Monday, March 21, 2011

#118 - Bill Lee

This is the third Red Sox in the last 14 cards. Bill Lee is posing in the same outfield Don Newhauser was earlier in which I surmised it was a spring training shot against the Mets. I have no reason to characterize this place any differently now. That looks like another Red Sox pitcher in the background and he's kind of stocky so I'm going with Marty Pattin. The '73 season was a very successful transitional one for Bill. While recovering from some bone chips in his ankle that abbreviated his spring training, the Sox tries to trade him. But after not getting into a game until the season's second week, four excellent relief outings in April - a 1.45 ERA with a win and a save in 19 innings - got Bill moved to the rotation. While his first start didn't go too well, a 10-3 run got him named to the All-Star team that summer, and he would win 17 for the first time. But Bill made his mark long before the '73 season. Before his first game at Fenway he took a look at the Green Monster and asked a teammate if they kept it there during games; thus was born The Spaceman.

Bill Lee was drafted in a late round by the Sox out of USC in '68. He was fresh off winning the college World Series in which he had a win and a save. In his two minor league seasons, '68 and '69 he kicked butt, going 10-6 with a 1.81 ERA. He reached Boston in mid-'69 and pitched sparingly out of the pen with an occasional start the next two seasons. In '71 he was the team's main middle reliever and added a couple saves to his very good numbers. In '72, after Sparky Lyle was traded, the Sox went to closer by committee and Bill led the team with five saves. After his big '73 he won the same number of games each of the next two seasons, though his ERA climbed a bit each year, and that second year he would see his first post-season action in an exciting Seriea. But early in '76 he got nailed by Graig Nettles during a bench-clearer at Yankee Stadium and came out of it with an injured shoulder and a mostly lost season. Once he returned to the lineup in '77 he bounced back pretty well, getting nine wins in about a half season. In '78 he returned to the rotation and won ten. But his criticism of manger Don Zimmer and his off-field behavior was wearing thin which both compressed his number of starts those two years and after the '78 season got him traded to Montreal for Stan Papi.

For the Expos in '79 Lee went 16-10 in his last good year as a starter. Injuries slowed him down in '80 and the next year he performed well in relief, with five wins and six saves After a couple games in '82 he was released after he made a stink about the release of a fellow player. That was it for Bill in the majors. He finished with a 119-90 record with a 3.62 ERA, 72 complete games, ten shutouts, and 19 saves. He was a pretty good hitter, batting .208, and performed well in the post-season with a 2.93 ERA in 15 innings.

The Spaceman stayed on the radar after baseball. He ran for President in '88, played in the Senior League during its two seasons, and wrote a bunch of books. He made headlines in 2000 when he claimed he got stoned with GWB in '72. In 2010 he started and won a game for the Brokton Rox, an independent team. He still plays ball as much as he can and claims he lives off the land. Who knows?

According to the first two star bullets, Bill had quite a career at USC, although I believe one of those wins was actually a save. It sort of makes one wonder why he didn't go until the 22nd round of the draft. Maybe he already had the offbeat reputation. He did have a nice year relieving in '71 but Sparky Lyle was definitely the closer so I don't know what determined "top man" back then. The cartoon is interesting since he apparently pitched righty below the border. He had some colorful times in winter ball: in PR one year he got into a nasty fight with Ellie Rodriguez and had to be rescued by Ron Woods, which was ironic since that last guy would be a Yankee. Bill also got punched by Reggie Smith while having a debate about Lee's usefulness as player rep. It was one of the reasons Smith was traded.

This one will be easy:

1. Lee and Sparky Lyle '69 to '71 Red Sox;
2. Lyle and Ron Blomberg '72 to '76 Yankees.

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