Nine years ago - back in the days when a person could take a 6-ounce can of shaving cream onto an airplane without being labeled a terrorist - Fred McGriff refused to leave Tampa Bay to join the Cubs. He liked the comfortable life he and his family had built in Tampa and he merely was exercising his no-trade rights.
Chicago fans branded him a loser. How could he be willing to stay in a no-win situation instead of coming to Cubbieland to join a team with such a glorious history of championship baseball?
Wednesday, Derrek Lee refused to leave the Cubs in a proposed trade with the Angels. He likes Chicago, his family is comfortable here and he merely was exercising his no-trade rights.
Many in Chicago are calling him noble.
In sports, as in real life, it's all about perspective.
Lee went one step further, saying he hopes to sign a new long-term contract to stay with the Cubs - who, of course, have little choice but to say, "No thanks."
Derrek Lee is one of the real class acts to come through this town during my 16 years here. He just isn't a great ballplayer anymore. He's almost 35, the Cubs desperately need to get more left-handed and they can ill-afford to pay an eight-figure annual salary to a non-contact-hitting first baseman with warning-track power.
If the Cubs wanted Micah Hoffpauir, they could call him up from the bush leagues.
With Faux Mr. Clutch Aramis Ramirez saying he expects to exercise his $14.6 million option for 2011, the Cubs already are saddled with so many bad contracts for next year and beyond.
The Cubs should have traded Lee after last season, when he still seemed able to play a little and would have had actual value. The acquiring team could have sweetened his contract some and Lee probably would have agreed to go. There would have been much grumbling around Cubbieland, but it's almost always better to trade a player one year too early than one year too late.
Though Lou Piniella and several teammates said they were thrilled Lee's sticking around, Derrek did the Cubs no favors. Now they'll get nothing for him. It's their only choice.
Back to McGriff ...
He dd eventually accept a financially sweetened deal to join the Cubs in '01. The rest was history: The Cubs were still losers and Cubbieland got to see the most incompetent first baseman to come around these parts in many a decade.
Made everybody really appreciate Derrek Lee when he arrived three years later.