Baseball is in Bill Lee’s blood. Grandfather and namesake William Lee was an infielder with the PCL’s Hollywood Stars; his aunt Annabelle Lee once pitched a perfect game in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
The Spaceman credited Annabelle with teaching him how to pitch.
Lee starred at USC where he helped Rod Dedeaux’s Trojans win the 1968 College World Series. The Red Sox drafted him in the 22nd round and had him report to Single-A Winston-Salem.
Lee quickly worked his way through the minors and debuted in the bigs on June 25, 1969. He pitched 31 games for Boston in ’69 and ’70 before being called to active duty in Army Reserve from June through October in 1970.
The Spaceman spent his first four big league seasons pitching out of the ‘pen. Then in 1973 Boston made him a full time starter. Lee responded with an All Star season that saw him to 17-11 with a 2.75 ERA.
He followed up his ’73 performance with two consecutive 17-win seasons. In 1975 Lee helped Boston reach the World Series. He and Luis Tiant anchored the starting rotation, winning a combined 35 games.
Three seasons later Boston traded him to the Expos. Lee’s decade with the Sox included 321 appearances – a still-standing franchise record for games pitched by a southpaw.
The Sox inducted him into the team Hall of Fame in 2008.
From 1979-1982 Lee pitched for the Expos. In 95 games with Montreal he went 25-22 with a 3.57 earned run average. He pitched his last MLB game in May of ’82.
Lee continued playing in semi-pro and professional leagues for decades. In 2010 he became the oldest man to win a professional game when he got the victory in a 5 1/3 inning effort for the Brockton Sox of the Canadian-American League.
Two years later more than 30 years after his last big league pitch, Lee tossed a complete-game for the San Rafael Pacifics of independent pro ball’s North American League. After the game, the 65 year-old Lee remarked, “I’ve just solidified myself as the best old guy on the planet.”
During his MLB career, Lee appeared in 416 games posting a 119-90 record with 19 saves and 713 strikeouts.
In the collection is this pair of Topps cards autographed by Bill Spaceman Lee, one from 1973, the other from 1981. In ’73 Lee moved to the starting rotation he put up career-best numbers in wins, strikeouts, ERA+, and WAR. The 1981 campaign was Lee’s final season of consequence. He had a 5-6 record with 6 saves and a 2.94 ERA in 31 appearances. The following year he posted a 5.11 ERA in seven games before drawing his release in May.