Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Glory of Their Time (A Series): Bill Lee

"The Glory of Their Time" is a new section of my blog where I track the careers of some of my favorite players through their baseball cards. Not necessarily the biggest names, just guys who I feel deserve some sort of recognition. If you'd like to see a certain player featured in later "Glory of Their Time" posts, please feel free to leave a comment below and I'll see what I can do! Enjoy!

So...I was supposed to be making a trek to one of the many shopping malls near where I live with one of my friends today. I was enthused to be going to this particular one because there is a small card shop among the aisles and aisles of stores I could care less about. I stumbled upon this particular card shop about a month ago with one of my other friends. Most of the cards inside were overpriced Chicago-related stuff (not surprisingly), but one thing drew my attention. The owner had a little section with team bags of about 30 cards a piece, and the bags were priced at 3/$1. So I bought three of them just to see what they had. About half of the cards were from the junk wax era, but a good number of them were from the early/mid-80s and mid-90s that I needed, years where I don't have as many cards as I'd like.

Ever since I bought those, I've been looking for an excuse to go back. And ever since I started this blog, I've thought, "Man, those little 3/$1 things would be perfect to write about!". And I was all set to go back tonight...but my mom's car wouldn't start. And since my friend doesn't drive, we were fresh out of luck. Oh well, I guess it's for the best. I probably shouldn't be driving near any mall a week before Christmas.

Anyways, here we go with the first "Glory of Their Time" post. Hope you like it!

Hey, that's me! I was lucky enough to meet Bill "Spaceman" Lee at a card show in 2007 (along with Al Oliver, who will probably turn up in a later GOTT post). Lee is one of the more fascinating baseball players of the last half-century. I highly recommend the documentary "Spaceman: A Baseball Odyssey", which tracks his barnstorming Senior League trip to Cuba while also providing insight into his MLB career. Lee was definitely controversial for his time (he was fined for admitting to sprinkling marijuana on his pancakes); he frequently quoted Eastern philosophers in interviews.

1970 Topps #279 Bill Lee RC

Lee's major league career began in Boston in 1969, when he pitched in 20 games for the Red Sox, posting a modest 4.50 ERA. But little did Boston know what was yet to come from the "Spaceman" in the 1970's.

1973 Topps #224 Bill Lee

1973 was arguably Lee's best season, posting a 17-11 record with a spectacular 2.75 ERA, along with a career-high 120 strikeouts. Lee also made his first and only career All-Star Game appearance in '73. He'd be a consistently good pitcher for the BoSox the next two years, posting 17 wins in both '74 and '75.

1976 Topps #169 Graig Nettles
1976 Topps #396 Bill Lee

When my dad and I met Bill Lee, my dad asked him if he would've defaced a Graig Nettles card had we brought one. Lee then took out his wallet and pulled out a creased and beat-up 1971 Topps Nettles card (a card which I'll feature on this blog at some point). My dad and I both laughed; it was quite the surprise! Lee and Nettles became forever connected in a 1976 Red Sox-Yankees brawl. The fight began when Lou Piniella plowed over Carlton Fisk during a play at the plate, and they both came up swinging. As soon as it looked like that was over, the second brawl erupted, this one between Nettles and Lee. Nettles slammed Lee on his shoulder during the scuffle, breaking Lee's collarbone. The "Spaceman" was never quite the same pitcher after the injury, and Nettles became a target in Boston.

1980 Topps #97 Bill Lee

It became apparent near the end of the '70s that Lee's tenure in Boston was coming to a close. Manager Don Zimmer famously refused to use Lee out of the bullpen during the infamous "Boston Massacre" of 1978, in which the Red Sox blew a 14-game division lead (which they had after over half the season was over) to the Yankees. Lee was traded to Montreal in December of '78 for infielder Stan Papi, a trade which has become the butt of many jokes in Boston. Who the heck is Stan Papi?

1982 Topps #323 Bill Lee

1982 would be Lee's final major league season. He would be released in May of '82, even after posting an impressive 16-10 record in '79 and a solid 2.93 ERA in '81 for the Expos. Lee walked out on the team in a protest over the release of teammate and friend Rodney Scott, which led to his release. The major league owners all agreed to not make an attempt to sign Lee as a result, effectively "blackballing" him from the game.

1979 Topps #455 Bill Lee (In-Person Autograph)
1999 Sports Illustrated Greats of the Game #23 Bill "Spaceman" Lee
The "Spaceman" shows more of a love for baseball than I've seen in any other player, playing in senior leagues since his final ML season in '82. Even at the ripe age of 64, his baseball career is still going strong. To close, I just want to say thank you, Bill Lee. Meeting you was one of the best experiences of my life.


Dodgerbobble said...

I hope I'm still that active at 64.

Great post!

Nick said...

Thanks! Lee actually turns 65 on December 28th, it's really amazing that he still actively plays baseball at that age.

Mike said...

Wow,Dec.28th?....same as Alex Chilton & your Mom!

That sure was a great day when we met Bill Lee,he was always one of my top 5 fave players when I was young....wish there were more like him in the majors today!