'Spaceman' lands in Sox Hall of Fame
Lee offers plenty of opinions during induction Friday night
BOSTON -- Bill Lee flew from California -- not from space -- to accept his induction into the Red Sox Hall of Fame on Friday night.
But if Lee had said he had jetted in from another planet, it would have been completely believable.
Yes, the "Spaceman," who pitched for the Red Sox from 1969-78, is every bit as zany as when he was traded from Boston to the Montreal Expos 30 years ago.
The man is full of opinions, and he was only too willing to share them with anyone who asked. In fact, Lee -- wearing a cowboy hat, a brown jacket and a bright red shirt -- was in such a frenzy as he spoke that he had sweat pouring down his face.
The July 31 trade that sent Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers? That is a highly sore subject for Lee.
Perhaps it takes a free spirit like Lee to completely understand a free spirit like Ramirez.
"Manny was well loved, and then he'd have his little fits, and then we'd patch things up and we'd win a world championship," said Lee. "This year, I think Boston just kind of got fed up with winning. That's too bad."
The way Lee sees it, the Red Sox would have repeated as World Series champions if they had ignored all of Ramirez's off-field antics and just kept him around.
"We could have been world champions again," roared Lee. "And then he wouldn't have hit those 6-irons into the wind against the Cubs; he would have hit them against Tampa Bay. And we wouldn't be having this conversation right now. A prophet in his own time is not well received in this town. I was, for nine years and 142 days. And I told everybody on [sports radio station WEEI] and everything that they would not win it without Manny Ramirez. They told me to shut up. I told them, 'You guys don't like to win, do you?'
"He's the greatest hitter I ever saw. I loved the guy. He's a prima donna, and he pushed down the traveling secretary. Well, you pick the traveling secretary up, and you dust him off, and you apologize and you go back to work. He's the greatest I ever saw. I like Jason Bay. I'm not saying anything disparaging against Canadians, because I've married two of them."
Even Ramirez taking games off with injuries that didn't seem to be more than routine nags was no offense to Lee.
"He always took August off," said Lee. "In France, they give you a month vacation and give you two hours for lunch."
Even more entertaining -- or outlandish -- was Lee's take on what the Red Sox should do this offseason.
"Sign Manny Ramirez," Lee said. "We just had that conversation. He's already saved L.A. Sure, they should patch it up with Manny. You're going to have to see his number on the wall sooner or later here, aren't you? He's going to be standing right where I'm standing. Mark my words. Because if he doesn't go in the Red Sox Hall of Fame, [it's not right]."
Those outlandish statements are nothing out of the ordinary for Lee. He spent his entire career filling the notebooks of reporters.
These days, Lee is taking care of his ailing father in California.
"It's amazing I got here," said Lee. "I flew the red-eye. My dad gave me his permission to come. When I landed, I called him. He said, 'When are you coming home, son?' I said, 'Dad, I just got here.' He said, 'I'll bring home some hardware, and that justifies me leaving home.' That's why I came."
But if Lee had his way, he would have been in the Red Sox Hall of Fame long before Friday.
"It's 10 years too late, as far as I'm concerned," Lee said. "[Bruce] Hurst went in before me. He has less wins, more losses, a point higher ERA. It's 10 years too late, as far as I'm concerned. Hurst went in before me. What do you think I am, chopped liver?"
Hurst, a postseason hero for the Red Sox in 1986, went into the team's Hall of Fame in 2004. Hurst was 88-73 during his time in Boston, while Lee was 94-68.
But what really stings Lee is not being part of a Red Sox team that won the World Series.
He came close twice, pitching for the 1975 squad that lost to the Reds in Game 7 of the World Series and the '78 juggernaut (99-64 record) that lost a one-game playoff to the Yankees.
In fact, Lee was the Game 7 starter against Cincinnati.
"It still hurts," Lee said. "If they had turned that double play in '75, we wouldn't be having this [conversation]. I would have been mayor. And if I had been mayor, right, I would have banned private vehicles in downtown Boston. We would all be walking. We would all be cross-country skiing. We'd all be in better shape. And if we were all in better shape, there would be no parking, and [Dodgers owner Frank] McCourt [formerly a property owner in Boston] wouldn't have been able to buy the Dodgers and Manny would have never gone to L.A."
Deep thoughts, for sure. Lee still is perturbed at former manager Don Zimmer for burying him late in the 1978 season. Lee didn't pitch after Sept. 10, and Zimmer went with Mike Torrez in the one-game playoff against the Yankees. Torrez gave up the infamous three-run homer to the light-hitting Bucky Dent.
"Zimmer wouldn't pitch me," Lee said. "Why? He didn't like me."
All the strong opinions aside, Lee has enjoyed watching the recent success of the Red Sox.
"They've had great scouting -- getting [David] Ortiz from Minnesota, which was a stroke of brilliance, getting [Mike] Lowell and keeping him, a combination of factors," Lee said. "Getting [Dustin] Pedroia and [Kevin] Youkilis through the farm system -- everything fit in and they were a great ballclub. They could have won even more. They would have won it this year. There's no doubt you beat Philadelphia."
With Lee, there's never a doubt. Just ask him.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.