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Bill Lee

Born: December 28, 1946 (1946-12-28) (age 63)
Burbank, California
Batted: Left Threw: Left 
MLB debut
June 25, 1969 for the Boston Red Sox
Last MLB appearance
May 7, 1982 for the Montreal Expos
Career statistics
(through Career)
Win-Loss record     119-90
Earned run average     3.92
Strikeouts     713
Career highlights and awards

William Francis Lee III (born December 28, 1946), (nicknamed "Spaceman"), is an American athlete and retired Major League Baseball pitcher. He played for the Boston Red Sox from 1969-1978 and the Montreal Expos from 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.

In addition to his baseball success, Lee is known for his adherence to counterculture behavior, his antics both on and off the field, and his use of the Leephus pitch, a personalized variation of the eephus pitch.[1]

Lee has 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 Spaceman in Cuba featured Lee.


Early life

Although Lee was born in Burbank, California, he was raised in Canoga Park and later in San Rafael.. He was born into a family with a number of former 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 first to throw a no-hitter and a perfect game in the AAGPBL. He graduated from Terra Linda High School in 1964. Lee says he led a very cherished childhood. By the age of four, he learned how to hunt and fish and was surrounded by professional ballplayers in the family. All he did throughout his childhood was hunt, fish and play ball.

Lee attended the University of Southern California from 1964-1968 where he played for Rod Dedeaux. Lee was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 22nd round of the 1968 Major League Baseball Draft.

Bill's cousin is Brett Erlich, writer/host/producer of The Rotten Tomatoes Show and InfoMania on Current TV.

Major league career

Rather than rely on the use of a fastball, Lee developed as a finesse pitcher. He is quoted in Ken Burns' Baseball documentary as stating that he made his living on the inner and outer inch of the plate and lets the batter take the middle. He threw a variety of 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 was used almost exclusively as a relief pitcher during the first four years of his career. During that period, Lee appeared in 125 games, started just nine of them, and compiled a 19-11 record.

In 1973, Lee 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. He was rewarded for his strong performance with a nomination to the American League All-Star team. He followed 1973 with two more 17-win seasons.

Lee started two games in the 1975 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. His first start came in Game 2 of the series. Lee let up just one run in eight innings; however, the Reds scored two runs off of Dick Drago in the top of the ninth inning and subsequently won the game 3-2.

In Game 7, Lee shut out the Reds for five innings and the Red Sox took a 3-0 lead. After getting the Reds' Tony Perez out twice with an Eephus pitch, sixth inning, the Reds' Perez hit an Eephus pitch over the Green Monster, the left field wall at Fenway Park, for a two-run home run. Shortly thereafter, Lee left with a blister.[2] The Red Sox lost the game by a score of 4-3, and the 1975 World Series four games to three.

Later Red Sox career

Lee separated his left shoulder during a brawl that occurred between the Red Sox and the New York Yankees on May 20, 1976, after Yankee Lou Piniella ran over Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk in a play at home plate. Lee initially blamed the injury on Yankee third baseman Graig Nettles. However, after he had a chance to see the fight on video tape, Lee apologized to Nettles. Subsequently, he blamed Yankee manager Billy Martin for encouraging the Yankees players to be confrontational.[2] During an interview with Tom Caron after his Red Sox Hall of Fame induction, Lee revealed he carries Nettles's baseball card in his wallet, explaining, "I keep this in here so that Nettles's face is always up against the back of my ass no matter where I go."

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 countercultural beliefs (detailed below) and free spirit also clashed with Zimmer's old-school, conservative personality. Lee and a few other of the more free-spirited Red Sox formed what they called "The Buffalo Heads" as a response to what they considered the overbearing nature of Zimmer (whom Lee nicknamed "the Designated Gerbil"). Zimmer retaliated during the season by relegating Lee to the bullpen and convincing management to trade away some of the other "Buffalo Heads", such as Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins and Bernie Carbo. And though, as a starting pitcher, Lee had owned a 12-5 career record against the New York Yankees, Zimmer refused to start him against the Yankees during a crucial late-season series. Although they had led their rivals by more than 14 games in mid-July, the Red Sox lost the division to the Yankees by one game.

Montreal Expos

Lee was traded at the end of the year to the Montreal Expos for Stan Papi, a utility infielder. Referring to the previous season's collapse, Lee bid 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 pitched well for the Expos in 1979, winning 16 games -- while his former team, the Red Sox, slumped, mostly for lack of starting pitching. Lee's 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.

Reputation and controversy

Lee's personality earned him popularity as well as the nickname "Spaceman". His intelligence, articulate conversational style, humorous voice, and outspoken manner meant his views were frequently recorded in the press. He spoke in defense of Maoist China (once visiting, only to lampoon it endlessly), population control, Greenpeace, school busing in Boston and anything else that happened to cross his mind. 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. He ate health food and practiced yoga. He claimed his marijuana use made him impervious to bus fumes while jogging to work at Fenway Park. He sang Warren Zevon songs at times, and in an act of mutual admiration, Zevon recorded a song entitled "Bill Lee" on his album Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School. In a college town like Boston, his views were shared by many youths, and they quickly became Lee's biggest fans.

Despite his views on off-the-field matters, Lee was respected by fellow players, who believed his cajoling of the press took pressure off the team, and his attitude on the field was pure business. He was intensely competitive, and worked quickly, which always endears a pitcher to his teammates.

But Lee would often speak out on matters concerning the team and was not afraid to criticize management, causing him to be dropped from both the Red Sox and the Expos.

Lee countered his offbeat politics with a strong sense of the game. He is an avowed purist and traditionalist, speaking out against the designated hitter, AstroTurf and polyester uniforms, while conversely extolling the virtues of day games and Sunday doubleheaders.

Post-professional career

Bill in Nashua, New Hampshire playing for the Oil Can Boyd All Star Team

After the Expos released Lee, he played for a number of semi-professional teams. This included his time playing for and managing in the short-lived Senior League in Florida, largely composed of retired major leaguers. In 1988, he ran for President of the United States on the Canadian Political Rhinoceros Party ticket, but failed to appear on the ballot in any state. His slogan for the election was "No guns. No butter. Both can kill."

He splits his time between the house he grew up in that he rents from his estranged brother in Terra Linda, California, and his farm in Craftsbury, Vermont (located roughly half-way between Boston and Montreal) and played baseball around New England with the "Grey Sox", a very short-lived semi-pro team composed of former Red Sox players. In addition, Lee appears every Monday on the Loren and Wally morning show at WROR from roughly 7:45am to 7:55am (EST) and with Mitch Melnick on the Team 990 in Montreal every afternoon during baseball season. In October, 2007, he appeared in the High Times magazine and was interviewed by the marijuana-focused publication. He prides himself on saying he lives his life in a series of "small untruths", and in getting meals, trips and other stuff for free.

Specifically in 2007, Lee has played former major league players Dennis 'Oil Can' Boyd, Marquis Grissom, Delino DeShields and Ken Ryan on the Oil Can Boyd's Traveling All-Stars. The team was assembled by Boyd to "promote the heritage of the great Negro League style of baseball and the tradition of barnstorming", as well as to "serve as an inspiration to young African-American baseball players as the number of African-American players in Major League baseball continues to decline".[3][4]

On June 21/22, 2008, Lee, at the age of 61, pitched six-plus innings for the Alaska Goldpanners in their 10-6 win over the Southern California Running Birds in Fairbanks, Alaska. It was during the annual "Midnight Sun" ball game played at night on or about the Summer Solstice, when it never really gets dark.[5]

Lee is also a regular member of former pro player coaches at the annual the Red Sox Fan Fantasy Camp that takes place at the Red Sox Player Development Complex and City of Palms Park the first week of February every year.

Lee is currently partnered up in a bat manufacturing company called the Old Tyme Bat Company. The ash and maple for the bats is farmed from land he owns near his home in northern Vermont.

Spaceman: A Baseball Odyssey

In 2003, filmmakers Brett Rapkin and Josh Dixon joined Lee on a barnstorming trip to Cuba. During this trip, Rapkin and Dixon gathered footage for the documentary film "Spaceman: A Baseball Odyssey." The film premiered at the 2006 SILVERDOCS AFI/Discovery Channel Documentary Festival and later achieved high ratings on the New England Sports Network. It currently distributed across North America by Hart Sharp Video.


He is the author of four books. Two written with Richard Lally, and two with Jim Prime:

  • Lee, Bill and Dick Lally (1984). The wrong stuff, New York: Viking Press. ISBN 0670767247
  • Lee, Bill and Jim Prime (2003). The Little Red (Sox) Book: A Revisionist Red Sox History, Chicago: Triumph Books. ISBN 1572435275
  • Lee, Bill and Richard Lally (2005). Have glove, will travel: adventures of a baseball vagabond, New York: Crown Publishers. ISBN 1400054079
  • Lee, Bill and Jim Prime (2007). Baseball eccentrics: the most entertaining, outrageous, and unforgettable characters in the game, Chicago: Triumph Books. ISBN 157243953X

See also


External links

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