The Picture of Clifton Phifer Lee


In looking up the names of old ballplayers, I stumbled upon a familiar name on the roster of the 1923 Philadelphia Phillies:

How interesting, I thought!  There was another Cliff Lee, playing outfield for the Phillies back in 1923.  My puzzlement continued when I saw that this Cliff Lee had also played for the Cleveland Indians, in 1925 and 1926.  So I checked up on this fellow on ESPN, which has a player archive that stretches back to the 1800s.  Behold what I found (click for larger image):

Nothing in this is touched up in any way by me

I could not take my eyes away from the player’s portrait!  This 1920’s Cliff Lee bore an eeeerie resemblance to the Cliff Lee we just signed to a massive contract.  Comparing the two photographs side-by-side reveals just how similar the two men look:

could be brothers...

Note, dear reader, the similar smiles, and the similar proportion of neck width to jaw width.  They don’t wear their caps the same way, but perhaps that was a result of the differing styles of different eras.

Still, I cannot help but shake the notion that there is a baseball card somewhere, perhaps hidden in an attic in Benton, Arkansas.  The card is well preserved in a plastic sleeve.  Were you to hold it to your nose, you could just imagine the faintest smell of bubblegum dusted upon its surface.  The image on the front is of a man, framed in an oval above which are printed the words Pittsburgh Pirates.  The man in the oval looks very, very old.  The bat which once jutted purposefully from his shoulder has dropped to the ground, gripped at the knob by a veiny hand.  The uniform sags, the button-tied front falling straight down from neck line to belt buckle, as if the chest and stomach of the man have collapsed inward.  The old man’s wrinkled face betrays no hint of the athletic young man who should be gripping that stick of maple.  But the eyes, oh the eyes, they have lost none of their vigor, and they are a ballplayer’s eyes indeed.

And were you to turn over the card and examine its back, dear reader, you would see a curiosity indeed: a list of statistics, impossibly long, type minuscule in size.  At the top, batting numbers; farther down, pitching.  The man, or so the card claims, has played in over 70,000 baseball games.

And if you happen to be holding this strange card, gently, with the edges of its case between thumb and index finger, on an afternoon this upcoming early April, you will see the text suddenly, imperceptibly, shift, and grow smaller.  And at the bottom, smaller than a line of ants, a new line will suddenly appear.  2011.  Philadelphia.  1 Game.  1 Game Started.  7 innings pitched.  5 hits, 0 walks, 1 run, 6 strikeouts.   ERA of 1.28, WHIP of 0.71.  Record: 1-0.

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