Bill Lee (left-handed pitcher)
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Born: December 28, 1946 Burbank, California
MLB debut: June 25, 1969, for the Boston Red Sox
Last MLB appearance: May 7, 1982, for the Montreal Expos
MLB statistics: Win - Loss record 119 - 90
Earned run average: 3.62
Teams: Boston Red Sox (1969 - 1978), Montreal Expos (1979 - 1982)
Career highlights and awards: All - Star (1973), Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame
William Francis Lee III (born December 28, 1946), nicknamed Spaceman, is an American former Major League Baseball pitcher. He played for the Boston Red Sox 1969 - 1978 and the Montreal Expos 1979 - 1982. On November 7, 2008, Lee was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame, as the team’s record holder for most games pitched by a left hander (321) and the third highest win total (94) by a Red Sox southpaw. On August 23, 2012, Lee signed a contract to play with the San Rafael Pacifics of the independent North American League at age 65.
In addition to his baseball experience, Lee is known for his counterculture behavior, his antics both on and off the field, and his use of the Leephus pitch, a personalized variation of the eephus pitch.
Lee has co-written four books: The Wrong Stuff; Have Glove, Will Travel; The Little Red (Sox) Book: A Revisionist Red Sox History; and Baseball Eccentrics: The Most Entertaining, Outrageous, and Unforgettable Characters in the Game. In 2006, the documentary film by Brett Rapkin Spaceman: A Baseball Odyssey featured Lee.
Lee was born in Burbank, California, into a family of former semi and professional baseball players. His grandfather William Lee was an infielder for the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League and his Aunt Annabelle Lee was a pitcher in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League. “She was the best athlete in the family”, Lee said. “She taught me how to pitch”.
Lee attended and played baseball at Terra Linda High School in San Rafael, California, graduating in 1964 before enrolling at the University of Southern California. At USC, Lee majored in physical education and geography and attended from 1964-1968 where he played for Rod Dedeaux and was part of the Trojans team which won the 1968 College World Series, and was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 22nd round of the 1968 Major League Baseball Draft.
Lee served in the U.S. Army Reserve for 6 years during the Vietnam War. One of his jobs was to process the dead soldiers from New England and call the families and say “you can come get whatever’s left of your son”. He was also a Chemical Radiation Biological Officer for the 1173rd, and earned Soldier of the Cycle at Fort Polk Louisiana.
Major league career
Lacking a good fastball, Lee developed off speed pitches, including a variation of the Eephus pitch. The Leephus pitch or Space Ball, the names for Lee’s take on the eephus pitch, follows a high, arcing trajectory and is very slow. Lee is the last Red Sox player to miss time during the season for military obligation after being active duty in the Army Reserve from June 1 to October 1, 1970.
Lee was used almost exclusively as a relief pitcher during the first four years of his career. During that period, Lee appeared in 125 games, starting in nine, and compiled a 19–11 record. In 1973, he was used primarily as a starting pitcher. He started 33 of the 38 games in which he appeared and went 17 - 11 with a 2.95 Earned Run Average, and was named to the American League All Star team. He followed 1973 with two more 17 win seasons. He started two games in the 1975 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. He left both the 2nd and 7th games with the lead, but the Red Sox lost both games, and the Series.
On May 20 of the 1976 season, Lee started a game against the New York Yankees, pitched six innings, and the Red Sox won 8 - 2. However, the game is remembered for the final out of the sixth when the Yankees' Lou Pinella was tagged out at home by Sox catcher Carlton Fisk. Pinella slid with his spikes high into Fisk as he was tagged out, touching off an on field brawl where Lee suffered a torn ligament in his pitching shoulder. Lee would miss almost two months of the season and finish with a 5 - 7 record.
Later Red Sox career
During the 1978 season, Lee and Red Sox manager Don Zimmer engaged in an ongoing public feud over the handling of the pitching staff. Lee’s independence and iconoclastic nature clashed with Zimmer’s old school, conservative personality. Lee and a few other Red Sox formed what they called “The Buffalo Heads” as a response to the manager. Zimmer then relegated Lee to the bullpen and management traded Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins and Bernie Carbo. Lee threatened to retire after his friend Carbo was traded: he subsequently referred to Zimmer as “the gerbil”, which proved to be the last straw. Lee briefly left the Red Sox after pitching in a 10 - 9 win at home over California on June 12 but returned a few days later. But during the home stretch, when the Red Sox were battling the Yankees for the pennant, Zimmer refused to pitch Lee. The Red Sox lost the pennant in a one game playoff with the Yankees.
Lee was traded at the end of 1978 to the Montreal Expos for Stan Papi, a utility infielder. Lee bade farewell to Boston by saying, “Who wants to be with a team that will go down in history alongside the ‘64 Phillies and the ‘67 Arabs?” Lee won 16 games for the Expos in 1979, while being named The Sporting News National League Left Hander of the Year (over Philadelphia’s Steve Carlton). Then during the 1980 season, Lee caused more controversy by admitting to using marijuana. This landed him on the cover of High Times magazine. Called into the office of baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn, Lee said he did not smoke the drug but just put it on his pancakes. Lee’s major league career ended in 1982, when he was released by the Expos after staging a one game walkout as a protest over Montreal’s decision to release second baseman and friend Rodney Scott. Asked by a sportswriter if he minded being “blackballed”, Lee said, “I’ll go down in history with a lot of people who’ve been blackballed”. But didn’t he mind being “out of baseball for good?” “Oh, I’ll never be out of baseball for good”, he said. “It’s my life”.
On September 2, 2018. Lee played Designated Hitter for the Ottawa Champions.
Reputation and controversy
Lee’s personality earned him popularity as well as the nickname “Spaceman”, given to him by former Red Sox infielder John Kennedy. His outspoken manner and unfiltered comments were frequently recorded in the press. Lee spoke in defense of Maoist China, population control, Greenpeace, and school busing in Boston, among other things. He berated an umpire for a controversial call in the 1975 World Series, threatening to bite off his ear and encouraging the American people to write letters demanding the game be replayed. When asked about his views on mandatory drug testing, Lee quipped: “I’ve tried just about all of them, but I wouldn’t want to make it mandatory”. In his 1984 book The Wrong Stuff, he claimed his marijuana use made him impervious to bus fumes while jogging to work at Fenway Park. Much of the material in this book is, however, tongue in cheek. His propensity to criticize management led to his being dropped from both the Red Sox and the Expos, and the end of his professional career by 1982.
Post professional life
After the Expos released Lee in May 1982, he played for semi professional teams, including the single season Senior League in Florida, largely composed of retired major leaguers. He played in Venezuela, and starting in 1984 he lived in Moncton, New Brunswick, where he played first base and pitcher for the Moncton Mets, earning $500 per week. That year, he published his first autobiographical book, “The Wrong Stuff”.
In 1988, he and his second wife, Pamela, announced plans to move to Burlington, Vermont. In 1987, he had announced plans to run for President of the United States for the Rhinoceros Party, which necessitated the move. Since then he has played mostly as a celebrity pitcher in games around the world.
Since 1999, Lee has been an ambassador for Major League Baseball to Cuba helping to bring Cubans players to the U.S. and setting up goodwill tours especially to Canada.
In 2007, Lee joined former major league players Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd, Marquis Grissom, Delino DeShields, and Ken Ryan on the Oil Can Boyd’s Traveling All Stars. In June 2008, Lee pitched for the Alaska Goldpanners during the annual Midnight Sun ball game played at night during the Summer Solstice.
In September 2010, Lee pitched 5-2⁄3 innings for the Brockton Rox (a team that was then a member of the Canadian-American Association of Professional Baseball), picking up the win. The win made him the oldest pitcher to appear in or to win a professional baseball game.
On October 8, 2011, Lee participated in the “100 Innings of Baseball Game” hosted by the Boston Amateur Baseball Network to raise money for ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). On August 23, 2012, Lee pitched a nine inning complete game for the San Rafael Pacifics in San Rafael, California, beating the Na Koa Ikaika Maui 9 - 4. Using a homemade bat in the fifth inning, he drove in the first run of the game for the Pacifics. Lee was signed to a one day contract by Pacifics’ President and General Manager Mike Shapiro. Lee’s bat and uniform were donated to the Baseball Hall of Fame following the game as the start gave him the record for the oldest pitcher to make a starting appearance, pitch a complete game and also to earn a win in a professional baseball game.
Lee lives in northern Vermont with his third wife. He is also a regular on Melnick in the Afternoon with Mitch Melnick at TSN 690 sports radio in Montreal in a segment called “Answers from Space”. In 2007, Lee was featured in High Times, a counterculture, pro-marijuana magazine. He also makes frequent appearances on Sports Overnight America, a nationally syndicated radio program hosted by Gerrie Burke (a long time friend) out of San Francisco.
He is also a regular coach/pro at the annual Red Sox Baseball Fantasy Camp run by the Red Sox Organization in Florida at the team’s Spring Training Facility.
Lee was inducted into the Baseball Reliquary’s Shrine of the Eternals in 2000.
Lee recently released his own wine label, “Spaceman Red” wine, a California syrah, cabernet and petite sirah blend, produced with winemaker friend Geoff Whitman, and distributed in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire. In 2004, he released a beer in partnership with Vermont’s Magic Hat Brewing Company. Called Spaceman Ale, it is no longer in production.
Spaceman: A Baseball Odyssey
In 2003, filmmakers Brett Rapkin and Josh Dixon joined Lee on a barnstorming trip to Cuba, gathering footage for the documentary film Spaceman: A Baseball Odyssey. The film premiered at the 2006 SILVERDOCS AFI/Discovery Channel Documentary Festival and later on the New England Sports Network and MLB Network. It is distributed across North America by Hart Sharp Video.
Spaceman (2016 film)
Spaceman is a biographical film about Lee written and directed by Brett Rapkin and starring Josh Duhamel as Lee.
In 1988, Lee was the Rhinoceros Party presidential candidate running on a platform of bulldozing the Rocky Mountains so Alberta could receive a few extra minutes of sunlight and banning guns and butter. His slogan was “No guns, no butter. Both can kill.”