Lee Stange was a member of Boston's 1967 "Impossible Dream" team. He spent nearly 40 years in professional baseball, including 23 as a player, coach, and instructor in the Red Sox organization.
Born on October 27, 1936 in Chicago, IL, Stange began his 14-year playing career in 1957, reaching the major leagues in 1961 with the Minnesota Twins. The right-hander pitched in 359 big league games and made 125 starts over 10 seasons with the Twins (1961-64), Cleveland Indians (1964-66), Red Sox (1966-70), and Chicago White Sox (1970), going 62-61 with 21 saves and a 3.56 ERA.
Stange enjoyed an active sporting life in high school. He led the 1953 Proviso Pirates to a state championship. The junior hurled a number of postseason masterpieces, including knocking off reigning state champ Morton. Finishing the year with a 7-1 record, Stange was one of five players from Proviso chosen on the Chicago Tribune’s Suburban League All-Star Team in 1953.
After a successful high school pitching career, Stange’s college time at Drake University was not nearly as glorious. The freshman quarterback hurt his knee in a football game, and later reinjured the knee in a scrimmage. When the basketball season started, Stange hoped to play guard for the college team, but he twisted his leg and needed knee surgery. He missed the baseball season.
Stange left Drake with the hope of joining the military, but was rejected because of his bad knee. There was only one other place to turn — pro baseball. He was sent a $200-a-month contract with the Washington Senators. During his first year in professional baseball, Stange played for the Fort Walton Beach Jets in the Class-D Alabama-Florida League.
Stange did enjoy some success the following year with Fort Walton Beach as he won 13 games. But the following year saw him languishing in the bullpen for Appleton in the Three-I League. The young pitcher contemplated quitting baseball as he approached the end of the season with an ERA of nearly 6.00.
He was promoted to the Wilson Tobs in the Class-B Carolina League for the 1960 season. Stange took his new league by storm. He finished 20-13 with a 3.59 ERA for the Tobs, who posted 73 wins. The young pitcher collected accolades that year, including being named the Minor League Player of the Year for the Carolina League and being selected for the Carolina League All-Star Team.
“The Stinger” thought his 1960 season showed everyone that his height could no longer be used against him after he threw more than 250 innings and won 20 games. He went to the Florida Winter Instructional League, where the whole height issue returned and the Senators front office reaffirmed their view of him as a short reliever.
During the offseason, the Senators moved to Minneapolis-St. Paul and became the Minnesota Twins. Stange made the club out of spring training. After two relief appearances, he spent the majority of the 1961 season with Syracuse (International League). Recalled by the club again in September, he won his first major-league game by pitching two scoreless innings against Cleveland.
In 1962, Stange spent the whole season with the big club and impressed his manager. In his first six appearances over 13 1/3 innings, Stange complied a 1.35 ERA.
During spring training of 1963, Stange won the Major League Bowling Championship in Tampa, Florida, and Stange and bowling became synonymous for many in the baseball press. The Brunswick bowling company signed Stange to tour Minnesota, Iowa, and the Dakotas during the winter on exhibition tours. One year, Stange said, he was offered a sponsorship to go on the pro tour, but he declined.
Stange once again found himself in the minors in 1963. This time, he pitched for the Dallas-Fort Worth Rangers of the Pacific Coast League. After a little more than a month in the minors, Stange was recalled and was in the majors for good. He enjoyed a strong second half. After the season, Stange was honored by the Minneapolis Baseball Writers as the most improved player
The year 1964 saw its highs, lows, and changes for Stange. After a rough two months with the Twins the team traded him to Cleveland. But Stange pitched better for the Indians and even tied a major league record in one game. The following season saw Stange back in the bullpen but did occasionally start because of injuries. He had a fine season in the two roles.
In early June 1966, Stange was traded along with Don McMahon for Dick Radatz. For the second time in three years, Stange was involved in a trade that was panned by fans of his new team. Though Sox fans had turned their venom on Radatz, the team could have surely gotten more for him than Stange and McMahon, said the experts.
Stange found his groove during the second half of 1966, pitching seven complete game victories, including a two-hitter against the Yankees. After his 8-9 season, the Boston Baseball Writers gave Stange the Unsung Hero Award at their annual banquet.
The next season saw a new Red Sox skipper. Fiery Dick Williams took over leadership, and served as an adversary for Stange during the pennant-winning season. Though he didn’t get along with the manager, Stange was used mostly as a starter in ’67 and enjoyed some of his best stuff in his career. Though Stange won only eight games in 1967, he led the staff with a 2.77 ERA. After almost starting a playoff game against the Tigers, Stange was used once in relief in the World Series against the Cardinals, going two innings and giving up one unearned run in a 5-2 Cardinals’ win in Game Three.
After a successful season as a starter, Stange was back in the bullpen in 1968. Pitching alongside Sparky Lyle in short relief, he led the staff with 50 appearances and 12 saves. Stange came in fourth in The Sporting News‘ Fireman Award for the American League. In 1969 the flexible Stange was called on to start 15 times among his 41 appearances.
In the middle of the 1970 season, with Stange struggling with an ERA well over 5.00, the Chicago White Sox picked him off waivers from the Red Sox. Stange retired as a player after the 1970 season, and was named minor-league pitching instructor by the Red Sox in 1971. He joined the major league club's staff as a pitching coach from 1972-74 and returned to the same role from 1981-84, after serving as a coach and instructor in the Twins and Oakland A's organizations from 1975-80.
During his second stint on the Red Sox coaching staff, Stange helped in the development of such Red Sox pitchers as Dennis Eckersley and Roger Clemens.
Following the 1984 season, Stange returned to the Red Sox minor league system and served as a coach and instructor for 10 seasons. After leaving professional baseball, he worked as a pitching coach at Florida Institute of Technology for nine seasons before retiring at age 78.
Stange passed away at age 81 in Melbourne FL on September 21st after losing a battle with cancer.