One of the biggest characters I have ever met, in or out of baseball is former Red Sox lefty, Bill Lee.  The “Spaceman” came to mind today as I was looking through upcoming minor league promotions and noticed that he’d be appearing in the Northwest League at the park in Vancouver on August 31 to sign autographs and pose for photos.  My first encounter with Lee came about 15 years ago when I was helping put together a charity golf tournament in Cooperstown.  It was affiliated with the Major League Alumni Association and Lee was set to appear, along with 40 or so other ex- big leaguers.  As fate would have it, we were paired in the same foursome.  I was pretty excited.  As we started the day with breakfast, he regaled us with tales of his stormy relationship with Don Zimmer and other nuggets.  Suddenly, a woman appeared from the pro shop and told Lee he had a phone call.  A few minutes later, he emerged, visibly shaken.  As he sat down, I asked my new friend what was wrong.  His answer shocked me.  “My wife just called.  She has cancer.”  News no one ever wants to get.  Lee made his apologies and got in his car and left for his Vermont home.  Many years later, in 2004, when the PawSox wer hosting the I.L. All Star game, Lee was among the celebrities invited for the Home Run Derby (which he won, outslugging Sam Horn).  I approached Lee and reminded him of our partial day in Cooperstown.  I asked him what ever became of his beloved bride, the woman he wept over that sunny summer day in upstate New York.  “Turns out she didn’t have cancer, after all.  It was poison ivy.  They completely screwed up the diagnosis.”  I was so glad to hear the news, until he quickly added- “I wish she had died.  She ran off with a Delta Airlines pilot.”  A couple of years later, Dick Radatz died.  “The Monster”, a man who was the Jonathan Papelbon of his day.  Knowing of his friendship with Radatz, I called Lee and asked him to appear on my radio show.  He readily agreed.  With no prodding whatsoever, Lee began to tell one off-color story after another, leaving my cohost, John Rooke and me gasping for air, we were laughing so hard.  Even a couple of years after that, I was the master of ceremonies at a dinner for the Newport Gulls, of the NECBL.  Lee was the guest speaker and by the time he got up on the dais, he had enjoyed a few tequilas. After giving a rambling, mostly incoherent talk, he finished with a joke that I, as the president of the Yankees Haters Club really enjoyed.  Lee reached into his back pocket and produced his wallet.  He went inside and pulled out a worn baseball card.  It wasn’t one of his, or one of a hero of his, but a faded old card of New York Yankees third baseman Graig Nettles.  The mostly partisan Red Sox crowd feigned horror until Lee explained.  “The view from where Nettles sits isn’t great and it doesn’t smell so good back there, either.”  The “Spaceman” brought down the house and, with tequila in hand, said goodnight.  I guess I won’t be surprised if his trek to Vancouver offends a Canadian or two.  I will be surprised if he doesn’t make them laugh, though.      


One comment

  1. juliasrants

    I laughed out loud reading your blog today! I was in 7th grade for the ’75 WS and for the last minute of school each day we would cheer the Red Sox on. On the day Bill Lee pitched we chanted “Fisk is good, Spaceman’s great, it’s Cincinnati that we hate” – I know, but we were in JR. High!


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