THE SPACEMAN, BILL LEE, IS . . . : Still Crazy After All These Years

Times Staff Writer

There is something you should know about our future President, so keep this in mind before you vote for Bill Lee. He loses things sometimes.

Lee's driver's license and his money fell out of his Bermuda shorts on the seventh hole during one of the several rounds of golf he played last week. But by the time he reached the fairway on 18, a couple of kids had returned them to him.

The next two days were an epidemic. Lee temporarily lost his golf clubs in the woods, which is where he left them when he was looking for the ball, which he also lost, courtesy of a tremendous slice. He found them. The clubs, that is. The ball is still missing.

Then Lee lost his car keys in a restaurant but a waitress found them and had them waiting for him when he came back to search. Lee completed his lost weekend when he misplaced his eyeglasses. Like all the other stuff, Lee's glasses were only temporarily absent. Lee found them at the side of the asphalt basketball court where he had taken them off before shooting some hoops in a slight drizzle.

A pattern seems to be emerging here. All this lost and found must mean something. Things just keep coming back to him. It's like completing a circle. It's symmetry. Some people would call it luck. Lee would call it Zen, karma, something to do with Buckminster Fuller, the Cartesian coordinates, or he might have another kind of theory that those who recognize Lee only by his reputation would consider to be as flaky as a freshly baked croissant.

You might even see why they would think that. Early in his childhood, long before he pitched in the major leagues, Lee realized that he was seeing life from a somewhat different perspective. He said his first bed was one of those that you pulled out of the wall.

"I constantly had nightmares of being sucked back into the wall," Lee said. He was silent for a moment while he thought about it. "Something happened to me, obviously," he said.

And now, Lee wants something else to happen to him. He wants to be President. He wants to pitch in relief of Ronald Reagan. For a couple of reasons. It seems that Lee and Reagan have their philosophical differences. Lee said Reagan is mixing up his pitches.

"It's all based on Descartes," Lee said. "Reagan tries to put Descartes before the horse."

Lee wants to replace Reagan, and not only because Reagan didn't accomplish much at the economic summit in Venice.

"I know why he went there," Lee said. "He went there to get a vacation and to eat. Why does anyone go to Venice? To rekindle his vows with his wife. He never even got to ride in a gondola."

The "Spaceman," Bill Lee has landed, deep in Canada's Maritimes. He is spending the summer playing semipro baseball as a 40-year-old pitcher-first baseman with the Moncton Mets, here in New Brunswick. The Nova Scotia Senior Baseball League is not the major leagues, which is where Lee worked for 13 years, and the Moncton Mets are not the Boston Red Sox or Montreal Expos. Those are the teams Lee pitched for until the Expos fired him early in the 1982 season after a celebrated incident in which he bolted the team. Lee was gone, but only for a little while. Then he came back. It was Zen.

When the Expos waived second baseman Rodney Scott, Lee protested by leaving the clubhouse for four hours. He went to a bar, had a few beers and then returned to the clubhouse in the eighth inning so he could be there if he was needed in relief, which was baseball's version of last call. It turned out to be the final straw. Then-Expo manager Jim Fanning was not amused then and he still isn't.

Fanning, who is a radio broadcaster for the Expos, had little nice to say when he was asked about Lee.

"I don't want to talk about Bill Lee," Fanning said. "Too bad he didn't have his head screwed on straight. He jumped the club. He was out there in a tavern one game. How'd you like to have had him in your platoon in World War II?"

Here's another question: How would you like him for President?

Bill Lee is running for the highest office in the land, the presidency of the United States, although he is currently living and playing baseball in Canada. This is only a small inconvenience, he points out. As the champion of the Rhinoceros Party, Lee's candidacy is more satirical than serious. It's a bit of whimsy, but often, so then is Bill Lee.

After all, Lee is considering asking Muhammad Ali to be his running mate on the Rhino ticket because Lee likes the idea of the slogan they would have: "Me and Muhammad."

Lee envisions asking author Tom Robbins to head up a newly created cabinet post of Secretary of Gravity so "he'd lighten things up." Lee wants to do away with chairs so we would become a nation of people who can stand up for themselves and also plans to turn the White House ellipse into a baseball diamond. Of course, as President, Lee would pitch.

"Everybody wants to see if they can get a hit off the President," Lee said. "They'd try to take him deep."

Lee read a sign that was posted near the water line. Profond , it said. In French, the word profond means deep. Lee thought he had discovered something pretty neat.

"I think we're in profond water here," said the candidate.

The province of New Brunswick is about the size of the state of Maine, to which it is connected at the left hip. To the southeast is Nova Scotia, straight east is Prince Edward Island and still farther east and slightly to the north is Newfoundland.

We're talking cold here. It's so cold in the winter that the Moncton parks and recreation department takes down the basketball poles until summer so they don't get wrecked. The kids can stand on the snowbanks and dunk on a goal that's one foot off the ice.

But in the summer, Moncton is humid and warm. Lee said one of the reasons he likes it here is that even the weeds have flowers. There is a lot of green and, because it rains a lot, the conventional flowers are looking pretty good right now, especially the lupines and lilacs.

At nearly 10 p.m., a little bit of twilight was still hitting the lupines as Lee steered down the highway toward a seafood restaurant. He was heading for the town of Shediac, which bills itself as the Lobster Capital of the World. At the very least, Shediac should be the county seat for lobsters. There you can buy a dozen one-pounders for $24.

Perhaps this was what was on Bill Lee's mind as he looked out the window. Maybe it was the lupines, or the lilacs or the forest of trees split by the highway and transformed into green blur as he drove past.

"Canada," he said. "The Great North."

On the car's cassette player, the Rolling Stones were singing.

" ... you can't always get what you want ... "

But if Lee tries sometime, he just might find, he gets what he needs. Lee doesn't like to plan ahead, he's only interested in the moment. And at this moment, all Lee needs is baseball and someone to play it with. The Moncton team pays Lee to play for them during the Mets' season and provides a house for him and his wife, Pam, and Lee's three children from his first marriage, who are spending the summer with them. It's a pretty normal household, although son Mike, 16, upset Pam just a bit the time he put Pumpkin, the family cat, in the refrigerator for a while.

On his days off, Lee plays a lot of golf, hunts, fishes, bikes and plots a presidential campaign that is being hatched in something other than a political incubator. This is a simple place of simple tastes and uncomplicated pleasures. Lee talked about an elderly New Brunswick man he knew of who owned several hundred acres of land in an area that the Canadian government wanted to convert into Kouchibouguac National Park. The man's relatives wanted him to hold out for a large cash settlement, but all he wanted was a pickup truck and a hotel room for the rest of his life.

Lee doesn't want much more than that. The Lees do not own a house and spend most of the winter living with Lee's parents in San Rafael, Calif., although Pam said Lee has told her they'll find a permanent place in Florida soon. Lee's father, who is also a Bill Lee, can't guess where his son is going to wind up.

"I wish I knew," he said. "I wish he would settle down somewhere and get a job, but he'll probably be a nomad the rest of his life. Money just doesn't mean much to him. He makes enough money to put gas in his car and travel in the winter time."

But that's later. This is now. So Lee is running for President and running to cover first base for the Mets at the same time. Lee believes he is eminently qualified to be running for both.

"I don't do commercials, I don't owe anybody any money, I work hard," he said. "Because of those three factors, that's the only kind of person that should be President of the United States. He shouldn't represent anybody and he shouldn't be catering to any lobbyists. His whole job is to blend in.

"A great leader is someone who just has nothing to gain from it and doesn't try to push for his own political party. I don't want to do things for myself because I don't need anything. All I need is a baseball diamond and 18 people who want to participate. That's all you need in life."

Lee is spending his fourth summer playing for the Mets, who have prospered in the stands since he joined the team. The Mets, locked in their annual bitter struggle with the Fredericton Schooners for the Nova Scotia Senior League title, have averaged about 1,200 fans a game since Lee joined the team. Some say Lee is responsible for attracting enough fans to Kiwanis Park to save the team.

"Before Bill, the only ones who came to the Mets' games were players' wives, players' kids and players' mothers," said Art Austin, a photographer who has been taking pictures at the Mets' games for years.

The Mets won 11 straight before finally losing to Fredericton on the road. Lee was the starting pitcher and left with a 9-5 lead although he gave up four bases-empty home runs. The next day he complained of whiplash from watching the balls fly out of the park.

Ralph Chambers, the coach of the Mets, said he gives Lee a loose rein and that seems to work best.

"He's nobody's best friend, but that's because he keeps to himself," Chambers said. "We know he's a character, so we just kind of ride with him. He's got a few different ideas, I know, but Bill is harmless."

Does that mean you'd vote for him for President?

"Let me just say this," Chambers said. "I'm glad I live in Canada."

Here is how Lee would write his own story:

By BILL LEE,

Times Special Correspondent MONCTON, New Brunswick

"Sometimes the best play is no play at all." When you can comprehend the meaning of that statement, you will gain all the wisdom of the ages. The possessor of that wisdom is Rod Dedeaux. I am his disciple.

Have you ever heard the one, a yell, "Run that pop fly out hard because one day in your life, it's not going to come down"? I'm preparing for that day. It all happens within the Cartesian coordinates, the plus-minus axis. The baseball diamond!

I have the ability to read minds. And that's bad because there's a lot of weird (bleep) out there.

It makes me mad and I want to run away from society, to hide in the bush. But I don't want to be known as a man who abandoned a sinking ship. Therefore, I must run for President, the captain of Spaceship Earth.

Rod Dedeaux, who coached Lee at USC, is retired. He still thinks a lot of his former pupil and invites Lee to the Trojan alumni game each year. But Dedeaux isn't quite sure about that wisdom of the ages stuff, though.

"Well, golly, I think Bill is digging real deep and philosophizing," Dedeaux said. "When I coached him, I always stressed just doing things to the best of your ability. To avoid making mistakes. And you know, Bill had an exceptionally fine mind. If he runs for President, he'll get my vote, I'll tell you that."

Is Bill Lee presidential timber?

Does a rhinoceros wallow in the mud?

The Rhinoceros Party lurched across the Canadian political landscape for the first time in 1962. Founded by Dr. Jacques Ferron, a physician and novelist from Quebec, the Rhinos parodied politics and government in Canada, sometimes with surprising results.

On most issues, the Rhinos stood alone on soggy ground. These weren't conventional issues, but the Rhinos were not a conventional party either. Over the years, Rhinoceros Party candidates proposed nuclear-powered toothbrushes, moving the Rocky Mountains to improve the view, paying off the national debt with an American Express card, paving over the Bay of Fundy for a parking lot and came up with an idea to relocate Canada's Israeli Embassy in a Montreal delicatessen.

Energy-conscious Rhinos sought an end to the fuel crisis by advocating a lower boiling point for water. The Rhinos once declared war on Belgium, for reasons still unknown, and at one time proposed changing the name of the Canadian dollar to the peso.

No matter how silly the Rhinos got, it didn't seem to matter. The Rhinos reached their height in the 1984 general elections when 122 party candidates ran for office and drew nearly 99,000 votes. The Rhinoceros Party actually came in second in two races in the province of Quebec, finishing ahead of the Social Democratic Party, which could not match the Rhinos either in votes or sense of humor.

When Ferron died in 1985 at the age of 64, the Rhinos found themselves on the horns of a dilemma. Could the party carry on without its founder? Ferron's brother and medical partner, Paul, left a taped message on the office answering machine: "Dr. Ferron is away . . . in a definitive way."

The party decided to disband. Charlie McKenzie, the Rhino's national campaign director, made the announcement in the party's unofficial headquarters, a seedy Montreal bar called "Les Foufounes Electrique," or "The Electric Fanny."

But now, the Rhinos are back in the race, and Lee is in there pitching for President. This is no coincidence, mind you. McKenzie said that when Ferron was cremated, his remains were mixed with a box of itching powder and then sprinkled from an airplane. Sure they were.

"No, that's true," McKenzie said. "When we start itching, we know that elections are in the works."

Since the Rhinos have run only in Canada before, they're covering brand new territory in the United States. However, McKenzie said he has already established a connection between the party and the people of the United States. It is an alliance between the Rhinos and the Hobos of America.

"Actually, it's a non-aggression pact," McKenzie said. "We agreed not to attack the hobos and they agreed not to attack us."

McKenzie has been making further progress with Lee's campaign. McKenzie said he expects Lee to take part in the Iowa caucus under the Rhino banner and that papers will be filed so that Lee can enter the New Hampshire primary. Lee was a born Rhino, McKenzie said.

"The man's a natural," McKenzie said. "He throws a screwball and a curve, which is more than you can say for Ronald Reagan. The marriage between the Rhinos and Bill Lee is a marriage made in heaven."

Bill Lee was made in California. The house he lived in right after he was born was a duplex on Vineland Avenue near some power lines across the street from the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank. While this may not be the presidential equivalent of Abe Lincoln's log cabin, Lee said it's close enough.

"It's the modern concept," he said.

Lee's father played a lot of sandlot games and fast-pitch softball in the San Fernando Valley. Grandfather William Francis Lee Sr., for whom Bill was named, was a ballplayer in Los Angeles in the early 1900s. On his mother's side, Lee's grandfather was one of the early ecologists and he made an impact on young Bill, who wrote about him in his autobiography "The Wrong Stuff."

Lee's grandfather used to run litterers off the road in his car. He was also convinced that motorboats were polluting the lake near his home, so he often sat on the shore and rooted for water skiers to crash into each other.

Lee's great-grandfather, Rockwell Dennis Hunt, was a historian and dean of the USC graduate school. From this background, Bill Lee sprung into the world. The family moved to Northern California when Lee was a sophomore in high school. But even at that age, Lee was still kind of shy.

"He was rather timid as a youngster," said Paula Lee, his mother. "He didn't make too many waves. That came later. We've been through a lot with him. We've had white hair for many years and I don't know if you can say Bill brought it on or not. Certainly, it's never been dull with him."

Lee's father taught him to throw a curve and a knuckler, how to change speeds on his pitches and made sure he knew how to get his breaking ball over the plate. When Lee graduated from high school in 1964, he thought about being a forest ranger, but his mother was pushing him to be a dentist. Lee, however, resisted. He said he didn't want to spend all those hours on his feet digging five-day-old frankfurters out of somebody's mouth.

In the end, Lee chose USC, following family tradition. He didn't get a baseball scholarship as a freshman, but Dedeaux awarded him one beginning with Lee's sophomore year. It was at USC that Lee learned how to be a great pitcher and how to smoke marijuana. This particular weed with flowers would later get him into some trouble.

The Red Sox drafted Lee after his four years at USC. As they drove to the airport, Lee got some advice from his father: "Now if you can pitch like we both know you can and you can keep your mouth shut, you'll end up being with them for a long time."

At least he got half of it right.

When I'm standing in the middle of the diamond all alone

I always play to win When it comes to skin and bone And sometimes I say things I shouldn't Like . . . And sometimes I say things I shouldn't

Like . . .

--From 'Bill Lee' by Warren Zevon, Copyright 1980 Zevon Music (BMI)

Lee pitched for the Red Sox for 10 years and appeared in two World Series games. He won 17 games in three successive years and picked up a nickname, the Spaceman, and more victories than any left-hander in Red Sox history other than Mel Parnell.

Also while he was there, Lee called Don Zimmer, his manager, a gerbil. The Red Sox demanded an apology, so Lee did that. He apologized to any gerbils he might have offended.

Lee was traded to Montreal for the 1979 season and that is where he finished his career. There were also a couple of incidents with the Expos. He told reporters he used marijuana every morning when he sprinkled it on his pancakes at breakfast. That little comment made Commissioner Bowie Kuhn very angry. To Lee's dad, it was all pretty silly.

"Can you imagine a supposedly educated man, a lawyer like Kuhn taking that stuff seriously?" the elder Lee asked. "I remember one time Bill pitched with a cold and, afterwards, some reporters asked him how he did it and Bill said he cut a stick of Chapstick in half and put it up his nose. They wrote it. Of course, that's what I told Bill to say before the game.

"Sure, he's caused a few problems and he's pretty outspoken. But the joys he's given his mother and I and the game of baseball far outweigh those."

When Lee stood up for Scott, the Expos got rid of him quickly. Both Lee and his father believe the Expos blackballed him from baseball. Lee won 119 big league games and lost 90. His earned-run average was 3.62 and he had 10 shutouts. Dedeaux said he thinks Lee would make a good pitching coach for a major league team. Lee thinks he would make a good President.

"I work on the foundation that the earth has to be totally strong and then the U.S. can benefit from it," he said. "I can't lose this election. There's no way I can lose it because I have nothing to gain from it. The point of the President, of being a great leader, is someone who does nothing, where all the people do everything themselves and they say, 'We did it ourselves.' So to lead is not to lead.

"I believe that nonsense is strength. I also believe it's better to be a little crazy. It's an insane world. If you are sane in an insane world, you are going to get a negative result. You have to be crazy if the world is insane. That is my strength."

On this foundation, Rhino Party presidential candidate William Francis Lee has some interesting thoughts in mind for his administration. He wants physical fitness. He doesn't want borders. He says that earth is, after all, one organism, 93 million miles away from its only energy source. So Lee thinks our ecology is also important. Humans must stop strewing their garbage all over the earth.

"If we don't, we're going to have to change its name to Polluto," he said.

There is a serious message in here. It just happens to be coated with funny words. Lee is worried about America. "I don't know what's going to happen when the malls collapse. People are going to be lost. It's tough when you're going to take all these people who have been spending time in malls and put them on a softball team. They're not going to know what to do."

However, Lee is not afraid of the other candidates. Sen. Robert Dole is out as a Republican, Lee said, because his name is too much like something the Democrats do. And Vice President George Bush doesn't want to rock the boat enough to be President, Lee said.

"He's got this beautiful piece of land where he lives in Maine with 45 Secret Service agents posing as fisherman on Thanksgiving," Lee said.

Lee also thinks he's going to take over every supporter that Sen. Gary Hart had. "I would get every one of them that has never had lust in his heart," Lee said. "All four of them."

If Lee were President, things might be different. Possibly a whole lot different. For one thing, maybe there wouldn't be so many people unhappy, which is what Lee sees all around him.

"Everybody I run into is complaining," he said. "I tell them to look at their own lives. Be happy every moment you live, whether you're cutting the lawn, whatever you're doing. Enjoy exactly that moment." For Lee, that moment is now.

And so the Bill Lee For President campaign rolls on. It's running, all right, just like his 1979 Volkswagen van that had 188,000 miles on the odometer and two stickers prominently displayed on its rear window.

One of them says Dump The DH .

The other says The University of Mars.

Could this indicate the source of Lee's support among the electorate? Doesn't he know he can't win?

"You don't know what's going to happen on this planet," he said. "You do not know molecularly. I could get intergalactic support, being the Spaceman. I believe that something like 'Close Encounters' will happen. It will come down and a voice from above will say, 'Elect him. Elect him.' "

It was nearly 2 a.m. when Bill Lee stepped outside his favorite tavern to get a breath of fresh air. He was followed out the door by a man who had heard about the car with Vermont tags in the parking lot. Someone told the man the front grill had a lot of bugs on it and he wanted to inspect it. He saw Lee first.

"Say, you're Dave Lee aren't you?"

"Yep, sure am," said Lee, shaking the man's hand.

"I've got to tell you about the trouble I'm having with my girlfriend. We're not together. We have to be apart for three years."

"Three years?" Lee repeated.

"Yes, three years. God told me we'd have to stay apart three years."

"Why three years?" Lee asked.

"You'll have to ask God," the man answered before he walked off into the night.

Lee smiled, but he didn't speak until the man had disappeared around the building.

"One of my constituents."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
61°