The Early Days…
Baseball is a sport that catches the fascination of almost every boy growing up in America. Here in Kenosha, there have been a lot of great names going on to baseball careers. Names like Ray Berres, Dick Bosman and Bob Hartman to name a few.
Bob Lee Sr., the former President and founder of Lee Mechanical, had his own run with fame. A left-handed pitcher with a knack for striking out opposing batters, Bob Lee Sr. was a baseball phenom who might have had a great career as a major league pitcher had it not been for an injury to his pitching arm.
Bob got his start playing baseball on schoolyards and playgrounds in Kenosha. When he was growing up, there was no Little League. There were no t-ball or baseball leagues at the Boys & Girls Club and there were very few team opportunities for kids his age.
But that didn’t stop most kids from finding a way to play the game. For Bob, that meant spending long hours throwing a rubber ball off the wall of the old Columbus School on Roosevelt Road.
He developed a knack for pitching in his youth that he would carry on to his high school years at Bradford High School. In 1954, as a junior in high school and never having played organized ball before, Bob decided to try out for the Bradford team.
It was the first year Bradford competed in baseball and they played against many of the schools who would later make up the Big Eight and other leagues in Southeastern Wisconsin and Northeastern Illinois. Schools like Racine, Wilmot, Salem Central and North Chicago. Bob and his good buddy Bob Hartman combined to make one of the most prolific high school pitching duos in the state in 1954.
Bob lost just two games that year, including one to Salem Central. The team took second place in the State Tournament, losing to Oshkosh in the State Finals.
The following year, as a senior, Bradford took an undefeated regular season record into the state tournament where they faced Racine Park in the Regionals. Bradford had already beaten Park twice during the regular season, so there was no reason to expect that they could not do it a third time in the tournament.
Both Bob Sr. and Bob Hartman had no-hitters against Park in the regular season. Lee got his on his birthday – April 17, 1955.
Unfortunately, the third win was not to be as Bradford lost to Park in the Regionals by a score of 2-1 in 10 innings.
But, the legends were born. Everyone was talking about the left-handed pitching duo from Bradford High School in Kenosha (it is fair to say this was one of the most prolific high school athletic duos ever to come out of Kenosha; at least up until the pairing of Melvin Gordon and Trae Waynes at Bradford decades later).
Professional scouts started coming to the games. Hartman was the main attraction. But the scouts who came to see him pitch were often equally impressed by Lee. Hartman, and subsequently Lee, were both signed to minor league contracts with the Milwaukee Braves. They got $4000 signing bonuses and set off on what looked to be promising careers in major league baseball.