Bill Lee's baseball career, as well as his life outside of baseball, is one of the all time "You had to be there" experiences. If you followed him, no explanation is necessary. If you didn't, none will suffice. He's the very definition of IYKYK.
And when I was a kid watching him take the ball every fifth day for the Red Sox or reading quotes from him in Peter Gammons columns in The Globe, if you asked me what he'd be doing when he's 75? This is what I would've pictured. Still playing baseball basically for free. Having a literal "Hold my Beer" moment. Racking up a K on his still legendary Leephus pitch, which is still so slow it wouldn't get ticketed driving through a residential area. Showing the paying customer a good time like he actually cares about them. Because he always did.
You just knew they'd have to peel the uniform off of Spaceman, and obviously no one's been able to do it yet. Nobody appreciated the game the way he did. It's long been a fashionable cliche to say about guys like Pete Rose or Brett Favre that the love the game so much they'd play for free, while every season they'd sign for the most money they could possibly get. But here's Lee, the man who once said, "Bring back natural grass and nickel beer. Baseball is the belly-button of our society. Straighten out baseball, and you straighten out the rest of the world," actually doing it. He's also the guy who was mad when Hank Aaron decided to come back for one last season. "I threw him his last home run and thought I'd be remembered forever," he said. "Now, I'll have to throw him another."
I can't imagine what he would've done if his playing days took place in a social media age. He might have been the biggest celebrity in America or it might have taken all the mystique away. Because he was too much of a character for the vapid, empty, douchebaggery of Twitter and TikTok. If Hunter S. Thompson could throw Major League sliders, he'd have been Bill Lee. One time he was asked about mandatory drug testing and he answered, "I said I believed in drug testing a long time ago. All through the sixties I tested everything."
Another time he put the game in perspective the way you'll never hear from, say, Max Scherzer. "I think about the cosmic snowball theory, he said. "A few million years from now the sun will burn out and lose its gravitational pull. The earth will turn into a giant snowball and be hurled through space. When that happens it won't matter if I get this guy out."
I got to interview him on my old WEEI podcast once and I think I said, "Welcome" and "Thanks for your time," and he did the 45 minutes in between all by himself. And he confirmed for me that he did once get fined $500 for admitting that he used cannabis. So he sent MLB a check for $513.32 or something, "Just to mess with their accounting." And that when he was running for some goofy public office in Vermont or someplace, he was asked about the classic political debate about Guns vs. Butter. And he announced he was opposed to both of them. Because they'll both kill you.
A man that unique, free spirited and deeply philosophical deserves to be drunk above the legal limit and sneaking the breaking pitches past these young sons of bitches until he's 175 years old. Bill Lee: The only Major Leaguer to ever be deemed worthy of a Warren Zevon song.
Enjoy watching him fire down beer and batters while you still can. A man like him passes this way but once.