Is it possible to feel sorry for the New York Yankees? Well, of course not, but for the first time in perhaps forever baseball fans don't have to spend their off season viscerally hating on the Yankees for spending all the money to steal the top free agents. News that Cliff Lee won't be signing with New York was almost as big as the fact he will be signing with Philadelphia to clean up the crumbs left by Roy Halladay. In theory the Toronto Blue Jays chances to make the playoffs just got better, and this on the night that Brett Favre's consecutive games streak - which started Sept. 27th 1992 - or BEFORE the Blue Jays won their first World Series. Amazing.
Seven in the morning after the jump
1. How to sign a contract for $135-million and still make it seem like it's not about the money: The Cliff Lee story.
• Cliff Lee, the ace who eliminated the Yankees from the postseason while pitching for Texas, seemed destined for New York, just because that's how things get done in MLB: the Yankees declare their interest in the best pitcher available, make him rich, done. But Lee has turned that thinking on its head says Ian O'Connor of ESPN New York: "Of the three free agents who signed deals in excess of $100-million this winter, two signed with the Red Sox, and the other jilted the Yankees like they haven't been jilted since Marilyn Monroe divorced Joe D. Their rotation looks like it was hit by a nor'easter. The Yanks were hoping A.J. Burnett would be required to throw only celebratory pies next season; now he'll actually be needed to throw fastballs and curves. Andy Pettitte? Now Cashman will offer to build him his very own retirement community if he agrees to give it one more go."
• Money is supposed to be the ultimate source of loyalty for pro athletes, but Lee - who beat the Yankees twice in the Phillies' 2009 World Series loss to New York - didn't conform, turning down a reported $161-million to stay in Texas and $148-million to play in New York for the Phillies' $135-million. Whattaguy.
• In Philadelphia it's the "The best Christmas present ever" as Lee joins what is already being called one of the best starting rotations in baseball history, alongside Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels.
2. More Favre drama, but deserved this time.
• The Packers/Jets/Vikings quarterback has taken his share of abuse for his "aw shucks, why you paying attention to lil' ol me act" but the fact that he stood under centre in the NFL for 297 consecutive starts - Peyton Manning would need five more 16-game seasons to catch him; Ron Jaworski is in third with 116 - has always been his trump card. You can't fake that kind of resilience, so we'll give him his due. His postgame press conference in the wake of watching the Vikings lose 21-3 to the Jets while sitting out with a sprained throwing shoulder is here, and I thought he summed his view of the streak up nicely in these comments: "I don't like getting injured," Favre said. "But that is part of it. But I've had several people in passing say, 'I hate for the streak to end like this.' Like what? I mean, it's been a great run. I will not hang my head one bit because it ended today … I think about, as a kid, goals, dreams - I far exceeded all of those that I had. I never dreamed of playing 300-plus straight games. I just dreamed of playing in the NFL. It's been pretty amazing."
• Cal Ripken, baseball's ironman at 2632, on Favre: "Brett has had an incredible career and his consecutive games streak is remarkable," he said through a spokesman. "As a football fan I cannot fathom his accomplishment and I appreciate his dedication to and passion for the game. He is a true gamer and has provided us all with a lot of wonderful memories."
3. I wonder how Andy Fantuz slept last night?
• The Saskatchewan Roughriders receiver - and the CFL's outstanding Canadian this past season - is working out for the Pittsburgh Steelers this morning and has another workout scheduled with the Minnesota Vikings on Dec. 18th he announced to the world on his website the other day.
• On the night before the big day he Tweeted: "Watching MNF in my hotel in Pittsburg.. Ready for the workout in the morning." I think he sounded nervous.
4. Canadian teams, B Division:
• The Leafs are in Edmonton tonight in a match-up of the 28th and 26th-place teams, respectively, in the NHL. The Oilers are the team that has people excited though, as they boast a load of baby-faced frontline talent. Despite being last in the West they're 6-3-1 in their last 10 and thinking playoffs, with Taylor Hall telling the Globe's Al Maki: "In here, we don't think about the youth. We're an NHL team. Twenty-nine games in, you don't feel like a rookie…We feel if we play our game we can make the playoffs. The last 10 games have been pretty good." There is some debate in Edmonton, Maki writes, that finishing well down the standings wouldn't hurt - a top flight young defenseman would look good with this group - something Leaf fans, again without a lottery pick to look forward to this season, can only dream about.
• Leaf fans can take comfort: at least they're not in Calgary, with a veteran, capped-out team and the playoffs fading fast. Like Ron Wilson in Toronto, head coach Brent Sutter is facing questions about his job security.
5. In praise of Bill Belichick
The New England Patriots devastating five-game run through the NFL and some of their supposed rivals has them looking like a team on yet another Super Bowl run. Dave Naylor of TSN says that the constant in their dynasty has been coaching, even more than quarterback Tom Brady: "Just consider the backgrounds of the players surrounding Brady at the offensive skill positions during the Patriots past two games in which they've beaten the Jets and Bears by a combined score of 81-10. Brady's primary receivers in those games have been a player acquired for a fourth-round pick earlier this season (Deion Branch), a free agent signing who had fewer than 100 catches over four seasons before he got to New England in 2007 (Wes Welker) and a rookie tight end (Rob Gronkowski). His running backs have been two undrafted players in BenJarvis Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead, the latter of whom was released by the New York Jets earlier this season. These Patriots aren't simply overwhelming the opposition with talent. And though Brady is as good as they come, the fact that Belichick knew what he had in the former fifth-round draft pick is just another measure of his greatness. "
6. A Canadian-less Top 50
The Sports Business Journal is a respected industry publication that tracks the money side of sports. They came out with their ranking of the top-50 most influential figures in the industry globally and there wasn't a Canadian in the bunch, though NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was 11th, which is kind of a shock, considering that Sepp Blatter, for example, who runs FIFA, was 21st. Given the rare air that MLSE moves in - the leading brand in hockey; the only international NBA franchise; a leading (off-the-field) MLS franchise that has sparked expansion in Canada as well as their other business interests, someone from MLSE should have been on the list. Ted Leonsis debuted on the list at No.37 because he owns an NHL team (Capitals), and NBA (Wizards) team and arena in a top-10 market. Love them or hate them, MLSE's a more significant operation than the one Leonsis is running.
7. For Your Amusement
Tis the season for Christmas carol parodies. You might have predicted this one from Cleveland in honour of LeBron James - The 12 days of Quitness: "The quitter took a knee, walked out on his team, crushed our hopes and dreams and sold us out on national TV" …. you get the idea.