'Spaceman' Lee, 65, goes distance for win
Former Major Leaguer earns complete-game victory in independent-league game
SAN RAFAEL, Calif. -- Many of his teammates' grandparents are his contemporaries. His 52-year-old manager's Major League career began just as his was ending. He'd pitched on this field before, only it was 50 years ago.And there he was Thursday night, making history. Again. Bill "Spaceman" Lee went back into orbit in a professional game at age 65, pitching where his baseball journey began that half-century ago in Marin County, across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco at a field called Albert Park that's light years from the Majors. Lee not only became what's believed to be the oldest man to win a professional game on Thursday, but he went the distance for the San Rafael Pacifics in an independent North American League game against the Maui Na Koa Ikaika, earning the win and the everlasting adoration of the sellout crowd of 1,265. That's right, a complete-game victory in a crisp 2 hours and 21 minutes --- just like old times. "When you're as old as me, you'd better work quickly," Lee said as he began more than a half-hour of signing autographs with fans and players after the game. It was the perfect ending to a perfect day at Albert Park. As the very veteran lefty's temporary teammates went through their pregame workout, one of baseball's all-time eccentric, engaging and sometimes controversial characters shared laughs with the pitching staff and then took some fierce batting practice -- no designated hitter for him on this night. Once the game began, he brought whole new meaning to a 65-year-old retiring. As in, he retired the side in order in the first inning and took a no-hitter into the fourth. He threw in a few "Lee-phus" pitches for good measure and brought the crowd to its feet with an RBI single, using a bat he'd made with his own hands from his own Vermont yellow birch. All the while, the question in the minds of his fellow players and the sellout crowd: How is this space oddity still able to take the mound and pitch against players who weren't even born when he supposedly hung up his spikes in 1982? "I'm able to do it because I never quit. I still play all the time. This is just another game," Lee said as the sun started lowering in a clear sky toward his twilight first pitch.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.