Ode to Spaceman Lee
I had the honor of meeting Bill “Spaceman” Lee when I was eleven-years-old at a charity softball tournament. He is probably the only person I met in my life who I thought was cool then, and even more diesel now. One of the only countercultural sports icons ever, he played for the Red Sox from 1969-1978, and finished up his career in Montreal in 1982. He grew up in Burbank, California and was a standout pitcher for USC in the 60’s.
Spaceman is Naughty Baseball’s quintessential competitor. Pretty much everything I find fascinating about athletes Lee has done. Lee was a “typical” left-handed pitcher, throwing a lot of junk to get hitters out. His arsenal consisted of a heavy-sinking fastball, and slow breaking pitches. Most notably, his famous “leephus” pitch, an uber-uber-slow curve, made famous in such films as Rookie of the Year, starring Thomas Ian Nicholas. His junk was pretty good, however, ending his career with a lifetime 3.62 ERA. But in the end, while Lee was a well regarded player, it was his off and sometimes on the field antics, which made him so likeable.
Like many Major League pitchers, Lee obtained a career altering injury that hurt his fastball. But unlike most pitchers, who usually attain injuries pitching, Lee did it in brawl. That’s right, the guy separated his shoulder in a brawl with Yankee Graig Nettles. Could you imagine this happening today? I mean…not the fact that a pitcher was out there, but that a pitcher was the focal point, putting his balls on the line for his teammates.
Lee also gave management in Boston and Montreal all kinds of headaches, standing up for his bros. In Boston, his buddy Bernie Carbo was traded to the Indians. Lee protested: he stormed into the locker room, cleaned out his locker and told the team he would retire. He was subsequently fined $533 for the incident, and replied by asking if they could make it $1500 so he could take off the whole weekend. A similar situation occurred with the Expos. Friend Rodney Scott was released, and Lee staged a one game protest. Unlike the first time, however, Lee did not return, opting for retirement in 1982.
Besides standing up for his friends, Spaceman freely voiced his support of Greenpeace, Maoist China and anything else that crossed his mind. He lived and still does live day-to-day saying, “I do things spontaneously and not premeditated. I take things as they come and live my life in the present. What I do everyday is what I want to do. If I want to hunt turkeys I have fun doing that.”
Fighter, protester, spontaneous wild turkey hunter--could it get any better? He also loves marijuana, and, apparently, alcohol. Not that it means you’re cool if you do these things, but…The spaceman said he used to sprinkle weed on his buckwheat pancakes in the morning and that the wacky-tabacky made him impervious to bus fumes. On drug testing, "The other day they asked me about mandatory drug testing. I said I believed in drug testing a long time ago. All through the sixties I tested everything." When asked if he were to be paid the same way players are today what he would do with it: “Oh, I’d be dead. There’s no doubt about it, with all the bar owners I know. There’s no way I’d be alive today.”
While I’ve painted a picture of this man as a rough and tumble stoner alcoholic, this is not entirely true. Spaceman Lee is extremely intelligent. He has three books published, insightful political commentary and his own wood bat company. So is there anyone in the 00’s comparable to Spaceman in baseball? Any rebel, with half a brain and such dazzling ideas? It’s sad to say, but there’s no other human athlete in this country with half of Lee’s wisdom. I couldn’t even make up a funnier guy. Cheers Spaceman, we need more guys like you in sports…and in life.
Note. Much of the info. in this article was obtained from these sites:
And of course, Wikipedia