EVENTS: The Spaceman still walks the earth, and other takes from the old Sox

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SOUTHINGTON — Kathy and Dana Rickard started bringing former Boston Red Sox players to Southington nearly two decades ago for an annual golf event. The tradition lives on. On Wednesday, four former Sox were back in Southington for the 29th Annual Chamber Cup Classic Golf Tournament.

This year, the festivities were at Southington Country Club.

Actually, let’s back it up. On Tuesday night, Bill Lee, Marc Sullivan, Steve Crawford and Tom Burgmeier feasted on Kathy Rickard’s roast, eggplant parmesan among other sides at the family’s Southington home. On Wednesday morning, the former players posed for photos and played 18 holes with hundreds of golfers to benefit the Southington Chamber of Commerce.

The players were introduced by Dana Rickard before taking the course for a shotgun start.

Lee, as always, stole the show, making light of a major heath scare earlier this summer. The 75-year-old Lee, while pitching with the Savannah Bananas professional travel team, suffered a cardiac episode at the stadium. Lee said he was “dead and brought back to life.”

“If you are going to go down, you might as well do it on first-responder night,” Lee said.

Lee was resuscitated by first responders and eventually brought to Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah, Ga.

“I was dehydrated and was in bad shape,” Lee said. “It was 91 degrees and humid, and there were two rain delays. It was a scenario that’s going to make a 75-year-old vulnerable.

“After my surgery, they gave me a pacemaker and told me not to do anything for six weeks, which has been the hardest thing in my life to do. I cheat. If you aren’t cheating, you aren’t trying.”

Lee is a regular in Southington each fall. He’s a member of the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame and was a big league pitcher from 1969-82. But he’s never stopped pitching in the 40 years since his last pitch in Major League Baseball.

Lee is opposed to the majority of the rule changes coming to the MLB next year, which include a pitch clock, bigger bases and limits on defensive shifts.

“You cannot tamper with the game of baseball because it was perfect originally,” Lee said. “Throw the ball over the plate and let it be hit. Jimmy Kaat and I used to match up and the games would last an hour and 42 minutes.

“Isn’t that what people want to see? They want to see 45 diving plays. They want to see ‘Banana ball’. If they don’t go adopt Banana ball, the game will die.”

Lee was just getting warmed up.

“Over-specialization breeds extinction. Buckminster Fuller said it. If Buckminster Fuller said it, it must be true. Always go with the mathematicians. They would not tamper with the game of baseball. Billy Beane and Bill James, they all tampered with the game and they couldn’t play. Let the people who can play make the rules.”

For those not familiar with Banana Ball rules, they include a  include a two-hour time limit on games and there is no bunting. Batters are not allowed to step out of the batters box, no mound visits are allowed, walks are now called sprints and foul balls caught by fans are counted as outs.

Lee added Major League Baseball can learn tempo from the Bananas, an exhibition team based in Savannah that has gained notoriety in recent years for on-field boisterous fun and viral videos.

“It’s about the fans,” Lee said. “You need to please the fans. Don’t charge them so much for beers. For us, its $20 to get into the ball park and all you can eat and $5 beer. Why do you think they come to our games? It’s about economics and appealing to the people who love baseball and not to the people who don’t love baseball.”

Crawford, a former MLB pitcher, said he loves coming back to Southington each year and, overall, doesn’t like the new MLB rules set to go in effect in 2023.

“I think it’s a bunch of bologna,” Crawford said. “With the pitch clock, they are taking the game away from the game. Games last forever, but that’s baseball, and let baseball be baseball. They shouldn’t put a time on it.

“Now they are trying to come up with a rule where you can’t throw more than two times to first base. I’m not for that. I like changing the shift. When we played, there was no shifts like that. There was legitimate baseball. Let it be the same way. Line up and just play. Don’t put five guys on one side of the field.”

Crawford said he wouldn’t have liked pitching with a clock or being limited in how many pickoff throws he could make.

“If you’ve got Rickey Henderson over on first base, you have to throw over as many times as you can to keep him close,” Crawford said. “You don’t have the base-stealers now like they did when we were playing. It’s a whole different game. The game hasn’t changed; the people have changed the game. There are still six outs in an inning, but people are changing the game. Us ex-pros and old timers think it’s a bunch of bologna.”

Burgmeier said he understands the pitch clock and is fine with seeing the shifts go away.

“They still score the same amount of runs and it’s been the same amount of hits for the last 30 years,” Burgmeier said. “They are taking away from baseball by letting them do all of the shifts and now you have four outfielders instead of four infielders.”

Sullivan said he would like to see some changes with the strike zone.

“It needs to be the same strike zone for everyone no matter what size you are,” Sullivan said. “The basket is the same in basketball and the goal is the same size in hockey. Why isn’t the strike zone the same? That may alleviate some things if pitches were called properly. It’s not necessarily the umpires’ fault.

“Also, I would also be concerned about speeding the game up too fast for the health of the pitchers because they need to get that blood flow back in their arms.”

Sullivan said he thinks defenses should be allowed to shift any way they want to and it’s up to the hitters to make an adjustment.

“If you are hitting the ball the same place every time its your fault,” Sullivan said. “You have to make adjustments and go to the opposite field.”

Southington Chamber of Commerce President Barbara Coleman-Hekeler said Wednesday’s event is among the many popular events put on by the Chamber each year.

“It’s a great example of how business networking works and how the community comes together to support the organization in economic development,” Coleman-Hekeler said. “All of the money we raise goes back into our programs and services to benefit the Southington community.

“Also, it’s always nice having the Boston Red Sox players here.”


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