Bill Lee will never make the Hall of Fame. Not unless some slightly warped
visionary decides to open a wing for the flakes, free spirits and characters
who have spiced up the grand old game over the years. If that unlikely event
occurs, Lee will be first in line for admission to a ward that will also
confine the likes of Moe Drabowsky, Mark Fidrych, Jay Johnstone, Mickey
McDermott and Daffy Dean.
Lee was an above average pitcher-not Hall of Fame material but a solid
major-league starter. Never a fire-baller, the crafty southpaw got by with a
fine repertoire of curves and sliders, interspersed with a mediocre fastball.
When the speed limit in Massachusetts was lowered, a Massachusetts TV ad
advised drivers not to exceed Bill Lee's fastball-55 miles per hour.
Bill Lee was never a clown; never an Absorbine Junior-in-your jock jokester.
Lee's brand of humor was slightly more cerebral. He was the thinking man's
flake; a kind of lower class Yogi Berra with better diction. Lee was dubbed
"the Spaceman" because in the conservative, buttoned-down world of baseball,
he had an absolutely unique view of the baseball world. And he wasn't shy
about sharing this perspective with anyone who'd listen. He once had his foot
X-rayed and suggested to the doctor: "That loose thing's just an old Dewar's
cap floating around." Lee was eventually traded from Boston to Montreal for
Stan Papi, despite the fact that he was the third winningest left-hander in
Red Sox history (after Mel Parnell and Lefty Grove.)
Lee and his manager Don Zimmer seldom saw eye to eye. The low point came when
Lee labeled the puffy-cheeked Zimmer "the gerbil," a nickname adopted by some
in the Boston media. "I was actually praising him when I called him a gerbil,"
argues Lee. "I had said that Yankees manager Billy Martin was a no-good dirty
rat and Zimmer was not that way. He's given his life to baseball. His fatal
flaw was that he was a manager in a city where, as a visiting player, he had a
very difficult time with pitchers. Pitching is 90% of the game of baseball,
and pitching happened to be the stuff that got him out 80% of the time. He was
a .200 hitter, and that is what dictated the way he thought about pitchers."
The 1978 Red Sox blew a 14-game lead and ultimately lost a playoff game to the
Yankees. When southpaw Bill Lee was subsequently traded from the Red Sox to
the Expos at the end of the season, he was asked if he was upset to leave. His
reply: "Who wants to be on a team that goes down in history with the '64
Phillies and the '67 Arabs?"
When his friend and soul mate Bernie Carbo was sold to the Cleveland Indians,
Bill "Spaceman" Lee went on an unofficial strike-jumping the club and going
home. He was finally tracked down by Red Sox president Haywood Sullivan, who
informed Lee that he must dock him a day's pay, amounting to about $500. Lee's
reply? "Make it fifteen hundred. I'd like to have the whole weekend."
Before the anticlimactic seventh game of the 1975 World Series, Cincinnati
Reds manager Sparky Anderson boasted that no matter what the outcome of the
game, his starting pitcher Don Gullett was going to the Hall of Fame. Bill
Lee, the Red Sox starter, countered with: "No matter what the outcome of the
game, I'm going to the Eliot Lounge." And he did.
Lee once charged that the California Angels "could hold batting practice in
the lobby of the Grand Hotel (in Anaheim) and not chip a chandelier."
|» NEXT: The World According to Chairman Lee|
From Tales from the Red Sox Dugout by Jim Prime with Bill Nowlin.
Copyright © 2000 by Jim Prime. Reprinted with permission.