10 things I learned about Bill “The Spaceman” Lee
Bill Lee is a character inside and out. At 67, the once-great major league baseball left-hander has never given up the game. He’s still playing, and last week finished a tournament in Florida (his team won).
I had the opportunity to interview Bill Lee for a webcast on Hersam Acorn Radio, and then got to meet him at the Ridgefield Playhouse in Connecticut last week. He was in town for a screening of the 2005 documentary, Spaceman: A Baseball Odyssey See film trailer which follows his journey with the American Old Timers who went to Cuba to play baseball with the locals.
The Spaceman regaled the packed house with stories about his career with the Boston Red Sox (1969-78) and the now defunct Montreal Expos (1979-82). He left the game too soon — blacklisted for talking about his marijuana use. He also told the audience about his run-ins with other players (Graig Nettles) and baseball brass – Bowie Kuhn and Don Zimmer.
Lee’s sense of humor is still firmly intact (When once asked about his thoughts on mandatory drug testing, Lee said he believed in drug testing a long time ago. “All through the sixties I tested everything.”).
These days, Bill Lee is living life on his own terms in Vermont. He has an interest in Axis Bats, a company in Fall River, Mass that makes top quality baseball bats, and a company that makes Spaceman Red Wine.
10 things I learned about Bill Lee:
1. He doesn’t own a watch, a computer, or a cell phone. For our radio interview he called from a pay phone from the interstate in South Carolina.
2. He didn’t show up for the 1978 Red Sox team picture because Sox management had dissed one of the players who was his friend, so Lee’s photo was added as an insert.
3. Bill Lee misspoke when he called Red Sox manager Don Zimmer “the designated gerbil.” He said he should have called him a “hamster” because hamsters have fatter cheeks.
4. In 1976, in an on-field, benches clearing brawl at Yankees Stadium, Graig Nettles body-slammed Lee, giving him a black eye and breaking his collarbone. To this day, Lee carries a baseball card of Graig Nettles in his wallet and keeps it in his pants pocket where he hopes Nettles will “enjoy the view and the smell, which hasn’t gotten any better over the years.”
5. Bill Lee once ran for President of the United States as a member of the Rhinoceros Party, whose party promise was not to keep any promises if elected. The group compared themselves to the rhinoceros — “We’re thick skinned, myopic, like to wallow in mud, and we run like hell when cornered.”
6. Fellow teammate John Kennedy first called Lee “The Spaceman” in the Red Sox locker room. Lee was discussing the space program with reporters and Kennedy was pleading with Lee to move aside and let him get to his locker so he could change and meet his girl friend. Kennedy quipped, “We got our own spaceman right here.” Lee initially didn’t like the nickname, but it stuck and he has accepted it. “I got the nickname because of a horny infielder,” Lee said.
7. A baseball purist, Lee hates changes such as the “designated hitter” rule, and believes the upcoming “instant replay” rule for umpires is awful. “It will change the sport. You used to have managers get mad at a call and kick the dirt and players would scream. Now everyone will just sit there waiting for the replay. It will slow things down in an already slow game,” he said.
8. Lee believes baseball is the universal language and if opposing countries would just get together for a game of baseball, there would be world peace.
9. Major league pitchers are injuring themselves and throwing their arms out more these days because they are pitching from the wrong angle to increase their speed.
10. He will always be a Red Sox.
The Ballad of Bill Lee
Lyrics and music by the late great Warren Zevon
You’re supposed to sit on your ass and nod at stupid things
Man, that’s hard to do
And if you don’t, they’ll screw you
And if you do, they’ll screw you, too
And I’m standing in the middle of the diamond all alone
I always play to win
When it comes to skin and bone
And sometimes I say things I shouldn’t
And sometimes I say things I shouldn’t