The Anniversary of the Day Cliff Lee Came to Town

A look back through the decades at the worst Philadelphia trades

With apologies to the sports experts who write for Philly Post — Michael Bradley and Mike Missanelli (who should be hailed as a conquering hero for embarrassing Howard Eskin in the radio ratings) — I want to bring up the déjà vu feeling I am getting as a Philadelphia sports fan.

Let me first give you some of my Philly sports fan credentials. I still have a Johnny Callison baseball card that I won flipping cards during recess at Saint Philomena’s elementary school in Lansdowne. I know the words to “The Penalty Box” by Dave Shultz and remember when it was on the radio. I shudder at the thought of Joe Kuharick when I stumble across my “Joe Must Go” button in a desk drawer. And I used to love to go to the Spectrum to watch the 76ers when they were 9-73 because you could always seat jump down to courtside. The games were so bad I was tempted to yell “Next!”

In other words I am not one of those bandwagon-jumping TV types who learns the names of the teams only when they win and then pretends he’s been a fan all his life.

I know of what I speak. And when I tell you the Phillies are doomed it is because I have seen it happen before as a forever fan.[SIGNUP]

“What if the Phillies didn’t trade Cliff Lee?” It is the question you hear on sports radio and in sports bars more than any other. The Phillies traded for Lee this week a year ago (July 29th to be exact) and he was unhittable, leading the Phillies to their second straight World Series appearance. The Phils won just two games in the series against the New York Yankees; Cliff Lee won both of them. He was rewarded for his efforts by being traded to the Seattle Mariners for Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies and Juan Ramirez — three minor league players who may never see the major leagues unless they buy a ticket.

It may go down as the worst trade in the history of sports. Topping a trade from 23 years ago that caused Philadelphia fans to ask: “What if the 76ers didn’t trade Moses Malone?” The 76ers won the NBA championship easily in 1983, and Malone was the needed addition to a team of Julius Erving, Bobby Jones, Maurice Cheeks and Andrew Toney. That year, Malone won the league’s Most Valuable Player award. Three years later he was rewarded for his efforts by being traded to the Washington Bullets along with Terry Catledge and two first-round draft picks for Jeff Ruland and Cliff Robinson. The 76ers have not won a championship since that trade.

At the time it was the worst trade in sports history. Topping a trade from 18 years before that caused Philadelphia fans to ask: “What if the 76ers didn’t trade Wilt Chamberlin?” After bringing Wilt back to Philadelphia in a trade with the San Francisco Warriors, the 76ers dominated the league and won the championship easily in 1966. Sports fans love to argue about the best player ever in the NBA. Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and LeBron James are the new favorite answers. But no one will ever touch Wilt Chamberlin as the most dominant player in league history. He won the league MVP all three years he was with the 76ers. He was rewarded for his efforts by being traded to the Los Angeles Lakers for Darral Imhoff (the center that Chamberlin scored 100 points against), Jerry Chambers and Archie Clark. The 76ers didn’t win another championship until they got Moses Malone.

I do hope I am wrong, but the Cliff Lee trade give me an eerie feeling that I have seen this before. If history holds, in another 20 years, give or take a year, we’ll be asking: “What if the Phillies/Sixers/Flyers/Eagles didn’t trade ______?”

And it will go down as the worst trade in sports history … since the Cliff Lee trade.