Bill LeeApril 28, 2010
Before we get to this card, a couple book-related thoughts from my increasingly scattered mind:
1. Chicago Tribune writer Robert Duffer has posted, at his Chicago Literary Examiner blog, a review of Cardboard Gods and an interview with me. Elsewhere, Albert Lang has posted part 1 and part 2 of an interview with me at Fantasy Baseball 101.
2. Tomorrow (4/29) at 7 p.m., I’ll be proving that I know how to read by publicly doing so aloud from my book. This demonstration will occur at Quimby’s in Chicago (1854 West North Avenue). I’ll be doing a fair amount of readings and appearances over the next few weeks (or a lot for me, anyway, and enough to max out my vacation days at my job). Please check the “Cardboard Gods book tour” page for more details. (Note: This page may continue to be updated; we are still working on possible additional appearances in the NYC area between May 13 through May 16.)
3. The latest addition to the list of appearances for the book had me jumping around my apartment a couple days ago:
WEDNESDAY, MAY 19TH, 5:30 PM EASTERN
Red Sox Team Store, 19 Yawkey Way, Boston, MA
Author appearance, book signing.
***With special guest Red Sox legend BILL LEE***
Open to those holding tickets to May 19th Red Sox game.
(Note: We tried to get a bookstore appearance in Boston, too, but because we started looking so late–or because I’m not exactly Stephen King–were unable to find any takers.)
And on that note, on to the card:
One late summer day, my brother and I bought a couple packs of cards at the general store, knowing they’d probably be mostly full of cards we’d already gotten by then, and then as we were about to head home we noticed something going on at a house just over the little bridge by the store. We walked over. There was a bunch of junk on the lawn, and a couple people picking through it, and one lady who looked a little older than our mom sitting in chaise lounge with a cigar box full of dollar bills and coins in her lap. Among the rusty garden tools and lopsided lamps and stacks of plates, we found a box that had a few baseball cards in it. I don’t remember what the price tag on the box said, but it must have been cheap, maybe 5 cents a card. This seemed like a stroke of great luck to us, as the cards seemed incredibly ancient, even though they dated from only four or five years earlier than when we’d started buying cards. We couldn’t have been more excited or more convinced that we’d stumbled upon the key to great riches if we’d taken a shovel to our back yard and found the bones of a tyrannosaurus.
We both walked away with about a pack’s worth of old cards each. This card was my favorite find, of course, and I didn’t even put any extra value on getting a player’s rookie card. I just liked that this card featured a member of my favorite team, and not only that but one of my favorites on that team, Bill Lee, and not only one of my favorites but the one guy on the team who seemed like he could waltz right into my weird house at any moment and start talking loudly with my parents about solar power and homemade beer while simultaneously joking around with me and my brother about Dick Pole and Mad Magazine.
I like that he is shown here with the Green Monster in the background. Around the time the picture was taken (perhaps on the very same day), Lee got his first look at the batter-friendly wall and famously asked reporters, “Do they leave it there during the game?”
Beyond being a fitting visual accompaniment to that quote, the card is also—and I just now realized this—the single card that ever came to me as a kid that features my favorite place in the world. All later cards featuring the Red Sox, or any other players, for that matter, were either taken in spring training or at another stadium. (Other readers of this site with a better handle on identifying stadiums in cards can more accurately comment on this, but I think California stadiums showed up most often in 1970s cards, with Yankee Stadium and its Brut sign also in the mix).
So anyway, it’s a beauty, this card—Bill Lee as a very young man in the place I love the best. I was just a year old when the picture was taken. When I was born, Bill was in the last season of a stellar college career at USC. In June, he started the final game of the College World Series, which his team won (I can’t find anything confirming that he got the win in that final game, but he was named to the all-tournament team). He rose quickly through the minors, excelling in each of his three quick stops, and was in the majors for good by 1969. His big league career spanned my childhood almost exactly, and it was a good one, over a hundred wins and a strong ERA even while pitching in a park that seemed designed to send lefties to the trauma ward; a selection to an all-star team; and eventual induction to the Red Sox’ Hall of Fame and to the Baseball Reliquary Shrine of Eternals. His career after the majors is even better in some ways in that it revealed an unsurpassed love of the game: he never stopped growing and roaming the globe and, most of all, pitching. He has played the game on practically every last shred of land on the globe. His old nemesis, Don Zimmer, is renowned for never existing as an adult outside organized baseball, even to this day holding down a job as a coach with the Tampa Bay Rays. But Bill Lee is much more impressive to me: he has never been outside of disorganized baseball, even when he was in organized baseball.