Lee Stange’s Playing Career Included Stop with Tribe
Vince Guerrieri | On 26, Sep 2018
When relief pitcher Lee Stange died last Friday at the age of 81, he was most recalled for his role on the “Impossible Dream” Red Sox, who won the 1967 pennant on the last day of the season.
Stange went 8-10 with a team-leading 2.77 ERA for the Red Sox that year, and worked two innings of relief in Game 3 of the World Series – an eventual loss in seven games to the Cardinals. But anyone who contributed to a team remembered that fondly is also remembered fondly, regardless of contributions.
But prior to his time with the Red Sox, Stange was a member of the Indians, both coming and going in trades that involved fan favorites in Cleveland and Boston.
Stange was signed by the Washington Senators in 1957, but by the time he made his major league debut four years later, the team had left the nation’s capital for Minnesota, where it was known as the Twins. Stange made his major league debut in April, but spent most of the year in the minors. He’d earned his first victory that September – against the Indians, ironically – in relief of another future Tribe pitcher, Jack Kralick.
At the 1964 trade deadline – then in June – Stange was dealt to Cleveland for Jim “Mudcat” Grant, a mostly dependable pitcher who was having a terrible season, going 3-4 with a 5.95 ERA. The deal was heralded on both sides as one that would help both teams.
It turned out to be enormously beneficial for the Twins. Grant got his act together in Minnesota, going 11-9 to finish the season 14-13 – a complete reversal of his previous year’s record. In 1965, he went 21-7 as the Twins won the American League pennant. They faced the Dodgers in the World Series, where Grant won two of the Twins’ three victories. The Dodgers won in seven games, thanks to ace Sandy Koufax, who also had three wins and was named World Series MVP (he was a unanimous choice for the Cy Young Award in the days when only one was given out for both leagues).
Stange went 4-8 for an Indians team that was going nowhere fast, and followed that up with an 8-4 season in 1965. He wasn’t part of the rotation, but he made 12 starts and was used out of the bullpen. The following year, he was 1-0 in eight appearances before he was dealt again – this time to Boston for Dick Radatz. “The Monster” was a fan favorite, but he’d been having a bad year, and a change of scenery was in order. Indians manager Birdie Tebbetts said that if Radatz pitched to his potential, the Indians – who were in first place at the time of the trade – would win the pennant.
Instead, the Indians finished 81-81, in fifth place. Tebbetts resigned as manager on August 19. However, they were four spots in the standings above Stange and the Red Sox, who went 72-90 – the circumstances that made the following year’s pennant an impossible dream.
Stange remained with the Red Sox until the White Sox claimed him off waivers in 1970. He made 16 appearances for them before retiring at the end of the year, thus beginning a lengthy career as a coach as well. His first stop was a return to Boston as pitching coach, with stops in Minnesota and Oakland before returning to Boston in the early 1980s, where he served again as pitching coach and then as a minor league instructor, developing talent like Roger Clemens, Bruce Hurst and Bob Ojeda.
Photo: 1966 Topps Baseball card