Not only because Lee said more than once that he decided to return to the Phillies as a free agent because he thought he had a better chance to win the World Series here than he would have had with the lordly New York Yankees, either.
The last time the Phillies held a major spring-training news conference involving a starting pitcher was in 1997, and the circumstances couldn't have been more opposite.
Yesterday's celebration was only slightly less meticulously planned than a military operation and was held in a clean, spacious, air-conditioned room at Bright House Field.
Fourteen years ago the venue was a small, musty room at charming but outdated Jack Russell Stadium and the mood was bleak. While the bus that would take the team to a game in Sarasota that night idled in the parking lot, the Phillies hastily called reporters together and announced that they had broken off contract negotiations with ace righthander Curt Schilling, who could become a free agent at the end of the season.
Money wasn't even the issue. Team officials conceded that the asking price was in line with what top pitchers made then. But Schilling had had shoulder surgery and the team was reluctant to take the risk that a 3-year offer would entail.
The questioning became barbed. How could the Phillies let a proven No. 1 starter get away, especially when his asking price was at or below the going rate? Dave Montgomery, then a behind-the-scenes power who wouldn't be promoted to club president until later that season, pushed forward and advised the interrogators that they shouldn't just focus on the possibility that Schilling would pitch well and his value would go up. He could also pitch poorly and his market could go down.
The team eventually relented and signed Schilling as the season was opening. But 3 years became the unofficial cap on contract length for a Phillies pitcher.
On that day, yesterday's overstuffed spectacle would have been unthinkable.
When the Phillies traded for Halladay, they went beyond their normal comfort zone. With one season left on his Blue Jays contract plus the $60 million extension they gave him to waive his no-trade clause, they were on the hook for 4 years.
With Lee, they went even further. Not only was his 5-year, $120 million deal the largest for a pitcher in franchise history. In terms of average annual value, it was the most expensive contract for any team, ever.
Blanton, who is the fifth starter at least until further notice, is in the middle of a 3-year contract. And Hamels, who will be a year away from free agency when the upcoming season ends, will be in line to make a big score of his own.
It's not necessary to go that far back in time to plot how radically things have changed.
When cozy little Citizens Bank Park opened in 2004, the natural presumption was that it would be nearly impossible to persuade top pitchers to come to Philadelphia because of the short fences.
Halladay and Lee, though, all but hired campaign managers to get themselves to Philly. And Oswalt, like Halladay, had to waive a no-trade clause before the trade that brought him from Houston last July could be completed.
"I think I've been able to see that transformation. And I'm going to take it for all it's worth, because Philadelphia's a great baseball town," said Hamels, who is the youngest of the starters but has the longest Phillies tenure.
"When you're able to have the offense that we have, that attracts guys knowing that if you're able to pitch well, the offense will put up a lot of runs and give you a good opportunity. We're able to do that. We're able to get the fans. The fans have been behind us 100 percent. I think everyone here can attest to that. It's been enjoyable seeing the excitement in Philadelphia and seeing them come out to different ballparks."
Of course, huge contracts and a chance to win and removing a couple rows of seats in leftfield also have something to do with that.
Still, watching yesterday's proceedings led to the sharp realization of how far the Phillies really have come. These are the good, old days. *
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