The signs are everywhere, greening hills, wind gusts sharply off the ocean and the percussive crack of baseballs hit in batting cages.
Spring is near on the Central Coast and there is hope in the heart of every baseball fanatic. The sound of a bat lifts the spirit even if it is the ping of aluminum and not the crack of wood.
Cal Poly is off to a good start in 2014 under coach Larry Lee. As of this writing, the team is 9-2 with the highest Division 1 ranking in the history of the program.
A Lee unrelated to Larry made a name for himself long before aluminum was associated with cold beverages and baseball bats.
Thornton Starr Lee (Lefty) is in the Cal Poly Hall of Fame for his one season at what was then a college. Lee would go on to a 16-year major league career that included all-star selections in 1941 and 1945.
Lefty gave up the fewest earned runs in the majors in his first All-Star year with an ERA of 2.37.
The 1941 season included adversaries like Bill Dickey, Bobby Doerr, Joe Cronin, Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio.
The Arroyo Grande High School graduate was arguably the best one-and-done player Cal Poly has ever fielded.
Lee’s record of 18 strikeouts against the San Jose Teachers was one short of his age. He reached that mark twice for Cal Poly, a school record at the time.
The Telegram and Tribune were under same ownership but still published separate editions at this time.
This was the front-page story published in the San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram the evening of May 11, 1926:
Thornton Lee has contract for big time
Remarkable hurling record with San Jose Teachers is factor
Would be 1927 member
Does the California Polytechnic School have a good baseball pitcher? The answer is a positive yes if the big league scouts are any judge of players because only Monday F.W. Long, San Francisco scout of the Chicago White Sox, handed Thornton Lee, Poly pitcher, a contract to sign up for 1927 with the White Sox.
Lee is 19 years old and a southpaw. It is his first year at Poly. “Are you going to sign?” he was asked by a representative of the Tribune and Telegram, to which he replied, “I believe I will, but I am thinking it over.”
The White Sox scout took Lee by surprise. He was busy with his school work Monday morning when Long hunted him up and put the proposition to him, leaving a contract for Lee to sign, which will make him a member of the club for 1927.
SAN JOSE PERFORMANCE
Lee’s performance against the San Jose Teachers a few Saturdays ago is believed to have been a powerful persuader on the Chicago baseball scout who owns an almond orchard at Paso Robles and keeps in close touch with local baseball. That afternoon Lee fanned 18 of the heavy hitting Teachers, and set them down for a 7-6 defeat when they came to San Luis Obispo confident they would go back with an easy and lopsided victory.
In three frames of that game Lee struck out three men, mowing them down, one-two-three. The elongated southpaw had so much on the sphere and such good control that the San Jose flock gave up their confidence after the third inning.
BUILT FOR PITCHING
“He said I had a build for pitching,” Lee modestly declared, when asked what the scout had said, “and he said the White Sox had only one left-handed pitcher.”
In fact Lee’s pitching arm has won him such a reputation up and down the coast that it was that reputation that brought the scout to see him and offer him a contract to sign.
In case Lee signs, he will report at the Sox training camp next spring. He graduated from the Arroyo Grande high school last year. He played with the high school team there for four years and with the time here has five years of real playing to his credit, during all of which time he has been pitching, with the exception of a little playing at first base.
Lee lived in San Luis Obispo in 1913 and 1914. His parents, Mr. and Mrs. Starr Lee, then moved to Oceano, which has since been the family’s home.
With Lee pitching, Poly has won six out of seven games this year. One was lost to Paso Robles at a time when Lee was out of the game because of a sprained ankle.