Just because: Bill Lee vs. the Yankees

By Dayn Perry | Baseball Writer

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Our "Just because" series is usually apropos of nothing save the general subject of baseball. In this instance, however, the latest episode is informed by Thursday night's Zack Greinke-Carlos Quentin, Dodgers-Padres hostilities.

RELATED: Benches clear | Heyman -- Quentin to blame | Can Capuano step up?

Greinke, of course, broke his collarbone in the scrum and is facing a lengthy absence. So the topic of a core pitcher's sustaining an injury during a brawl between division rivals takes us back to May 20, 1976 -- Bill "The Spaceman" Lee and the Red Sox vs. Graig Nettles and the Yankees.

Lee, the decidedly bizarre (and very good) Boston left-hander, was facing the Yankees in the Bronx. During a play at the plate with Lee on the mound, Yankees DH Lou Piniella keelhauled Sox catcher Carlton Fisk, and fisticuffs promptly ensued.

At this point, let's roll some tape, as Lee begins recounting the brawl at the 1:30 mark ...

"He ate too much meat, that kid."

Before we go any further, please note the enthusiasm with which Otto Velez (No. 24 for the Yanks) joins the fray ...

Lee attempts to play peacemaker but gets thrown to the dirt and hurts his shoulder. Then he jaws at Nettles and takes a rather determined soup bone to the vicinity of said jaw ...

So here's an AP write-up of the entire affair, which includes some choice quotes from Mr. Lee, who was nothing if not legendary copy ...

Lee doesn't pitch with his eye, and matzah ball soup shall be his vessel of healing!

As noted, though, Lee suffered torn ligaments in his throwing shoulder and was sling-bound for some time. In fact, Lee didn't pitch again until July 15. Lee was actually better post-injury, as he had a 7.31 ERA at the time of the brawl and a 4.92 ERA over the balance of the 1976 season. Not good, by any means, but better. However, Lee would never again be the workhorse that he'd been from 1973 through 1975.

Lee would remain famous for holding court after his home starts at the Eliot Lounge in Boston, for his Zen enthusiasms, for his feuds with Don Zimmer (the "designated gerbil," Lee called him) and for ducking league discipline for marijuana use by claiming he did nothing more than use it in his tea. Bill Lee, folks.

The Yankees, meanwhile, wound up winning 97 games and the pennant. They were swept in the World Series by the Reds -- a humiliation that prompted George Steinbrenner to target a number of high-profile free agents that winter. He wound up with Reggie Jackson.

As for Lee, as this accusatory point at the Yankee dugout in 2012 demonstrates, he's still not a fan ...

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