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Lee Lacy

September 2, 2009

Lee Lacy 78

Before the 1976 season, the Dodgers shipped two of the more versatile Cardboard Gods, Jerry Royster and Lee Lacy, to the Atlanta Braves, which is kind of like pawning your poncho and your Swiss Army knife just before setting off to hike the length of the Appalachian Trail. At that time, the Dodgers boasted what would become the longest tenured infield in major league history—Garvey, Lopes, Russell, and Cey—so maybe the team felt it’d be okay without much in the way of reinforcements at those spots. Also, the multiplayer trade involving Lacy and Royster made the Dodgers younger and, presumably, more durable in the outfield, the team exchanging 34-year-old Jimmy Wynn for 27-year-old Dusty Baker.

Halfway through the season, the Dodgers apparently realized their mistake and swapped struggling former Cy Young-winning reliever Mike Marshall to the Braves for Lacy and Elias Sosa. Though Lacy’s contributions as a pinch-hitter and backup in the outfield and infield were unable to put the Dodgers over the top in their battle with the Reds for the division crown that season, it was one of only two years in a six-year span in which he didn’t make it to the World Series. I doubt you think of him if and when you ponder the Dodgers pennant-winning teams of 1974, 1977, and 1978, or of the World Series-winning Pittsburgh Pirates of 1979, but Lacy was on all those teams, and he was far from just a passenger. He played all over the field every year and hit with some power and had, for a player who spent most of his career as a utility man, a notably high lifetime batting average of .286.

After playing in four World Series in six years, Lacy receded from center stage, due to the flagging abilities of the Pittsburgh Pirates and of his last team, the Baltimore Orioles, which he joined just as they, too, started to decline from their 1970s and early 1980s golden age. But he seemed to get better and better, and he even somehow got faster, the man who averaged a little over four steals a year in his twenties somehow swiping 40 bases in 121 games when he was 34. His ever-strengthening ability to rocket line drives all over the field finally allowed him to become a full-time player in his mid- to late 30s. His high in plate appearances came when he was 37 years old.

I vaguely remember this later version of Lee Lacy. I was no longer buying baseball cards, but I’d catch his name in a box score or in the Sunday averages once in a while. It mystified me. It–

Ah fuck it. Can you believe I’ve been working on this Lee Lacy profile for three days? The first paragraphs came about fairly easily, career summary spieling that they are, wikipediarrhea, and since then I have been trying to reach for something at the end, some poetic or philosophical flourish connecting the career of Lee Lacy to some part of my own life, or to Human Life in General, but each attempt was worse than the last, one hackneyed blues guitar lick after another that I’ve already played a thousand times before on this site. I have to go to work soon. Last night I had to stay very late at work proofreading and then waited a long time for a bus on Golf Road in the dark and while I was waiting I wanted to kick in the plexiglass window of the bus shelter, which would have been impossible, but nonetheless I wanted to try but I didn’t because I am 41 years old and cars were streaming past on Golf Road and I didn’t really want to be a 41 year old man kicking a plexiglass bus shelter window on fucking Golf Road. I wish I were younger. I wish I could smash my hackneyed guitar to pieces and have a whole new song hatch from the wreckage. I wish I could find some way to work Lee Lacy’s full first name, Leondaus, into the mix. But the only wish that can come true at this narrow moment is the small ingrown wish of the quitter, which in this case would be: I wish to be done trying to write something about this particular baseball card. I wish to press the “publish” button and go take a dump. And so I fucking shall.

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(Love versus Hate update: Lee Lacy’s back-of-the-card “Play Ball” result has been added to the ongoing contest.)

13 comments

  1. Dude, even your “failures” are triumphant. Great stuff.


  2. What, no comparison of Lee Lacy’s career to “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”??


  3. I didn’t catch that movie, but that would have been a good reference. One thing that did occur to me, of course, is to think of what we all think of now when an aging player starts seeming like he’s somehow reversed the aging process. I guess I choose to believe that Lacy was always a good player and just finally got his chance to show it.


  4. Crazy — just before you started worrying about what you’re writing up there I’m reading along and beginning to worry myself: I could comment that I get Lee Lacy, Lee May, Lee Maye, Leon Lee and Leron Lee confused …. but I’m pretty sure I’ve already made that remark on this site … good god, I’m boring …


  5. This is awesome. I love Lee Lacy and I love Cardboard Gods. Pedro Guerrero and Candy Maldonado also started out with the Dodgers as utility players then became productive regulars. I also wish I were younger.


  6. When you take Lee Lacy, Lee May, Lee Maye, Carlos May, Leon Lee and Leron Lee into account, the presence of present-day player Carlos Lee on a major league roster seems, in retrospect, to be somewhat of a throwback, or at least a tribute of some sort.


  7. Carlos Lee is right up there with Andujar Cedeno. I’m still waiting for someone named Gamble Bibby to emerge from the mist.


  8. …Alston never let me run. Never. Oh sure, he lets Lopes go crazy, but I get caught a few times and all of a sudden it’s Stop Sign City…but this Tanner fellow, he’s different…things are a little looser around here. Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t recognize the stop sign here. Come to think of it, I don’t think we’ve even discussed a stop sign. Well, okay, here goes nothing….


  9. Great Article as usual.

    I appreciate your honesty on this one and your honesty and openness in general. This is still one the most original and unique baseball blogs on the internet, keep up the good work.

    Like I’ve said before, I’m 42 years old so most of these cards are like mini-flashbacks for me.

    I stopped following the Mets right after the Seaver trade. I followed the Dodgers from 77-78 but being on the east coast made it difficult to next to impossible back in the 70′s. Then I followed the Pirates from 1979-1984 and went back to the Mets when Gooden joined the team.

    So my Dodger/Pirate interlude between 77-83 fit in nicely with Lacy’s career. I just remember always rooting for the guy and thinking that his name was pretty cool.

    The Pirates also seemed to have a bunch of fourth outfielder/platoon type players around this time that were all good and were basically good guys which made it easy to root for them. Lee Lacy, John Milner, Bill Robinson, Mike Easler, I don’t think those four guys ever got enough credit for being on the 1979 team.


  10. Josh, I’ve been enjoying your blog for quite some time now. Thanks very much for the trips down memory lane. Anyway, I happended to be reading Dick Williams’ autobiography, “No More Mr. Nice Guy.” At the end of it, he mentions Lee Lacy as one of the better players on his team in the long-forgotten Senior League way back in 1990.


  11. I remember Mike Easler being a Mets killer, although I think the all time Mets killer may be Pat Burrell. Mickey Tettleton is someone I recall being a Yankees killer, as was Fred McGriff. They each seemed to always homer into the upper deck in RF at Yankee Stadium.


  12. “have been trying to reach for something at the end, some poetic or philosophical flourish connecting the career of Lee Lacy to some part of my own life, or to Human Life in General,”

    Aw, Josh… You missed an easy one here. The late surge in Lee Lacy’s demonstrated abilities can be used to compare/contrast with your own thoughts/feelings about your near future. Mid to late 30s for a ballplayer is like the 40s and early 50s for a non-sports career — so you could easily say something about where you think you are or are heading.

    I’ve had a soft spot for Lacy because he was the one Dodger I knew growing up who shared my birthday. Same birthday as Andre Ethier, it turns out.


  13. johnq11,

    Very astute observation about Lacy, Milner, Robinson and Easler. Lee Lacy is certainly one of the most overlooked players of this era. These four were all “Hit Men,” but only Robinson could field. Milner and Robinson platooned on the ’79 team, which made Lacy a fifth outfielder/pinch-hitter, and Easler finally made his transition from career great bat/no glove minor leaguer to great bat/no glove major leaguer in 1980. And as Josh so accurately points out, Lacy just got better and better, while the team crumbled around him.



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