Notes from The Young Professor: Lou Piniella and Bill “Spaceman” Lee Reunite in Tampa, Florida
47 years ago in May of 1976, Lou Piniella of the New York Yankees slid spikes up into home plate in a violent collision with catcher Carlton Fisk of the Boston Red Sox in the midst of a pretty tumultuous chapter of the two teams’ epic rivalry. This resulted in a benches-clearing BRAWL, which also involved Bill “The Spaceman” Lee, who just pitched 6 innings and was one of the first off the bench to join the fracas. Bill wound up getting slammed to the ground by Graig Nettles, separating his shoulder and altering the course of his performance throughout his remaining years with the Red Sox. The Spaceman and Nettles were ejected from the game, and the fight has become the stuff of lore in the storied history of the legendary Yankees/Red Sox rivalry.
47 years later at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida, The Spaceman pitched once again against Lou Piniella’s team while Lou donned the Yankees pinstripes as he managed a team representing the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association. This time, Bill approached him after a successful pitching performance for The Savannah Bananas in the 8th inning and while there was no intention to relive the events of May 1976, Bill Lee came over to Lou Piniella with a big smile and tons of Red Sox pride as he shouted at Lou, “I shut you down in your own house!” The two men laughed, shook hands, and embraced. Bill made mention of always being a Sock, and it was pretty evident that even after all these years, Bill still hangs onto his feelings about the Bronx Bombers and that legendary rivalry.
I happened to be in the dugout talking to Lou at the time and watched him take in Bill’s performance. As I saw Bill making his way over to see his old friend and rival, I knew it was a special moment. These two men have faced each other, interacted, and shared so many memories for decades and were embroiled in one of the most infamous baseball brawls of all time. I was fortunate enough to witness that moment and snag this photo. I couldn’t help but smile and appreciate the magnitude of what was happening in that brief moment in time as Sweet Lou and the Spaceman, aged 79 and 76 respectively, shared a professional baseball field once more in front of over 10,000 screaming fans.