RSN: The author Tom Robbins was once quoted as saying: "You're never too old to enjoy a happy childhood." Does that describe Bill Lee?
BL: I've never grown up, and hope I never do. Let's put it this way: you can only be young once, but you can be immature forever!
RSN: Is that a description you'd tag yourself with?
BL: It is right now. I'm currently serving a suspension for being immature in a Senior League game. One of my outfielders made a mental mistake — I hate mental mistakes — and I threw my glove at the ball when it came back to the infield. Even though it was one of my own teammates I was mad at, the opposition got all up-in-arms and started complaining. I asked what the big deal was, and one of them said I was being too serious, that it was "only a Sunday game." I answered back: "Did you come up here to look at the trees or to play baseball and try to beat me?"
RSN: I'm guessing they didn't like that response.
BL: No, and their pitcher had already thrown at me three times, so they weren't being very polite. They had some things to say, but if you talk to me I'm talking back. Vernacular is in my DNA and I majored in "Comebacks 101." Anyway, I'm suspended now.
RSN: Some of the notable things you said, and did, were as a member of "The Buffalo Heads." Tell us about that infamous group from the mid-1970s Red Sox.
BL: Fergie Jenkins started it. I was an original member, as were Rick Wise, Jim Willoughby and Bernie Carbo. Carbo was the only non-pitcher. Allen Ripley joined in at one point — he was actually dating Darrell Johnson's daughter. Rick Krueger wanted to be a part of it, too. Don Zimmer, of course, played a big role in the whole thing.
RSN: I've read somewhere that Dick Pole was involved.
BL: He wasn't, as he was on his way out by then. I do, however, remember being on the back of the bus with him knowing his days with the team were numbered. I was blasting The Eagle's Already Gone on the tape deck, and he was singing along with it — lustily. Zimmer thought it was me, but it was Dick.
RSN: Can you share a good Buffalo Heads story with us?
BL: We went out the night before the last game of the season, once, and really had a time of it. I believe it was before Brooks Robinson's last game. Anyway, I remember Carbo was sleeping under the trainer's table, and Jenkins was asleep in the bullpen. I had run six miles that morning to get the poison out of my system, but I wasn't doing that great either.
RSN: This was the next day?
BL: Yes. So the game starts, and Mike Paxton gets roughed up in the first inning. The bullpen phone rings, and they want Jenkins up! Why that was, I'll never know. The guy's a future Hall of Famer and they want him up in a meaningless game on the last day of the season? Hell, we just let him sleep — had the bullpen coach say he wasn't there. I don't think that was a very popular move, but that's what happened.
RSN: Let's talk about pitching, and pitchers. We'll start with Oil Can Boyd.
BL: The Can! Man, he's a great story. As a matter of fact, if they ever do Satchel Paige's life story, Oil Can should play the lead role. He's Satchel, incarnate! I was sort of a left handed Paige, myself, but The Can was the real deal.
RSN: I brought up Oil Can because he threw such a variety of pitches, and from a lot of different arm angles. Warren Spahn, meanwhile, said you only need two: the one the hitter's looking for, and the one he's not. Where do you fit in?
BL: I know it's a cliché, but pitching is like real estate: location, location, location. That, and changing speeds. It takes guts and confidence to throw slow stuff over the plate, but you have to do it. Greg Maddux pitches like the Spahn quote. He gets hitters looking for one thing and freezes them with another. I think he looks at the plate differently than other pitchers. He looks at it in three-dimensions, with a spatial relationship.
RSN: What did you throw, and how hard?
BL: I could get as high as 90, but I was mostly around 86. I could be pinpoint at 85-86, so that's where I stayed most of the time. I threw a change and breaking ball, too. Sometimes a cutter off my fastball. My change was like a screwball. I threw a 12-to-6 curve, sort of like Barry Zito does now. And I knew enough to stay away from guys who were hot.
RSN: Tell us about that.
BL: There are times when you have to pitch around guys who are hitting everything. Derek Lowe, for instance, has the problem of not knowing when a hitter is dangerous. Sometimes you can't attack every hitter. You have to stay away from the guys who are hot. Of course, sometimes the whole team is hot and then you need to get lucky. I once saw Catfish Hunter give up seven consecutive fly-outs to the warning track.
RSN: It sounds like you might be a believer in charts on hitters, more than pitching to your own strengths.
BL: I believe you should know the hitters, but you should KNOW them — not have to rely on charts. That's one of the problems with baseball. There are too many academics and slide rule guys, and not enough baseball guys. Why use charts when you can use your mind? That's what your neurons are for.
RSN: If you could have pitched in another era, which would it be?
BL: For selfish reasons, this one. There's a lot more money, and I could retire on St. Maartens and swim naked every day. I like to scare the fish.
RSN: And if it was a past era?
BL: I'm reincarnated, so I've actually played in all of them already. I believe I used to be Iron Man McGinnity. I was Ed Delahanty, too.
RSN: You grew up in Southern California and were eleven years old when the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles. Tell us about your early days as a fan.
BL: I followed the Hollywood Stars and Los Angeles Angels before the Dodgers came to town. My grandfather actually played for the Stars. And if you remember A League of Their Own, my aunt Annabelle played for them.
RSN: What about once the Dodgers got there?
BL: I was a big Dodgers fan until I met Al Campanis. I wanted to pitch for them when I left Southern Cal, but he said I didn't have the stuff to make it in the big leagues. That was his opinion and he was wrong.
RSN: Tell us about your days at USC.
BL: Everyone on my mother's side of the family graduated from there. I went on a combo scholarship, academic and athletic, and have degrees in Geography and Physical Education. My dad went to UCLA but said I should go to USC to play baseball. He said it's better to be a small fish in a great pond, and he was right.
RSN: You grew up in California, but now call Vermont home. Why is that?
BL: I'm a Vermont kind of guy. I sit here on the planet Earth, but I have to be sheltered somewhere. Up here by the Canadian border I have 300-year-old maples to do that for me. Put it this way: Nobody sees me, wherever I am. I'm isolated. As a matter of fact, you could call me a compassionate misanthrope.
RSN: And a verbose one at that.
BL: Like I said, vernacular is in my DNA. I quote Latin all the time. It's pretty neat to know Latin. I'm no expert, but I can read it.
RSN: What else do you read?
BL: I've read everything. Right now I'm reading de Maupin, an essayist from France. I like Nathaniel Hawthorne, John Steinbeck, Kurt Vonnegut; Carl Hiaasen. Hemingway's Nick Adams stories — I love those. You mentioned Tom Robbins. I really like his early stuff. What a narrator! Richard Brautigan and I are kindred spirits. Trout Fishing in America is on my bookshelf.
RSN: What about music?
BL: I love good music. All kinds of music. Everything from Aaron Copland to Led Zeppelin. I love the blues, jazz, Hank Williams Jr. I like Hank Williams the 3rd, too. I've heard he's always shit-faced like his grandpa, but the songs are good. I like Little Feat, Warren Zevon. I listen to Carmina Burana when I need a pick-me-up. Don Henley is one of America's great poets. I listen to everything.
RSN: Have you known many people in the music industry?
BL: I used to hang out with Zevon. George Thorogood and I are friends. I knew the Eagles. I lived Hotel California! Back in the '70s I lived on the same street as Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw. Neil Young was there, too. Cheech Marin and I played basketball together. Trick-or-treating in that neighborhood was quite interesting!
RSN: Let's jump back to baseball. Who are some of the best teammates you had, and some of the smartest?
BL: Ben Oglivie did the New York Times Crossword Puzzle faster than anyone I've ever seen. He should have become a GM. Mario Guerrero was a great guy. Jim Willoughby is a computer whiz now. He really turned his life around. I'm still in contact with guys like Carbo and Fergie.
RSN: You gave up your share of home runs. Tell us about the two that you hit.
BL: The first one cost me the ballgame. I came in with us behind and homered off Cleveland's Ray Lamb to tie it up, but then gave up a run and lost. The winning run scored on an inning-ending double-play, believe it or not. The infield fly rule was called on a pop-up to short left, and the ball ended up ricocheting off of Ben Oglivie and all hell broke loose. There was a lot of confusion and the run counted even though the other base runners were out. (EDITOR'S NOTE: Lee remembers this as a non-sequential triple play, but it is officially recorded as a double play. The game was played on September 11, 1972.)
RSN: Do you remember the other one?
BL: The other came when I was playing for Montreal. I should have had three, as I hit a triple at Fenway Park that should have been an inside-the-park homer. Eddie Popowski was coaching third, but he was too short to pick up as I was rounding third, so I held up. Third base coaches should be taller.
RSN: Who were the best hitting pitchers you played with?
BL: Gary Peters could really hit, but Ken Brett was even better. He had a beautiful swing. Someone with an ugly swing that could hit was Luis Tiant. Guys like Oil Can and me swung at everything and tried to hit every ball out of the park — and didn't. I did, however, and this should be duly noted, hit .348 for the Expos in my last year. They thought so highly of that that they released me!
RSN: What are your thoughts on the demise of the Montreal franchise?
BL: It's a travesty to humanity. Greed and corruption are the reasons behind it, and the only way to save the world is through baseball. Had there been a franchise in Iraq most of the problems with Saddam could have been avoided. Baseball did the world a great justice by putting a team in Montreal, and now they want to take it away. It's wrong.
RSN: Give us your opinion on Fenway Park.
BL: It's a jewel of a park. The new ownership is doing just fine fixing it up. They should have the Boston Pops play there every night, though.
RSN: Are there any other ballparks you're fond of?
BL: I loved Ernie Harwell and Tiger Stadium. I remember climbing the screen behind home plate after a game once to retrieve a ball. The broadcast booth was right there, and I could hear Ernie doing the post game show and see him looking at me in amazement. I have another good memory of Tiger Stadium, too from 1972. We had just lost the pennant on the last weekend of the season, and I got caught up in the crowd leaving. A bunch of Tigers fans recognized me and said not to look so downtrodden, that I should celebrate with them instead. I thought, "What the hell," and the next thing I knew I was 35 miles north of the city partying with a bunch of Detroit fans. I'm not sure how happy Eddie Kasko would have been had he known. (EDITOR'S NOTE: Kasko was the Boston manager at the time.)
RSN: Who hit the longest home runs off of you?
BL: Frank Howard hit one off the clock in JFK Stadium against me that I think I jumped for. It kept rising though, and rising…and finally stopped when it hit something. Richie Allen hit one into the upper deck at Comiskey Park that is still going. I jumped for that one, too.
RSN: The one you gave up to Tony Perez in 1975 is well-documented, but what else is memorable about that game? I assume there were other pitches, and other plays, that stand out.
BL: As for the pitch to Perez: I shouldn't have thrown it. But the double-play we didn't turn right before that was huge! (Don) Zimmer moved (Denny) Doyle, and that cost us. (Johnny) Bench had been going the other way against me, but you still have to have the second baseman in a position where he can turn two. That's what I remember. Bench played a big role in game two of the series, also.
RSN: Tell us about that.
BL: There's no way I should have faced him after the long rain delay. I came back out and he hit the double down the right-field line, which he said he was going to do! During the delay he was interviewed on National TV and told the reporter that he'd try to go the other way against me. And nobody who heard him say that thought it might be helpful to tell me?
RSN: What kind of manager would you make?
BL: I'm a Dick Williams when it comes to managing. That's why I'm not doing it in the big leagues. They want touchy-feely guys these days. I'm critical when it comes to bad baseball, and a critic in his own time isn't respected. But I need to get old before I even worry about that stuff, anyway. I'm still a ballplayer. When I do get old I know one thing: I'm going to wear a suit in the dugout like Connie Mack.
RSN: Last week there was a bit of a dust-up between the Red Sox and Yankees. Having been involved in a few of those yourself , notably in 1976, do have any comments on Jason Varitek versus Alex Rodriguez?
BL: Varitek had a golden opportunity to punch him right in the nose! Instead, he sees himself as a Sumo wrestler. Enough said!
RSN: With the Democratic Convention going on right now, perhaps we should introduce politics into the conversation. Is there anything you'd like to say on that subject?
BL: We get the government we deserve. It's kind of like a rabbit. Someone says, "Here comes a rabbit," and by the time you look it's gone. Mankind is just a blip on the screen. We're here now, but we're checking out soon. It's all solar energy versus oil, and then we're gone.
RSN: Any closing thoughts?
BL: I live my life by serendipity and spontaneity, and I'm still playing baseball here on the planet Earth. That's it.