There's always room for a strike-throwing left-hander on any professional baseball team's roster.
Bill "Spaceman" Lee proved that axiom true when the former Boston Red Sox and Montreal Expo pitched 5 1/3 innings, picking up the win for the Brockton Rox in a Can-Am League contest in 2010. With the victory, Lee reportedly set a record becoming oldest pitcher to win a professional baseball game.
Now the San Rafael Pacifics have signed Lee, and on Thursday, Aug. 23, the 65-year-old will look to break his own record, as he gets the start for the Pacifics who host the Maui Na Koa Ikaika as part of a six-game, season-ending series. The two teams — in first and second place respectively — are battling for the North Division championship.
Lee, a former Terra Linda resident who still owns a house in the area, surrendered only two earned runs on five hits as the Rox defeated the Worcester Tornadoes in his last outing. The southpaw threw 63 pitches — 41 of them for strikes — on his way to striking out one and walking none.
"It felt good out there," the Spaceman told reporters. "Everything was where I wanted to be. I got pulled before I could use all of my pitches today. I was hoping to be able to break out my Juan Marichal screwball."
Team President and General Manager Mike Shapiro approached Lee with an offer to sign on for a start during the season, but had no idea it would be in the heat of a pennant race.
"Because of Bill's connection to this community and his great pitching career I thought it would be a treat for our fans to get to see a local legend pitch,” Shapiro said. “It's even more special that he has a chance to help us win the division.”
Believed to be the oldest pitcher to earn a victory in a professional game, Lee is among other golden greats like Satchel Paige, who was 59 when he pitched three innings for the Kansas City Athletics in 1965. Another longtime Negro Leagues player, the legendary Buck O’Neal, batted twice in the Northern League All-Star Game in 2006 at age 94. He swung at one pitch and walked in both at-bats. Earlier that year, Jim Eriotes, 83, led off the game for the Sioux Falls Canaries and struck out. He did foul off a pitch.
Over his 14-year career in the major leagues, Lee went 119-90 with a 3.62 ERA and 713 strikeouts. A native of Burbank, Calif., Lee won 17 games each season from 1973-75, was selected to the 1973 American League All-Star team and in 1975, he helped the Red Sox clinch the American League championship.
But more than anything, Lee developed a cult following for his eccentric personality, including his claim that marijuana use made him impervious to bus fumes while jogging to work at Fenway Park. Lee has also been the subject of songs by Warren Zevon and They Might Be Giants.