I winced at the headline about Lee Stange when I noticed it this morning. The former pitcher died on Friday at the age of 81.
The Stange name likely means little to nothing to most people. Only the most avid and possibly elderly baseball fans know about this right-handed pitcher.
To check the most basic information I opened to page 2,264 of the Ninth Edition of “The Baseball Encylopedia.” The bare, cold statistical facts about Stange are printed in small black type on the white page of this indispensible and magisterial reference work. He pitched 10 years in the majors, compiling a 62-61 record and was a member of the 1967 Red Sox Impossible Dream season team.
But I know a bit more. Many years ago I participated in a Red Sox fantasy camp and Stange was a coach. I recall him as being gracious and personable and liked by all the campers.
That sticks with me more than the stats. A lot more.
In 2004 I wrote about Stange in my Where Are They Now Column for the Fort Myers News-Press. I dug that column out of a disorganized mess of old clippings in my condo that I call The Hovel.
The column’s focus was on Stange being part of that 1967 Red Sox team that transformed the franchise from losers to winners.
As I wrote in 2004 of that season, it was “the dividing line in team history, separating its dark ages from its renaissance.”
Stange wasn’t a star on that team but he was there as a fine pitcher who went 8-10 with a 2.77 ERA.
It was a February late afternoon in 2004 when we spoke while sitting on a bench behind the Radisson Inn on Cleveland Avenue.
Stange talked about the magical night the Red Sox clinched the pennant and the frenzied fan reaction in the streets around and near Fenway Park
“They (the police) figured there were 100,000, 150,000 people,” Stange told me. “So we were in the players’ parking. They had the cops out on horseback to push back the crowd.”
The cops then gave the players directions, which Stange recalled as this:
“So this is what we’re going to do. We’re going to open the gate and have the police on horseback to push back the crowd and you guys drive out and don’t stop. Don’t stop. If you run over somebody just keep going.”
The players did as directed.
“(Pitcher) Gary Bell ran over somebody and broke some guy’s leg,” Stange said. “But they said don’t stop because if you stop you’ll never get out of your car. Your car will be trashed. You’ll never get out of here.”
When I spoke with Stange he was 67 and residing in Melbourne Beach. My short column of perhaps 500 words also focused a bit on Red Sox leftfielder Carl Yastrzemski, who had a season for the ages in 1967.
He won the American League Triple Crown, hitting .326 with 44 homers and 121 RBI and played extraordinary defense. Stange who went on to coach in the majors after his 10-year playing career, was still in awe of Yaz in 2004.
“I spent 21 years in the majors and I don’t think any ballplayer ever had a year like Yaz had that year,” Stange said. “Yaz did everything we needed to win the game.
“One day it was a great catch. Or maybe he threw somebody out at home. The next day, he got a base hit. The next day, he hit a home run. … I don’t think any ballplayer ever had a better year than Yaz had that year.”
Stange enjoyed many fine years as a ballplayer and a man. At the time we spoke, he and his wife Barbara had been married 16 years. He had two sons and a daughter. She had three sons and they combined for 13 grandchildren at the time.
“I’ve been very fortunate,” Stange told me on that bench behind a hotel that no longer exists. “Had great kids. My kids and my stepkids are all great kids.”
And thanks for taking the time to talk baseball with me on that long-ago winter afternoon in Fort Myers.