Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan on what Lee's career could have been had Yankees third baseman Graig Nettles not ruined the Spaceman's shoulder in a 1976 brawl:
“This is what Lee could have been if doesn’t get hurt and he continued on that path,” said Ryan. “Mark Buehrle. They’re the same pitcher.”
Buehrle isn’t exactly a sexy name, and his unassuming demeanor is far cry from the Spaceman's. But it’s nonetheless high praise. Buehrle was a five-time all star who won 214 games over his 16-year career. He was as durable as they come, an innings eater who topped 200 innings in all but his first and final seasons — he finished the 2015 season, his last, with 198.2 innings pitched. Buehrle was one the better lefties of his generation and among the league's most dependable starters, period.
Ryan on Lee's fickle political leanings:
Ed Markey, a onetime classmate of Ryan and now a Massachusetts state senator, was running for congress for the first time in 1976. Ryan heard Lee endorse Markey in a Boston radio commercial. So he approached Lee in the clubhouse in Cleveland.
“I said, ‘Hey, I heard you’re endorsing Markey! He’s a good man, that’s wonderful,” Ryan recalled. “He said, ‘Yeah, but I’m not gonna vote for him. I found somebody else. I’m gonna vote for this guy Leff.’ He said Leff was even more left than Leff, and that appealed to Bill.”
Lee has been an MLB ambassador to Cuba since 1999, frequently traveling to the island country on goodwill barnstorming tours. One such tour in 2003 was the subject of the documentary Spaceman: A Baseball Odyssey, by filmmaker Brett Rapkin. Rapkin wrote and directed the new film Spaceman, starring Josh Duhamel as Lee.
Last month Lee toured Canada with a group of Cuban players. At a game in Manitoba, the opposing starting pitcher couldn’t pitch. So Lee pitched for both teams. Eight innings later, with neither team having scored, a (maybe?) tiring Lee finally left the mound. Reminder: Lee is nearly 70.
“I shut the whole town of Altona, Manitoba, out,” said Lee. He added that as he exited following the eighth he exclaimed, “Let the scoring begin!’”
In addition to his natural hyper-competitiveness and charisma, Lee is also a natural jester. While playing catcher at a charity Wiffle ball game at Little Fenway in Essex Junction, he sneaked behind a batter and playfully grabbed the head of her skinny yellow bat, so that when she tried to swing she couldn’t. That same inning, when the ump cracked a joke about “old man” Lee having a hard time getting in and out of his catcher’s crouch, the 69-year-old flashed that magnetic, surfer-dude smile and quipped, “Don’t I know it? I just had to raise my toilet up four inches.”
Lee helped his Burlington Cardinals teammate, catcher Miro Weinberger, campaign for mayor prior to Weinberger's 2012 election.
At a Center City Little League baseball day camp, Lee coached a group of Burlington leaguers ranging in ages from 6 to 12, including the young son of another Cards teammate, attorney Tom Simon.
After the camp, Simon asked his his son what he thought of working with the Sox legend. "It was OK, I guess," his son responded. Asked what they worked on, the boy said, "Oh, he taught us how to throw curveballs."
In case you didn't know, most physicians say that kids shouldn't throw breaking balls until they're physically mature because of the damage it can cause to developing arms. "No way," said Lee. "Throwing a curveball only hurts your arm if you don't know how to throw it the right way."
In a radio interview with ESPN's Dan LeBatard, Lee questioned the veracity of Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis' claim to have pitched a no-hitter while high on LSD in 1970. Lee called him a "fraud."
Lee told me he never pitched high, either. Though he did on occasion pitch with a buzz.
"I beat Catfish Hunter on six beers once," Lee said, referring to the Hall of Hame pitcher. "We were in New York. I got a little drunk, got laid, and then I whupped Catfish. It was a good day."