Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Unknown Heroes Before My Time Pt. 6: Bill Lee

Nicknamed "Spaceman", Bill Lee was one of a kind.  He had a flamboyant personality that was often difficult for his managers to deal with.  Don Zimmer in particular had his issues with Lee.  Lee nicknamed him "Gerbil" and the nickname stuck.  He was well-known for his advocacy of marijuana and other counter-cultural issues.  He was also very outspoken.  He connected with Boston-area college students of the time period because of his alternative viewpoints on a number of issues.

But, beyond all of that, Bill Lee was a very good, sometimes great, pitcher.  Lee made his Major League debut in 1969.  He spent the first four seasons of his career pitching mostly out of the bullpen.  He generally pitched pretty well, particularly in 1972 when he went 9-2 with a 2.74 ERA.  He pitched 102 innings mostly out of the pen and racked up 74 strikeouts and 46 walks.

In 1973 Lee was transitioned into spending most of his time in the starting rotation, starting 33 out of his 38 games.  It was also probably his most successful season as he finished the year with a 17-11 record, 2.75 ERA, and 120 strikeouts versus 76 walks in 284 innings.  He also made his only All Star team that year.  He followed that season up with two more 17 win seasons in 1974 and 1975, the year the Red Sox went to the World Series.  His performance in 1975 earned him some MVP votes.  He pitched well in the World Series, starting two games and having an ERA of 3.14 with no record.  He started Game 7 and was in line for the win until Roger Moret gave up a game-tying hit.  He also had a hit in the game.

1976 began the downturn in his career.  Lee injured his shoulder in a benches-clearing brawl with the Yankees.  He only pitched in 24 games that season and his record was a disappointing 5-7 with a 5.63 ERA.  He pitched slightly better the next two seasons but he was deep in Zimmer's doghouse.  After the 1978 season in which he was 10-10 with a 3.46 ERA, he was traded to the Montreal Expos for no-name infielder Stan Papi.  It was a terrible trade for Boston as Lee rebounded somewhat and Papi played in just 51 games over two seasons.

Lee was definitely a character, the kind of character that keeps things interesting.  Unfortunately his career was over when I was still too young to even know about baseball.  So I never got to watch Lee personally.

1 comment:

  1. The base card of Lee's 1999 SI issue is one of my all-time favorites. I hope to track down the autographed version someday.