Born: August 15, 1946
Died: October 17, 2010
Joseph Anthony Lis was born on August 15, 1946, in Somerville. The family lived in the nearby town of Manville for Joe’s first 10 years, and then moved to Hillsborough Township. Joe was always an advanced player for his age. At 16, the strong-armed shortstop led the American Legion’s Tri-State League in home runs and batting. Joe also played for Somerville High. He led the baseball and basketball teams to state championships. He batted over .500 his senior year.
Joe was well known to area scouts. He signed with the Phillies in 1964, right after graduation. After a couple of so-so years in the minors, Joe began showing his power as a pro in 1966. The only thing keeping him from reaching the majors was the lack of a position. The Phillies tried him at every infield spot, but did not feel he was ready at any. Meanwhile, he was pumping out 30-plus homers a year in the minors.
Joe finally made it to Philadelphia at the end of the 1970 season. He hit one homer in 13 games. The Phillies had a void in their outfield and in 1971 Joe was among several players who tried to fill it. Roger Freed eventually won the right field job. Joe didn’t help himself. He batted .211 with 6 home runs.
Joe went back to the minors in 1972 to polish his skills at first base. Meanwhile he was hitting homers at a record pace. When the Phillies called him up in late June he already had 25 round-trippers. Joe arrived in Philly only to find out that the team had decided to move Greg Luzinski from the outfield to first base. Once again, he was the odd man out. Realizing he might never get to fulfill his potential in Philadelphia, the team traded him to the Twins after the season.
In Minnesota, Joe backed up aging Harmon Killebrew—one of his teenage baseball idols—at first base. He often subbed for Killebrew in the late innings. Joe hit 9 homers in limited action. In 1974, Joe was batting under .200 and the Twins sold him to the Indians in June. He ended up hitting 6 homers for the Tribe. Joe spent most of 1975 and 1976 in the minors, returning to Cleveland for a few games each year. After the 1976 season—during which he was voted MVP of the International League—the Seattle Mariners took Joe in the expansion draft. Joe made the Mariners out of spring training but was shipped to the minors in May.
Unable to catch on with the Mariners in 1978, Joe accepted an offer to play in Japan with the Kinetsu Buffaloes. Joe didn’t fare much better against Japanese pitching. He hit some long homers but could not get his average much above .200. In 1979, Joe was hired by the Tigers as a minor league player-coach. He batted .292 with 16 homers. But at age 33, his best baseball was behind him. He never played professionally after that.
Joe wanted to stay close to baseball, so he opened a hitting school. Ted Williams had been his favorite player growing up, and he tried to impart the ideas that Williams wrote about in his book The Science of Hitting. Several of his students went on to play pro ball, including his son. Joe Jr. Joe died in 2010 at age 64 from cancer.