Lee Graham (TRADING CARD DB)

Lee Graham

This article was written by Bill Nowlin

Lee Graham (TRADING CARD DB)On October 1, 1983, at Fenway Park, in the seventh inning Red Sox center fielder Lee Graham drove in Boston’s only run of a game against the Cleveland Indians. It was to be the only RBI of his brief five-game major league career.

The Indians had scored one run in the top of the fourth against Oil Can Boyd on a walk, wild pitch, fly ball to right field on which the runner tagged and ran to third, and a groundout to second base. That was the only run either team had scored. Cleveland right-hander Lary Sorensen had held the Red Sox to just one hit, a single in the fourth by catcher Jeff Newman, who had promptly been erased on a double play on a line drive hit right back to Sorensen.

After the seventh-inning stretch, Sorensen got Wade Boggs to ground out to second. Chico Walker, who had just come into the game to play left field in place of Jim Rice, tripled to center field. Graham, a left-handed batter, had taken over for Tony Armas in center field. He stepped into the box and hit a sacrifice fly to George Vukovich in center. Walker tagged up and scored, tying the game, 1-1.

In the top of the ninth, Andre Thornton led off with a double. Pinch-runner Bake McBride had to hold at second as Boston got an out on a groundout to first. An error by third baseman Boggs fielding a bunt put Indian runners on first and second. Another pinch-runner (Carmelo Castillo) entered the game at first base. Vukovich singled to left, but Walker’s throw to the plate cut down the pinch-runner and the score remained tied. Castillo took third. Kevin Rhomberg came to bat. Castillo then scored on a wild pitch, and Rhomberg singled to drive in Vukovich. The Indians led, 3-1. Rhomberg was out trying to reach second, Graham’s throw going to Marty Barrett.

Graham came up again in the bottom of the ninth. After Boggs had singled and Walker flied out to left, Graham bounced out, third to first. Carl Yastrzemski made the final out of the game, hitting a ground ball back to the pitcher, who threw to first. Both pitchers had thrown complete games, Sorensen booking a win and Boyd bearing the loss.

Graham had more than 1,000 base hits in his 10 years of minor league baseball, including six years in Triple A. While a base hit eluded him in his six at-bats during his brief stint in the majors, he scored two runs and had the one RBI.

Lee Willard Graham was born in Summerfield, Florida (about 60 miles northwest of Orlando), on September 22, 1959. Lee and his three brothers were primarily raised by their mother, Annie Lee Hope. He fell in love with baseball early. “I always wanted a ball. I’d cry if I didn’t have a ball. I started playing in a Pee Wee league when I was six. You had to be eight. Somebody found out and they made me stop.” His parents were divorced. “She always had two or three jobs. She would maid in a motel…work in a store…babysit. Some days she would come in from one job and we’d see her for 15 minutes and she’d feed us and go to her next job. We didn’t get everything we wanted…but we never lacked for anything we needed. But we had bicycles. We had good clothes and enough to eat and presents on Christmas Day. She always went out of her way to make sure we respected each other, and weren’t jealous of each other. Not like we didn’t have our differences like any brothers. We did. But she kept us in line.”1

Graham batted and threw left-handed, stood 5-feet-10, and was listed at 170 pounds. He was drafted by the Red Sox in the 26th round of the June 1977 amateur draft, the 641st overall selection, signed out of Lake Weir High School of Ocala, Florida. He had pitched well for LWHS, and won his 11th game of the 1977 season in a postseason game – first in the high school’s history – against Palatka South, a 2-1 win.2

George Digby was the Red Sox scout who signed Graham.3 Among his signings were future Hall of Famer Wade Boggs, but he expressed particular pride in his signing of Graham. “The proudest memory of my career was when I told Sully [Haywood Sullivan] to take a kid with the last pick we had in 1977. I said, ‘Take the guy, nobody knows about him. He’s a black kid, strong build, his name is Lee Graham.’

“What I’m proud of is the kid came from a broken home over there in Lake Weir near Ocala. It was a sad, sad situation. After we signed him, my wife and I took him into Ocala. We bought him some new shoes, new socks, underwear, which he didn’t have. We bought him a new glove, new spikes. We outfitted him to go into professional baseball.”4

An outfielder throughout his career, Graham was assigned to play for the Elmira Pioneers in the short-season Class A New York-Penn League. He appeared in 53 games with a .273 batting average – and an on-base percentage of nearly .400 (.394). He drove in 15 runs, but – frequently batting leadoff – scored 36 runs, and led the team in doubles, triples, and bases on balls.

He was full of enthusiasm. When he completed a 1977 questionnaire for baseball historian Bill Weiss, he was asked what his greatest thrill in baseball was. He replied: “Everything is a thrill in baseball.”

The next two seasons – 1978 and 1979 – were also played in Single-A ball, first for the Winston-Salem Red Sox (Carolina League) and then the Winter Haven Red Sox (Florida State League.) He led Winston-Salem in base hits. The two seasons weren’t quite carbon copies of each other but were very similar in most respects, though in 1978 he struck out much more often than any other of his 10 seasons. His on-base percentage dropped to .324 but then recovered to .357 in 1979, when he stole 40 bases. He made The Sporting News with his June 22, 1979, bases-loaded triple which wrapped up a 5 ½-hour doubleheader with a win for Winter Haven which secured them the league’s first-half Northern Division championship.5 The team beat out Fort Lauderdale in the league playoffs.

Still only 20 years old, Graham entered his fourth season of pro ball with the 1980 Bristol Red Sox, in the Double-A Eastern League. Though Bristol didn’t win the league championship, they had the best regular-season record. He hit for his highest batting average to date – .276, as he drove in 37 runs while scoring 70. His 40 stolen bases matched his total from the year before.

Promoted again, to Triple-A Pawtucket in 1981, Graham played in 133 games but struggled at the plate, registering a .218 average and on OBP of only .289. His 33 stolen bases, however, set a team record.6 He had his best season defensively, with only five errors in 269 chances (a .981 fielding percentage). In the “Longest Game,” the 33-inning game the PawSox played, he was 1-for-14. (Had the one game been subtracted from his season stats, he would have hit .224.)

He rebounded with the bat in 1982, again with the PawSox, batting .290 (.367 OBP) with 43 runs batted in, 46 stolen bases, and a team-best 76 runs scored. One red-letter day came on July 4, when he had five base hits against Toledo. On July 17, his seventh-inning grand slam gave the PawSox the edge in an 8-5 victory over Tidewater.

Graham batted .276 in 1983 and achieved career highs with 59 RBIs and 78 runs scored. He led the team in doubles and tied Chico Walker for tops in runs scored, and stole 51 bases, the fifth year in a row he’d led his teams in stolen bases. The total of 51 stolen bases remains, through 2020, the team record.7 His 11 home runs were more than the nine he had accumulated over the previous six seasons – just as the five homers he had hit in 1982 had been more than total of the prior five seasons. A couple of them won games in the bottom of the ninth: a grand slam to beat Charleston, 8-4, on April 18, and a solo homer against Richmond on August 4. The latter completed a suspended contest from July 5. Six minutes after play resumed, Graham hammered his homer.

A few weeks before he turned 24, he was brought up to Boston after the PawSox season ended. George Digby insisted that Graham had a good future: “He’s a better player than Al Bumbry.”8 Graham’s debut game was September 3. The Red Sox were at home, hosting the Chicago White Sox, who held a 9-5 lead heading into the bottom of the eighth. Dwight Evans led off with a double. Graham was put in to pinch run. Two batters later, Glenn Hoffman singled to left and Graham scored. It was the final run of the game.

In his second pinch-running appearance, on September 11 in Cleveland, Graham’s speed made a difference again. With the score tied, 1-1, in the seventh inning, he was on second base when Jim Rice hit a sacrifice fly to left to easily score Glenn Hoffman from third. When third base coach Ed Yost saw that Cleveland’s left fielder and center fielder had collided, he waved Graham around third to score, too. The Red Sox won, 4-1.

On the final weekend of the season, Graham had an unusual game, also against Cleveland, on September 30. He was 0-for-3 in the books but, after grounding out in his first big-league plate appearance against Juan Eichelberger, he reached base twice—both times on bunts resulting in errors, first by the second baseman and then by the first baseman. The final run of Boston’s 10-0 victory scored on Graham’s second bunt, but given the error, there was no run batted in. October 2 was the last game of the season. Graham entered the game in the fifth inning and flied out to left twice in a 3-1 Red Sox victory. One couldn’t have known at the time, but Graham’s time in the big leagues was done. In his five games, he had handled seven fielding chances without an error, recording six putouts and one assist.

In the winter, both Chico Walker and Lee Graham went to play ball in the Dominican Republic. Graham batted .235 in 39 games for the Estrellas Orientales.9

Graham trained with the big league ball club in 1984 but was sent back to minor league camp near the end of March (along with Roger Clemens). The Boston outfield was packed – with Jim Rice in left, Tony Armas in center, and Dwight Evans in right.

Graham played in 97 games for the PawSox, an injured shoulder costing him considerable playing time. The team, though, won the Governors’ Cup. He hit .244 with 30 RBIs and only stole 15 bases. It was without doubt a disappointing season and after the season, the Red Sox released him from the organization. In December, he was signed by the Atlanta Braves.

Of the Red Sox, he stated the obvious the following spring: “They weren’t really interested in me. I was glad to get out of there. I was glad that Atlanta was interested.”10 Then he added something that indicated an uncomfortable situation he felt with the Red Sox. “I feel I have a better chance here than with Boston. The Braves have more blacks and Latins in the big leagues. Boston only has one or two [actually, four in the opening day lineup.] After a black is in the organization long enough, you realize that’s going on. They don’t have to say anything. When Boston takes the field, it shows.”11

Graham played for the Richmond Braves in both 1985 and 1986. In 102 games, he hit .298 in ’85. He drove in 43 runs and stole 31 bases. He might have played more but for a period of medical leave granted in late June. The reason for the leave was not specified but the Times-Dispatch reported that “a source in the organization confirmed last night it is drug related and that Graham is being enrolled in a rehabilitation program.”12 He was suspended on June 25. The team had initiated random drug testing for the first time in 1985. When he returned on July 27, Graham said that the rehab had been for alcohol dependence.

George Digby still took every bit of pride in having signed Graham. “The greatest thing was he got in the big leagues for a year. Then he got into drugs; that was the sad part of it.”13

On his return, Graham said, “I’m an alcoholic. I was diagnosed as chemically dependent. I thought I had everything under control. I found out it was controlling me. For me, it started in high school. I thought I could handle it, but I realized I couldn’t. I’m glad this happened.” He added, “I know I wasn’t using all of my ability. I hope I will be an even better player now. I feel like a new man. The Braves treated me fairly – worked with me on this….I’m hoping my teammates will give me their support to make it through this thing. I’ll need that support….I realize now it [drug testing] is a good idea. It can only help the game in the long run.”14

He singled in each of his first two at-bats after returning to play.

Atlanta had hoped Graham might help take Milt Thompson’s place in 1986, but he was cut from the big league roster in mid-March. He played for the Richmond Braves again, Near the end of May, he was arrested in Virginia “way behind on child support payments,” according to a spokesperson from Marion County, Florida.15 He was hitting .245 at the time. Back the next day, he injured his knee, went on the disabled list on June 2, but was then released on June 30. He’d appeared in 40 games, batting .223. His time in baseball had come to an end.

After baseball, Graham fashioned a new career for himself and for more than 25 years has run his own lawn service company.16 He has one son, Lee Jr., and a daughter.

Last revised: June 4, 2021

 

Acknowledgments

This biography was reviewed by Malcolm Allen and Norman Macht and checked for accuracy by SABR’s fact-checking team.

 

Sources

In addition to the Sources cited in the Notes, the author also relied on Baseball-Reference.com, Retrosheet.org, SABR.org, and the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball. The author thanks Mal Allen for ideas and assistance.

 

Notes

1 Owen Canfield, “Loving Mother Is All the Hope Bristol’s Graham Needs,” Hartford Courant, August 31, 1980: 5C.

2 Richard Burton, “A long time coming,” Ocala Star-Banner, April 29, 2013. https://www.ocala.com/article/LK/20130429/News/604141545/OS . He also lettered in basketball and one of his teammates (one year ahead of him) was future 10-season NBA guard Frank Johnson. Frank’s older brother two-time NBA All-Star “Fast Eddie” Johnson (a 1973 Lake Weir graduate) was a third-round draft pick of the Atlanta Hawks in 1977 and began his own 11-career NBA career that fall. As of 2021, Graham remains the school’s only pro baseball draftee.

3 See an interview with Digby in the SABR book Can He Play? A Look at Baseball Scouts and Their Profession (ed. Jim Sandoval and Bill Nowlin (Cleveland: SABR, 2013). https://sabr.org/research/article/an-interview-with-baseball-scout-george-digby/

4 Steve Fainaru, “Super Scouts: Three Veterans Beat the Bushes in Search of Unpolished Gems,” Boston Globe, June 3, 1990: 45.

5 “A Leg Up for FSL Sox,” The Sporting News, July 7, 1979: 47.

6 Joe Giuliotti, “Red Sox Shut Out on All-Star Team,” Boston Herald, July 4,1983: 63.

7 “PawSox All-Time Records,” https://www.milb.com/pawtucket/history/all-time-records#STOLEN%20BASES

8 Peter Gammons, “Banking on Turnernomics,” Boston Globe, September 4, 1983: 42.

9 Lee Graham’s Dominican League statistics from https://stats.winterballdata.com/players?key=1660 (subscription service. Last accessed April 30, 2021).

10 Tom Haudricourt, “Players from Other IL Clubs Bolster R-Braves,” Richmond Times-Dispatch, April 11, 1985: 15.

11 Haudricourt, “Players from Other IL Clubs Bolster R-Braves.” The material in brackets was in the newspaper article.

12 Tom Haudricourt, “Graham On Medical Leave,” Richmond Times-Dispatch, June 26, 1985: 27.

13 Fainaru.

14 Tom Haudricourt, “Graham Glad Alcoholism Revealed,” Richmond Times-Dispatch, July 27, 1985: 25.

15 John O’Connor, “Perry Called to Replace Washington,” Richmond Times-Dispatch, May 20, 1986: 29.

16 Email from Lee Graham, Jr., April 13, 2021.

Full Name

Lee Willard Graham

Born

September 22, 1959 at Summerfield, FL (USA)

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