't sign as a free agent because he loves Philadelphia. He returned — after the most unpopular trade in a generation — because the Phils paid him $25 million a year and had a great team. Secondly, Lee has no emotional connection with the fans. If he did, he wouldn't answer every question (before last week) with "That's baseball" or "It is what it is."
And finally, Lee is really just the latest in a long line of mercenaries who move from city to city, team to team, trying to win for himself and no one else. There's nothing unusual about that, but it is hardly cause for the over-the-top adulation he has received in his two stints here.
Love Cliff Lee if you must, Philadelphia, but know this now: He's going to break your heart. With hit men, there are no happy endings.
Peters should study his Eagles history
Jason Peters was revving the engine of his souped-up Camaro at a traffic light in Monroe, La., at 4:45 a.m. last Wednesday, looking for some excitement. The drag race that followed, and then the high-speed chase exceeding 100 miles per hour that landed the Eagles offensive tackle in jail, probably filled his thirst for adventure. Unfortunately, it also exposed him as a reckless fool.
Every day of the four years Peters has been employed by the Eagles, he has been greeted by a mural in the NovaCare Center of Jerome Brown, a Pro Bowl defensive tackle who squandered his life — and that of a totally innocent nephew — in pursuit of similar thrills. Clearly, Peters never learned the lesson Brown provided for all future Eagles.
Even worse, though, is the muted response by a fan base numbed by the stupid acts of its sports heroes. Peters is the best player on the Eagles, and that is all he will ever be to the increasingly jaded people who follow his team. Based on the shrug offered by the populace after Peters' stupid behavior, the days of relating to players as human beings is over.
In an Internet poll I conducted at WIP radio two days after Peters was arrested, 75-percent said they were more interested in the U.S. Open than in the off-field exploits of Jason Peters. The huge lineman risked his life and that of every motorist in the vicinity, and fans were more interested in rich guys hitting a ball with sticks? Really?
Peters will find a way out of his legal entanglements — the NFL will make sure of that — and it will be business as usual once training camp opens in five weeks. Jason Peters survived his own outrageous irresponsibility this time - which makes him luckier than Jerome Brown, but no smarter.
Tiger is a strangely interesting figure
Not since the heyday of Muhammad Ali has there been a sports figure as fascinating as Tiger Woods, who just spent a week captivating the Delaware Valley with a charisma that transcends his boring sport. By the end of the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club last weekend, I must admit even I was mesmerized by this very strange man.
He won me over a week ago with a loud, public tribute to the passion of Philadelphia that only a dolt like me would ever consider sincere. Cynics pointed out that Woods offers similar testimonials on most stops on the Tour, but I will always be a sucker for that kind of mush. After all, the man was right, wasn't he? We are pretty amazing.
And in his own weird way, so is Woods. Like most athletes past 35, he is not the performer he once was, but — while the Phillies struggle to fill seats with aging players in similar decline — he only becomes more compelling. Best-selling author and golfing authority John Feinstein called Woods "a terrible human being" on my WIP radio show last week, and there was no rebuttal argument. Woods' history with women is an indictment he will never escape.
But Tiger Woods is more than any one scandal or any one tournament. He is, in fact, a sport unto himself — much like Ali was three decades ago. I got to meet the greatest boxer in history one day in the early 1980s in my hometown of Providence, R.I, and the similarities are undeniable. Both are polarizing, both have been great at times and pathetic at others, and both have commanded attention at the exclusion of all others.
I will not miss at all the departure of the U.S. Open and all of the elitist baggage of professional golf that goes with it, but I've got a confession to make. For better or worse, I will miss Tiger Woods.
Idle thoughts from Cataldi
» One day after signing Tim Tebow, New England coach Bill Belichick got snippy over questions about the lightning-rod quarterback. Belichick protege Chip Kelly should understand right now that those antics will not play well at all in Philadelphia — at least until he also wins three Super Bowls.
» There was a report over the weekend that the Flyers are seriously considering an end to the Ilya Bryzgalov era. It took them all this time to consider using one of their amnesty exemptions on the biggest free-agent bust in team history? Amazing.
» Jeff Lurie is willing to spend $125 million to bring a better flavor of Philadelphia into antiseptic Lincoln Financial Field. OK, then there's only one obvious move here. It's time to bring back the 700 Level.
» Isn't it time for the Phillies to make the obvious move and bring up Carlos Zambrano? Granted, the veteran pitcher is prone to outbursts and odd behavior, but at least he wouldn't be boring. The Phillies could use an infusion of personality right about now.
» At age 63, Julius Erving easily dunks a basketball in his new NBA-TV documentary, The Doctor. Twenty-six years after his retirement, he's still more interesting than any current member of the Sixers — and a better player today, right now, than Kwame Brown.