Most of these cards I do for this series, I just pull out of the shoebox in my closet and write about them with no regard of order nor of placing any significance on the date posted.
Sometimes I match things up. I had Giancarlo (Mike) Stanton, Mike Stanton and Mike Stanton on 3 straight days in June. That wasn’t an accident.
Today is also intentional. It is Bastille Day, the day of French Independence. Charlie Lea was born in France and played most of his career for the French speaking fans of Montreal. He is the Frenchiest of all Frenchies who ever Frenched in baseball history.
Naturally the card I have for him is when he briefly played with the Minnesota Twins.
Like most baseball players who were born in France, like Giants manager Bruce Bochy, he was the son of a serviceman stationed there. He did most of his growing up in Tennessee and went to University of Memphis when the Expos picked him in the 9th round of the 1978 draft.
Looking back, it was a pretty solid 9th round. The Reds drafted Charlie Liebrandt and the Dodgers drafted Steve Sax in that round. Consider that half of the first 12 players picked in the first round never made it to the majors, those teams would have been better off picking Liebrandt, Lea or Sax. But I digress.
He didn’t seem to go far after being drafted from University of Memphis, he played for the Memphis Chicks in 1878, 1979 and 1980 before a quick trip through Denver and making his big league debut with the Expos on June 12, 1980. He threw 8 strong innings, allowing a single run and getting the win.
He was a contributor to the Expos team that contended until the end of the season, going 7-5 with a 3.72.
In 1981, he got off to a clunky start, throwing some game out of the bullpen and not getting out of the 5th in a pair of starts.
Then on May 10, 1981, he faced the San Francisco Giants in the second game of a double header. He retired the first 9 batters he faced including Hall of Famer Joe Morgan and solid hitters like Enos Cabbell, Darrell Evans and Larry Herndon.
He allowed a walk to Bill North, but he was caught stealing. He retired Cabell and Morgan to finish the fourth. The fifth was 1-2-3 for Lea. So was the 6th and the 7th.
Into the 8th, he faced the minimum. And because of a Tim Wallach homer and RBI doubled from Rodney Scott and Andre Dawson, Lea (pronounced LEE) had a 4-0 lead going into the 8th.
He started losing his control when he walked 3 of the first 4 batters of the 8th. But thanks to a double play off the bat of Darrell Evans and a fly out by Billy Smith, Lea finished the 8th with no runs and most importantly, no hits.
In the 9th, Lea retired pinch hitter Jim Wohlford and Bill North. With only Enos Cabell standing in the way between Lea and a no hitter, it was no contest. Lea got Cabell to fly out and clinch the no hitter. Montreal went ecstatic for the French native and his no no.
Injuries kept him off the playoff roster in 1981 but by 1982, he was back in form. He pitched 177 2/3 innings in 1982, winning 12. By 1983, he was an elite pitcher, giving the Expos 16 wins and a 3.12 ERA over 222 innings.
He won the 1984 All Star Game, throwing a career high 224 1/3 innings, winning 15 and keeping his ERA down to 2.89.
Then his shoulder went out. The 27 year old All Star of 1984 missed all of 1985, 1986 and threw a single inning in 1987 where he was clobbered.
He made a comeback attempt with the Twins the year AFTER they won the World Series. He did not pitch badly, throwing 130 innings and posting a 4.85 ERA after missing 3 seasons. But he was out of gas.
Lea returned to Memphis to be the voice of the Triple A team’s radio broadcast until he died of a heart attack in 1981.
Beloved to this day by Montreal fans, the French born Lea gives us reason to cheer VIVE LA FRANCE on this Bastille Day.