Bill Lee

April 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:

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.


  1. Oh!! Ah! Jehovah! JEHOVAH!! An appearance with Bill Lee?! On Yawkey Way no less?? Dude, that’s awesome.

    Personally, I suggest you append that Brett video to at least one post a week for the foreseeable future.

  2. I loved Bill Lee’s book, the Wrong Stuff. One of the great underrated baseball autobiographies. I remember reading how he was drawn into the Cleveland Public Library one day and just wandered into the philosophy section and pulled a few books off the shelf which changed the way he saw the world. He described it as almost an involuntary experience; as if supernatural forces made him do it.

  3. Psychsound – Agreed re The Wrong Stuff. Lee’s truly a funny, interesting iconclast. Come to think of it, I think I’ll read that sucker again; thanks for reminding me of it.

  4. That is so awesome that Spaceman will be there – I bet that will be fun and nerve-wracking at the same time.

    I am looking forward to your New York appearances. After reading the book, I want to go on a tour of The Wilker’s New York, kind of like Kramer’s J Peterman tour on Seinfeld 🙂

  5. Damn that hilarious video to hell! It took me five years to forget about Brett’s hemorrhoid problem following the 1980 World Series, and now this?? I’m going to be checking the back of his Strat-O-Matic card after every at bat now for brown stains.

  6. Psychsound,

    “The Wrong Stuff” is a very underrated baseball book.

    I always like Bill Lee. He was one of the few baseball players of the last 40 years to honestly criticize the problems with baseball. Most players just kept quiet and collected their checks, not Lee. His critique of Zimmer was spot-on. Zimmer has been lauded as some kind of folk-hero but to be honest, he was a horrible manager and single-handedly cost the Red Sox the division in ’78.

    The one thing I can never justify was the way Lee quit the game because Rodney Scott was cut. Many people have come to Lee’s defense, but I can’t honestly defend the move. Scott may have been a friend but he was basically a Replacement-Level player.

    Rodney Scott had a career .226/.313/.283 line with the Expos. Those numbers are just horrible for a full-time player. Dick Williams decision to give Scott 1300 plate appearances and bat him lead-off in ’79-80 was a horrible decision and probably cost the Expos 2 division titles. Maybe the Expos win a World Series in ’79-80 without Scott, and they’re still playing in Montreal.

    Read Roby Neyer’s Rodney Scott section in his “All time Blunders” Book.

  7. i see you’re on the b&n blog also: http://bit.ly/98e2Up. you’re so right about sox in the singular. was bill lee a sox?

  8. seaver41: How to handle a reference to a Red Sox (or White Sox) player in the singular, using just the team name, is a no-win proposition. “Bill Lee was a Red Sox” sounds wrong, but “Bill was a Red Sock” is just ridiculous. I rewrite as needed to avoid having to choose between those two awful alternatives.

  9. I prefer “Bill Lee was a Red Sock.” And the team should change the name to “Red Socks.”

  10. First of all, AWESOME! I already have a ticket for May 19th so I’ll see you and Bill Effing Lee! there. Note: there ain’t much I miss batting practice for 🙂

    Second of all–yes, Fenway was so rare with Topps. My collecting went right through the 80s to the Saturation Point, and in all that time, not much Fenway. I remember a (horizontal) card from the early 90s with Clemens leaning on the Green Monster scoreboard, so by then they’d gotten there, but the 70s-80s were pretty Fenway-free overall.

    Third of all–I may have solved your problem. I recently came across an old news article, and they used the term “Red Socker.” I have used it as my “singular Red Sox” term on my blog ever since. Actually, now I’m checking the term in a Google news search, and I’m seeing it starting in the late 30s, with heavy use in the 40s and spiking in July ’51, before pretty much disappearing, though it was still used sporadically to the end of the 20th century. Seems like it was used for hitters specifically, which makes sense, though Gordon Edes used it in 2006 to describe David Wells. Looks like the first usage was from 1924, describing Harry Hooper.

  11. I was a Mets’ fan in the 70’s, and I think Topps was based in New York, so I seem to remember that a lot of National League photographs were taken at Shea.

    I remember Gary Mathews 1974 card and it showed him sliding into 3rd base at Shea. In the Photo, Mets’ third-basemen, Wayne Garrett actually takes up more space in the photo than Mathews.

  12. Regarding the 1968 College World Series, Lee did not get the win in the final game. The following is from the USC Baseball Alumni Association newsletter:

    “In the final game the Trojans were trailing 3-2, in the bottom of the ninth with one out remaining. The Trojans had two runners on base when pinch hitter Pat Kuehner came to the plate and pounded a triple to score the tying and winning runs, giving pitcher Brent Strom the victory. In the series, Strom pitched 9 1/3 innings, giving up only one run and three hits while striking out 13.”

  13. Growing up in Wichita, KS, I was and unfortunately remain a Royals fan. Because of the small size of the Kansas City market, relatively few of their games were locally televised, and of those, even fewer were picked up for broadcast by the partnering Wichita station. Only road games were eligible for television, evidently because Royals fans couldn’t be counted on to fill the 41,000 seats at Royals Stadium. The result was that I seldom had the opportunity to lay eyes on the ballpark where my childhood idols played their 81 home games (or more, in their heyday) each year. Not even in baseball cards could I catch of glimpse of the beautiful stadium that I imagined to be larger than life, save for one – my 1976 Mike Hargrove card. Now I don’t exactly have a ton of pre-1979 cards, and I only collected cards for 5-6 years, but this is the only card I had where the picture was taken in Royals Stadium. And for this reason alone, that Hargrove card was always cherished by me.

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