Only a Spaceman could talk about Buckminster Fuller and Gary Carter while stumping for presidential votes as the Rhinoceros Party candidate. At a trendy nightclub. Charging $10 a pop.
“A lot of people are here because they didn’t believe I’m still alive,” former Boston Red Sox pitcher Bill (Spaceman) Lee told the crowd at Nightstage a day after the baseball season opened.
“I’d like to be remembered as a guy who cares for the future of planet Earth, but who’d take a guy out at second base if the game is on the line,” said the author of the forgettable book, “The Wrong Stuff.”
Lee, 41, wore a Jack Kerouac T-shirt, blue work shirt and jeans, a “Ducks Unlimited” camouflage-style hat and manure-kicking boots while sitting on a stool under the bright lights and using only a beer for a prop.
The novelty song, “I Want to be a Spaceman,” blared from the sound system as Lee meandered on stage before a couple of hundred fans.
Lee, who compiled a 119-90 record in 10 seasons with the Red Sox and four with the Montreal Expos before retiring in 1982, was the pitcher who called puffy-cheeked former Boston manager Don Zimmer (now the Chicago Cubs’ manager) a “gerbil.”
“That was a compliment,” Lee told the crowd.
It was also claimed that he sprinkled a unique low-calorie sugar substitute--marijuana--on his breakfast cereal.
“I didn’t say I ‘smoked’ pot. I said I ‘used’ pot.” Lee said.
A few old friends showed up at the club, including former Red Sox hurler Dick (Monster) Radatz, whom Lee introduced as his vice presidential running mate. But mostly it was the curious seeking a few more words of wisdom from the former major leaguer known more for his screwball philosophy than his curveball.
“He seems like the type of guy you could have a few beers with.” said David Gulinello of Boston, who wore an authentic No. 37 jersey that Lee wore when he pitched for the Expos. “I sent away for the jersey after seeing an ad for it in Sports Collectors Digest.”
The Spaceman was a slow starter who came on strong in the late innings of his rambling 90-minute comedy set at the nightclub usually offering jazz and blues musicians.
“People don’t know the real reason I was banished from baseball,” he said. “In 1981, the strike year, I didn’t want to come back. I was having a great time.”
After leaving the Expos, he sought a spot on the Pittsburgh Pirates, but received a letter saying, “Dear Bill, We already have enough problems on our ballclub.”
Much of Lee’s political humor fell flat, as did his quotes from philosopher Fuller, author Kurt Vonnegut and other literati popular in the college town. But some of the baseball bits were beauties.
Lee called New York Mets catcher Gary Carter, a former Expos teammate, a “born-again smile freak.”
Road series against the Astros in Houston were memorable for players “chasing down girls in $300 stainless-steel dresses.”
And Lee said his secret for retiring a good hitter was to “let him hit it against the fence and you throw him out at third. Orlando Cepeda was one who always tried to go one base too far.”
The Spaceman has been living in Moncton, New Brunswick, with his wife, Pamela, who is from Montreal. She said they plan to move soon to Burlington, Vt., where the Rhinoceros Party, a Canadian-based satirical group, has an office.
“No guns, no butter,” is Lee’s campaign slogan. “Too much cholesterol in butter,” he explained.
“The three-day work week. That’s going to be a big part of my program,” he vowed.
“My position on mandatory drug testing? I’ve tested mescaline. I’ve tested ‘em all. But I don’t think it should be mandatory.”
And in a year where most presidential hopefuls have failed to stir the electorate, Lee has at least one avid supporter.
“I’d vote for Bill Lee before I’d vote for Reggie Jackson,” said Jack Fontaine, a friend of Lee’s who drove down from Vermont to see the show. “Or who is that who’s running for president, Michael Jackson? Oh yeah, Jesse Jackson.”