- P, DH
- December 28, 1946
- 6' 3"
- 205 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 6-25-1969 with BOS
Lee's colorful personality sometimes overshadowed his excellent pitching. He earned his Spaceman nickname when, on his first view of Fenway's left field wall, he asked, "Do they leave it there during games?" Always willing to speak his mind, he led a Red Sox revolt against manager Don Zimmer (whom he called "the gerbil"); criticized domed stadiums, artificial turf, and the designated hitter rule; and admitted to marijuana use, but only "sprinkled on cereal." He ultimately left the ML when he walked off the Expos in protest of the release of friend Rodney Scott. He was the victim of freak accidents, including one where he was nearly killed by a taxi that ran him down while he was jogging. In between the oddities, he was a fine control pitcher who won 17 games three straight seasons for Boston (1973-75) and 16 for the Expos in 1979.
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. He attended the University of Southern California from 1964-1968 where he played for Rod Dedeaux, and was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 22nd round of the 1968 Major League Baseball Draft.
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 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. His first start came in Game 2 of the series which the Reds won 3-2. In Game 7, Lee shut out the Reds for five innings and the Red Sox took a 3-0 lead. Lee left with a blister. and 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
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 attitude and lack of respect for authority clashed with Zimmer's old-school, conservative personality. Lee and a few other of the more anti-authority Red Sox formed what they called "The Buffalo Heads" as a response to the manager. Zimmer retaliated during the season by relegating Lee to the bullpen and convincing management to trade away some of them, including Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins and Bernie Carbo.
Lee was traded at the end of 1978 to the Montreal Expos for Stan Papi, a utility infielder. Letting his temper show, 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); his professional 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"--a nickname given to him by former Red Sox infielder, John Kennedy. His outspoken manner and outrageous comments were frequently recorded in the press, much to the horror of his parents. He 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. He claimed his marijuana use made him impervious to bus fumes while jogging to work at Fenway Park.
Lee often spoke out on matters concerning the team and was not afraid to criticize management, leading to him being dropped from both the Red Sox and the Expos.
After the Expos released Lee, he played for semi-professional teams, including the single-season Senior League in Florida, largely composed of retired major leaguers.
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.
On September 5, 2010, Lee pitched 5 2⁄3 innings for the Brockton Rox, picking up the win. The win made him the oldest pitcher to appear in or to win a professional baseball game.
Bill lives in northern Vermont. Unemployed and often homeless, he plays ball in the New England area and is devoted to supporting charities through softball games and golf tournament appearances. Bill is also a regular on Melnick in the Afternoon with Mitch Melnick at The Team 990 all sports radio in Montreal, discussing baseball & life weekdays afternoons at 5:45 ET
Spaceman: A Baseball Odyssey
In 2003, filmmakers Brett Rapkin and Josh Dixon gathered a guerrilla film crew and 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 on the New England Sports Network and MLB Network. It is 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
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- 1975 World Series, All Star, Bill Lee, Boston Red Sox, Montreal Expos, Spaceman, The Sporting News Pitcher of the Year Award