Commentary

Yankees fans, you messed up this time

Cliff Lee will cost more money after the way his wife was treated -- if he comes at all

Updated: October 27, 2010, 1:31 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

When Cliff Lee finally puts pen to paper this offseason, he is probably going to sign the contract with the highest dollar amount on the bottom line.

That already puts the New York Yankees at a disadvantage, because considering the fact that Texas has no state income tax and New York has the highest in the country, the Yankees are already going to have to offer Lee substantially more than the Texas Rangers just to be in the same ballpark.

[+] EnlargeCliff Lee
AP Photo/Charles KrupaCliff Lee will have a lot to think about this offseason.

But when you throw in the way some Yankees fans treated Lee's wife last week -- and I'm deliberately leaving out the word "allegedly,'' because Kristen Lee would have no conceivable reason to lie about such a thing -- if nothing else, the price to make Cliff Lee a New York Yankee just went up.

And why not? People walk out of courtrooms all over the country every day with millions of dollars awarded to salve their "pain and suffering,'' incurred in all variety of civil cases.

This is a clear case of incivility, and if Lee wants to make a federal case out of it with the Yankees, who could blame him?

I'm aware of what goes on in ballparks all over the United States between fans of the home team and "invaders'' who come in wearing the colors of the opponent. In most cases, it's all in good fun -- and usually, the insurgent wears the enemy jersey for precisely the purpose of stirring up a reaction.

It's normal fan-on-fan stuff and usually harmless.

And I'm not saying things like this don't happen in other ballparks around the country toward Yankees fans, as well. I'm sure every one of you has a story to tell.

But there's nothing normal about the way some fans are said to have behaved toward Kristen Lee while her husband was turning in one of the all-time great postseason pitching performances in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series. According to reports, she was cursed at, was spat at and had beer hurled on her.

That is shameful, is cowardly and should embarrass any right-thinking person who was in the ballpark.

And besides, this is New York City. We're supposed to be smarter than that, more sophisticated than that, above that sort of foolishness. And then something like this happens, reinforcing all the worst anti-New York stereotypes that people in other parts of the country hold as gospel.

I know Yankees fans take pride in being enthusiastic, even vociferous, in their love of the home team and fearsome in their hatred toward the opponent. But this seems to have bordered on criminal behavior.

At the very least, if I were Cliff Lee, I would be extremely upset at Yankees management for exposing my wife and the wives of my Texas Rangers teammates to that sort of hostility -- and at stadium security, for apparently failing to do anything about it. (Nor did any of the fans sitting nearby.)

And at the most, I would use it against the Yankees as leverage in what is likely to be a very difficult and expensive negotiation.

Yankees president Randy Levine, called to pinpoint precisely where the visiting players' wives were sitting -- inside the moat, in the expensive seats with the supposedly "better-behaved'' crowd, or outside the moat, with the riffraff like you and me -- refused to come to the phone and referred all inquiries to a Yankees publicist. Yankees spokesman Jason Zillo said the team was not commenting on the matter.

Perhaps they, too, were embarrassed by the way the wife of a prospective Yankee was treated in the home of the self-styled Greatest Franchise in the History of Sports.

Earlier Tuesday, Lee's agent, Darek Braunecker, told ESPNNewYork.com's Andrew Marchand that the fans' behavior would be "a non-issue'' in the upcoming free-agent sweepstakes for baseball's best pitcher.

And perhaps it will be. How many times have we heard an athlete profess a desire to play in his hometown or to play for a certain manager or to be part of a particular team -- and then seen him turn around and sign a contract with a different organization because it offered him a dollar more?

But if nothing else, Mr. and Mrs. Lee of Benton, Ark., have just gotten an up-close-and-personal look at New York at its worst.

For that alone, just like any other tourist who gets mistreated in our town, don't be surprised if Mr. Lee demands some sort of restitution.

Or if he decides that New York is such a bad place to visit that he wouldn't want to live -- or play -- here at any price.

Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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