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.

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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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