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He Was a Pitcher Nicknamed ‘Spaceman.’ Now He Wants to Be a Governor

7 minute read

Here’s a gubernatorial platform for you: legalized pot, universal health care, seizure of federal highways, and steroid cheats in the Hall of Fame. Bill “Spaceman” Lee, the former Major League Baseball pitcher who played for the Boston Red Sox and Montreal Expos from 1969-1982, is pushing these policies as a just-declared candidate for governor in Vermont. He’s running on the Liberty Union Party ticket; Bernie Sanders helped launch this self-identified socialist organization back in the 1970s. “I’d never heard of them,” says Lee, a longtime resident of Craftsbury, Vt., population 1,136. “But I’m a socialist and a left-winger, so they came to me and said, ‘Bill, would you like to run for governor?’ I said, ‘where?’ They said, ‘the state of Vermont.’ Well, I live in Vermont. Though I’m here only three months of the year. But I hear it’s only a part time job.”

To those already familiar with Lee, one of the most eccentric figures in sports history, a quixotic bid for Vermont’s governorship won’t come as a total shock. He got his nickname in 1971; reporters gathered around Lee’s Fenway Park locker as he talked about the Apollo 15 moon landing and the U.S. space program. The crowd prevented Red Sox utility infielder John Kennedy from getting to his locker. “Looks like we got our own spaceman,” Kennedy said.

The name fit, as Lee’s mind often ventured beyond the stratosphere. Lee, who made the All-Star team in 1973 and started two games in the 1975 World Series—Boston lost that series to Cincinnati in seven games—once said that he sprinkled marijuana on his pancakes to battle Boston’s bus fumes on his jogs to Fenway Park. “To anyone who has ever talked at length with Bill Lee,” the UPI news agency wrote in 1978, “there is a sense of wonderment at what you’re hearing and how it’s presented. It often makes no sense to anyone but Lee.” He once called his manager, Don Zimmer, a “gerbil.” He staged a pair of one-game walkouts—in 1978, after the Red Sox sold close pal Bernie Carbo to the Cleveland Indians, and in 1982, after Montreal released Rodney Scott.

The insubordination effectively ended his baseball career. But Lee kept playing. For over 30 years Lee has hopscotched across North America, playing ball in various pro and recreational leagues. In 2012, at age 65, Lee pitched a complete game for the independent league San Rafael Pacifics, making him what is believed to be the oldest player to ever win a professional baseball game. He’s also barnstormed in Cuba, where he played games and offered clinics, impressing the Liberty Union Party. “He seemed to us to be a person of high quality character,” says Peter Diamondstone, secretary of the party. “He goes to Cuba and plays baseball with young girls and boys. He does things that seem to be in the spirit of the socialist community.”

What are in Lee’s political plans? “My platform is just to erase borders,” Lee says . “I’m a pragmatist. I could call myself a very radical contrastive pragmatist rastafarian ex-Catholic. I’m not a flag waver. I want to do away with that. I want to get all the steroid guys in the Hall of Fame.”

Unlike other political stump speeches, Lee’s veers toward the May 15 brawl between Rougned Odor of the Texas Rangers and Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays, in which Odor clocked Bautista. Odor received an eight-game suspension. “I’m fed up with Major League Baseball’s enforcement,” Lee says. “You know, they suspend the second baseman for landing a right hook. I thought it was the best right hook I’d ever seen. I would have taken four games off just for the contact he made. That was a great punch. Bautista had it coming too.”

In fact, Lee thinks moving a baseball team to another country will help spur economic development in Vermont. He plans to move the Tampa Bay Rays to Montreal. “It makes perfect economic sense,” Lee says , though he’s a little short on details about how moving a club some 35 miles over the Vermont border into Canada helps his state’s economy. “Because in St. Petersburg you’re not allowed out of your house unless your age matches the temperature. Everybody’s down there to get cremated and sent home anyway.” Any policies that will impact Vermonters more directly? “We’re going to take over the medians of the interstate,” Lee says. “We’re going to harvest the trees and have our baseball bat company. All Vermonters are going to be in the process of making major league baseball bats. We have the best bats.”

Besides bats, Lee’s pitching a far-left agenda. “I’m an anti-prohibition guy,” Lee says. “I think everything should be taxed, legalized. We should have complete health care just like Canada and Cuba. And I want to adopt the Cuban policy of education, where no child is left behind. Nothing like what was in the Bush Administration, which was a crock of doo-doo. There’s no such thing as a compassionate conservative. Conservatives are like a Tyrannosaurus rex. They have little short arms that never get to their pockets.” For his energy plan, Lee vows to partner with Canada. “I’m going to collaborate with all the premiers of the maritime provinces,” Lee says. “We’re going to harness the tidal bore of the Bay of Fundy and we’re going to have free energy.”

Lee says he loves fellow Vermonter Bernie Sanders, even though the Liberty Union Party thinks Sanders has long lost his socialist bona fides. “If I had run instead of Bernie on Bernie’s platform, I would have beaten Hillary,” Lee says. Lee has no love for likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, given her ties to Wall Street. But he despises Donald Trump. “I write poetry about him everyday,” he says. “And it’s not good.” Lee criticizes Trump for immediately concluding that terrorism caused the EgyptAir Flight 804 crash on May 19. He wrote a poem—titled “Is This Your Final Answer?”—in which he describes how the tragedy could have been an accident. He also expresses frustration with Trump:

37,000 Feet/Coming off of autopilot/Clear air turbulence/Pilot half asleep/Banks hard to the port/Overcorrects to starboard/Right wing falls off/Into the drink/Pilot error/F–k Trump/Is that your final answer?/Yes”

Lee, who has been the subject of a documentary and was played by actor Josh Duhamel in this year’s indie film Spaceman, says he has no regrets about his major league career. He knows people think he’s looney. “I’m crazy like a fox,” Lee says. “I eat well, I get three squares a day, the police love me, the fire department loves me, the left wing loves me and the right wing loves me. Now all I’ve got to get is the middle to love me.” Why does he think the right wing would be fond of an avowed socialist? “Because I’m a gut totin’ liberal,” he says. “I’ve shot more ducks and more geese and more pheasants—I could have made quilts for everybody in northern Vermont, with all the geese I’ve shot.”

The Spaceman’s vowing big changes. But at the same time, he insists inaction will be a core principal of his administration, which would also include Boots Wardinski, a local horse logger, as his lieutenant governor. “Between the two of us, we’re not going to do a whole hell of a lot,” Lee says. “Because here’s the thing. Lao Tzu said it: ‘Under great leaders, when all is said and done, the people say we did it ourselves.’ You like that? That’s Lao Tzu.”


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