BROCKTON- (September 5) Irish Nobel Laureate George Bernard Shaw once famously opined that youth is wasted on the young. But in the case of one William Francis Lee III, it isn’t wasted on the elderly set, either. He gets pretty good use out of it.
The sixty three year old southpaw Lee took the mound today at Campanelli Stadium for the playoff=bound Brockton Rox as his new team took on the Worcester Tornadoes in a game that had its own playoff implications for the latter.
And the sexagenarian from Craftsbury, VT didn’t disappoint his Rox teammates, nor the 6,126 patrons who filled Campanelli to see him pitch on Fan Appreciation Day. Lee scattered five hits over five and a third innings, surrendering only two runs, and earned the victory in the Rox’ 7-3 win.
Adding a twist to the baseball tale that would have made playwright Shaw proud, Lee’s performance on the mound effectively eliminated Worcester’s chances at making the Can-Am League playoffs, who now trail New Jersey by 1.5 games (NJ plays tonight, while both team play tomorrow).
Tornadoes manager and former Red Sox catcher Rich Gedman had all he could do to hold his tongue in his post-game interview. “Don’t make it bigger than it is. He pitched a hellavu game.,” Worcester’s skipper said underneath the stands in front of several reporters. “And I say give him all the credit, but keep us out of it. Honest and true. To us it’s another game. “
And it was really just another game for Lee, who still routinely pitches 200 inning per year long after his baseball contemporaries have retired.
“See this is rest and relaxation for me. What I do during the week is cut trees, haul ‘em out of the woods, saw ‘em up and lift ‘em three, four , five times,” the white-haired lumberjack who manufactures a successful line of baseball bats said while doing his pre-game exercises. “ So I lift tons of weight all week. And today I get to stretch out and stretch my arm out. Basically this is a tune-up for me.”
The Rox signed the former Red Sox hurler and noted baseball philosopher to a one day contract, with the compensation of 25 cents per ticket sold over the average Sunday game attendance. For his mound efforts today he earned about $1,225 by his estimation. The number was pegged at a quarter, because, as Lee said. “I didn’t know if I was going to give them a two bit performance.”
Friendly with Rox pitching coach Ed Nottle, Lee offered an interesting explanation of the circumstances behind his Can-Am League debut today.
“They invited me to throw out the first pitch on Fan Appreciation Day and I said ‘not unless I get to throw ‘em all’. Hey, I don’t throw out ceremonial first pitches. I’m a pitcher. I’m a ballplayer.”
But he is a 63 year old ball player and he has to rely on an array of pitches -sliders, curveballs, knuckleballs and eephus lobs- thrown from different arm angles to keep hitters off balance.
Prior to the game, Lee seemed confident in his performance to come, but he disguised any hint of nervousness with his typical mix of head-scratching logic and humor.
“Wind’s blowing out and these guys aren’t slouches. These guys (want to) win just as bad as I want to win. If I have a good sinker, move the ball around, change speeds, hit my spots and everybody catches everything -and I don’t walk anybody- I expect to win.
“As Cathfish Hunter said ‘The sun don’t shine on the same dog’s ass every day, but I hope it’s shining on mine‘.”
Turns out he was right. The wind was blowing out to left and he surrendered a monstrous solo homerun over left field wall and into the Brockton bullpen in the second inning for a 1-0 deficit. But he was also correct about locating his pitches, using everything in his arsenal and relying on some tremendous glove work at first and third to keep him out of jams.
“I can metamorphosize into anybody. The only thing I can’t become anymore is Sandy Koufax. But at 63 I’m probably the hardest throwing 63 year old in the nation.”
It’s a very small sample size, but a pretty good one.
Rox manager Chris Carminucci was impressed with the performance of his newest Can-Am League rookie, but he had little words of wisdom for him prior to the game.
“He had words of wisdom for us, which is, ‘if you hit your spots, you can get people out‘,” Carminucci said. “And he got people out with his mind today. These guys played with a purpose. They were not going to let him loose that game. And it was an awesome sight to see.”
On his side of the field, Gedman didn’t know whether to applaud Lee’s efforts or be angry at him. But he did know that only Bill Lee could pull this off. ”He’s not crazy. He understands the game of baseball. He understands the art of pitching. He knows when to add on or take off. He knows what guys are thinking. He’s a smart guy. It’s a credit to him. It’s a credit to the Rox for giving him a chance to do it.“I’m happy for him. I’m not happy for us, but I’m happy for him. He’s found a way to make baseball his life. So that’s what it should be about.”
The BSD Truth-o-Meter:
During his post-game interview, Lee stated that his career winning percentage was better than that of Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, so the Boston Sports Desk put the lefty to the test.
A quick trip to Baseball-Reference.com proved his claim to be true. Ryan’s lifetime winning percentage was .526 (324-292). Lee’s was .569 (119-90).
The Spaceman Speaks -Often:
Throughout his career, Bill Lee has carried the moniker of ‘The Spaceman’ based on his rather eclectic views on the counter-culture and just about any other subject you can throw at him. He is personable, obliging and very entertaining, which makes for great copy if you are a reporter.
The Boston Sports Desk would be doing its loyal readers a tremendous disservice if a sampling of Bill Lee’s gems were not presented here in this forum. So enjoy these offerings, many of them completely unsolicited:
On stifling Worcester’s chances to catch New Jersey for the final Can-Am League playoff spot: “New Jersey’s where all the landfills are. They always stink.”
On how his views on a Green Economy and the game of baseball have not changed since his rookie season in 1969: “A prophet in his own time is not well respected. I am the same person I have always been. I have not changed.”
When asked by a reporter how many pitches he has thrown in his career: “All of them.”
His reflections on the famous Red Sox-Yankees rivalry in the 1970’s, which was started by Thurman Munson in a 1973 collision at home plate with Carlton Fisk and culminated in the 1976 brawl in The Bronx (Lee was tackled by Graig Nettles and dislocated his shoulder, which affects his pitching to this day): ” Is there a statute of limitations on assault? The guy that did it is dead (Munson). And the guy that owned the team is dead (George Steinbrenner). So I have out lived both of them. So, did I win? Nettles looks like a duvet cover and I’m still playing.”
On why he continues to play baseball at the age of 63 (he’ll turn 64 in December): “I’ve lived my life to play ball until the day I die and hopefully it ain’t today.”