That was a great day. Here are Derrek Lee's numbers since then:
The thing about that MVP-caliber 2005 season was that it followed the departure of Sammy Sosa. I was on Team Sammy even after he was unceremoniously dumped in the direction of Baltimore. I knew Sammy's oft-hopping days were behind him, but that also meant the Cubs no longer had a superstar offensive player. It meant we'd no longer hear Pat Hughes issuing updates that centered on the one player's achievements everyone really cared about. In years prior, Pat would open an inning with, "If you're wondering about Sammy Sosa, the answer is yes. He homered in the first and the fifth."
So it was to my sheer delight when, on a day a couple months into the season, the first thing I heard on the radio on the commute home was, "If you're wondering about Derrek Lee, the answer is yes. He homered in his first at-bat and the Cubs lead 3-0." Derrek Lee was the man that year. Absolutely dominant.
But in the years he wasn't so dominant, Derrek Lee was always a reliable defender and a strong, if not vocal, leader of the team. One thing in particular impressed me, and I'm not even sure why. I think it was Len Kasper who said that Lee so respects the game of baseball and the field on which it is played that he never so much as spits on the baseball diamond. It was something he picked up watching his father playing in Japan.
The main thing I noticed was that they respect the game big time. It's almost a sacred thing to them. I never saw them do things like spit on the field. Their practices were serious business. They put in many hours working at the game, and they never put themselves ahead of the team. I was really impressed by that.I don't even respect the game that much. But I could tell Derrek Lee revered his profession. Even this year, when his offensive production dipped lower than the economy of Greece, the guy carried himself with dignity. He's a really big hombre with back and neck problems, and I don't doubt for a moment that his injuries would have put the average human on bed rest for four days out of the week. But Derrek Lee had too much pride to complain or ask for extended time off. Maybe the smart thing to do would have been to go on the DL, but who are Cubs fans to tell anyone what the smart thing to do is?
Derrek Lee is going to a first-place Atlanta Braves team where he may very well get another taste of postseason glory. He'll miss today's game against the Nationals, so his debut for the Braves will almost definitely come at Wrigley Field. When he does, I expect him to get a standing ovation from a somewhat sparsely populated crowd (exactly the kind of thing he can expect to see in Atlanta during the playoffs; sorry, saying goodbye makes me bitter).
Whatever applause Lee receives, whatever hardware he and the Braves might win, it will all be well deserved. He put together one of the greatest seasons in Cubs history, and only Mark Grace compares among the Cubs who have manned first base in my lifetime. It was a pleasure to watch him play as a Cub and a bit of a disaster the last time he played against them.
This time, Derrek? Please destroy this team. We don't need the wins.