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Red Sox history: Down goes Spaceman in a baseball brawl

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The Jose Bautista and Rougned Odor brawl looks outright tame next to what the 1970s featured

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In the time between writing my last post and this one, I met the second man to walk on the Moon. I stood on line for three hours to have roughly ten seconds with Buzz Aldrin, but I shook hands with an astronaut. It was worth it. When it came time to write this post, I was initially stumped and wasn't quite sure what to write, despite being in Boston over the past weekend for my younger brother's graduation from Boston University. I sat in the bleachers of Nickerson Field, formerly Braves Field, which the Red Sox loaned out for the 1915 and 1916 World Series due to the increased seating capacity, hoping something would hit me.

Then I remembered as I sat down to write this that I'd met a spaceman, and that one time another Spaceman got hit on May 20th, 1976.

On that date, the Red Sox and Yankees played a game in the Bronx, and like many Sox-Yanks games this one got violent. When you really hate each other, that happens. In the 1970s, perhaps the true heyday of baseball brawls, a peaceful game of baseball could turn into something loosely resembling a hockey match in the blink of an eye. This particular case was no different - in the sixth inning, with the Yankees up 1-0, Lou Piniella chose to (very obviously) intentionally barrel into Carlton Fisk at home plate to try to knock the ball loose and score. Carlton Fisk wasn't having it. He blocked the plate and then proceeded to throw Piniella to the ground, swinging punches at him upon dropping him. The benches inevitably cleared:

This brawl did cause an injury to a member of the Red Sox, but not the one directly involved. Pudge Fisk, being, well, Pudge Fisk, popped up dirty but otherwise unharmed. As things seemed to be simmering down as the teams separated their players from each other, Bill "Spaceman" Lee, who was noted for his disdain for the Yankees and was not afraid to throw either his specialized eephus pitch or insults at them, was evidently injured. Holding his left shoulder in pain, he was escorted away from the fracas by a trainer. The reason why soon came to light: Graig Nettles's memory.

In 1973, another brawl had ensued between the Red Sox and Yankees, again involving Carlton Fisk being bowled over at the plate. This time it was his counterpart Thurman Munson who had collided with him, and they immediately proceeded to go right at it, with Yankees shortstop Gene Michael joining the fray. Pudge left the fight with a scratch on his face, and that was all it took for Bill Lee to characterize the Yankees as acting "like a bunch of hookers, swinging their purses." Graig Nettles took offense to the entire team being compared to sex workers despite the fact that if you were a sex worker in 1970s New York you were probably a certified badass, and three years later he hadn't forgotten. In the 1970s, it was still considered a dreadful insult for a man to be compared to a woman in any way, and whilst this misogynistic practice has decreased in recent years, back in 1976 it was the sort of thing that people would simmer over for years and decide to seek vengeance for.

As the brawl between Fisk and Piniella ensued, Spaceman Lee was one of the first members of the Red Sox to fly off the bench towards the fray. Graig Nettles sought him out and flung him violently to the ground, tearing his left shoulder out. For good measure, center fielder Mickey Rivers threw a few punches at Lee's back as he was on the ground. Now injured, Lee was even angrier, and he was determined to get his revenge. As the fight calmed down, he ran around the crowd until he located Nettles, but Nettles punched him squarely in the eye.

The fight was on once more, and Mickey Rivers took the opportunity to start punching everyone in a Boston uniform that he could before things finally settled. Amazingly, despite the large number of participants and not even being the people who initiated the brawl, only Nettles and Lee were ejected from the game. Hey, it was the 1970s. The Sox went on to win the game 8-2, evidently feeling inspired by their fallen comrade.

Bill Lee went on to pitch for the Sox through 1978, although did so rather sparingly for the remainder of 1976 and most of 1977 due to his injury. He eventually left the majors in the middle of 1982, though not because of any repercussions from his injury -- he was upset a teammate had been released and chose to walk out, with the Expos releasing him the next day. As in the case of his injury, his loyalty to his teammates had been his downfall. He did, however, remain a baseball lifer and became a great ambassador for the game after his MLB career ended, traveling abroad and bringing the game with him.

Perhaps most importantly to the readers of this site, however, he really, really still hates the Yankees.