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The Front Row with TIM DAHLBERG Dec. 17, 2010

| December 17, 2010 8:00 PM

To hear some people in baseball talk, they may have to hold a benefit to make sure Cliff Lee has enough left in his bank account for retirement.

Social Security only goes so far, you know, and now that Lee has left $30 million on the table to join the Philadelphia Phillies there surely has to be some concern about his financial future.

All right, so there isn’t. Lee would have to spend money like Mike Tyson in his heyday to burn through the $120 million the Phillies will pay him over the next five years.

Still, the buzz seemed more about what he turned down from the New York Yankees than the contract with the Phillies that guarantees he will be incredibly rich for a long time to come.

“That’s the most I’ve ever seen a player walk away from,” former Mets general manager Omar Minaya said. “It’s unprecedented.”

The talk may be louder because the guy who just left the Phillies grabbed every dollar he could to join a losing team. Argue Jayson Werth’s talents all you want, but there’s no way he is worth $126 million, regardless of how ludicrous baseball contracts have gotten.

And ludicrous they are. The numbers are so staggering we might as well be talking about Monopoly money as the real thing.

And now Lee is being held up by some as a shining example of someone not motivated by greed. This, after signing his name to the bottom of a contract that will pay him an average of $24 million a year.

To throw a baseball. Ludicrous doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Lee was in Philadelphia on Wednesday explaining what he plans to do for the Phillies for that kind of money. He wasn’t specific, but here’s hoping that Phillies fans get more than the 12 wins he managed to scratch together for two teams last year.

I was on the phone to the Save the Children charity in Connecticut, wondering what that kind of money could do for them. It is the giving season, of course, and 10,200 people have contributed to their current Gifts of Joy campaign.

They gave an average of $52, which doesn’t sound like much in the Cliff Lee universe. But when $40 buys malaria tents for four and $50 pays for basic tools for health care workers in impoverished countries, it can go a long way.

“For $120 you can bring a community a bicycle,” said Kathleen Loehr, vice president of resource development for Save the Children. “That’s their ambulance, how they transport sick children from remote villages to health clinics.”

So what could Cliff Lee’s money do? Well, let’s count the ways.

For what Lee will make to pitch one game, the charity — which is active in 120 countries — could help save the lives of 10,000 malnourished children by providing them with specially formulated peanut paste for eight weeks so they gain weight and get stronger.

For what he will be paid to pitch just one inning, the charity could buy 4,000 newborn care packages to help prevent infants from dying within the first 24 hours of birth.

For the money Lee makes to get one out, a complete school could be built in Mali, a country in Western Africa that is one of the poorest in the world. Each school can be built for $42,000 including three classrooms, latrines for boys and girls, and books.

“We can educate a girl for an entire year for $65,” Loehr said. “It takes so little to be able to bring education to the world’s poorest children.”

Spend Lee’s money closer to home and the left-behind $30 million could provide healthy snacks for a half million kids living in poverty in the United States.

I’m not picking on Lee, who is simply the latest poster player for what ails sports. It’s a seller’s market in baseball and anyone who can sell themselves for $120 million certainly has the right to do so.

But I’m also not going to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize for leaving behind a pile of money (much less than $30 million, actually, after agent fees and taxes). His salary is still so far out of whack with that of paying fans, even Lee had to acknowledge that much.

“It’s plenty of money,” he said. “When you hit a certain point, enough is enough.”

On that, at least, we can agree.

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at