Monday, December 23, 2013

FACE TIME: 1982 DONRUSS BILL LEE




The Man of the Cosmos, Bill Lee, turns 67 on Saturday. The Cardboard Examiner has gone much too long without featuring Spaceman, Supreme Leader of the Galactic Counter-Culture. So, a week's worth of posts is in order. Grab a cold one and/or spark up. By all means take time away from last-minute Christmas shopping and those annoying relatives to space out ...

It's easy to take Spaceman at face value. 

Hippie.

Commie.

Druggie.

Dig just a little deeper, however, and you might uncover something closer to the truth.

Army veteran.

Geography major.

Baseball traditionalist.

He's certainly left-handed but maybe not as far left as you might think. Sure, Lee has a mischievous side that matches his smirky wise-ass puss. And it could often rub authority the wrong way. He once proudly wore a "Lick Dick'' T-shirt inside the clubhouse to protest President Richard Nixon in '72, putting him on the outs with Red Sox manager Eddie Kasko. But he also believes the only thing worse than free agency is the designated hitter.

This coming from someone whose college aptitude test recommended undertaker as a profession. Instead, Lee went to USC to study geography by way of dentistry. Spaceman wrist-deep in someone's mouth and in control of the laughing gas spigot? I'm making an appointment. Now.

Philosophy seems to be Lee's true calling. Some of his Zen-like observations are part genius. He once said baseball is a game for collectors: Teams collect wins and losses; players collect stats; and fans collect souvenirs. That hits home.

He always wanted to play in Cuba, he wrote in his autobiography The Wrong Stuff, to whiff Fidel Castro and body surf in the Bay of Pigs. Hmm, two activities you normally don't associate.

When teammate Carl Yastrzemski napped on his side in the clubhouse wearing his uniform, who else would note Yaz's No. 8 on its side was the infinity symbol? Spaceman theorized that's what he drew his life force from. "If he had just worn his uniform while he slept at night, I am convinced he could have played forever,'' Lee wrote.

Now that's deep. Can't wait for Spaceman observations at age 88.

Lee also wrote that he feared mankind becoming a haven for the hopeless who lack self-esteem, living through sports teams. He wasn't about to give up hope himself. He certainly could have. 

The majors blacklisted him after a one-day walk-out over the Expos cutting Rodney Scott in 1982. He never played in the majors again. But he was far from done playing. He became a vagabond ringer-for-hire, joining pick-up games throughout the world. His second book, Have Glove, Will Travel, detailed this odyssey. While he never got a chance to blow away Castro, he did get a chance to play on the island. 

The Face from Space had landed and was never more grounded playing for the love of the game. 



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