Bill “Spaceman” Lee

The Whimsical World of Bill “Spaceman” Lee 

Words: Sam Fragoso
Photography: Courtesy of Spaceman

Major Tom has nothing on Bill “Spaceman” Lee 

Bound by no profession, Bill “Spaceman” Lee has had many occupations. A premier lefty MLB pitcher for the Boston Red Sox and Montreal Expos, a presidential nominee (with Hunter S. Thompson as his VP), a celebrated smoker of marijuana, and a self-proclaimed “liberal with a gun.” Now, with a Bernie Sanders endorsement, he’s running for Governor of Vermont under the Liberal Union Party.

At long last, Lee’s larger than life story has made its way to the silver screen in Spaceman, a jovial biopic (starring Josh Duhamel as Lee) about the controversial ball-player who was blackballed from the MLB. When we spoke on the phone, Lee was in high spirits, candidly discussing his time in the majors, his political aspirations, and why he believes he has the answer to every question. Also, he gets into why — and this is real — him and Charles Barkley are the two most qualified people to be in the oval office.

© Movieclips Trailers / YouTube

THE RED BULLETIN: First off, what do you think about the movie?

BILL “SPACEMAN” LEE: I’m flattered that they wanted to do a movie. I think the ending is spectacular, the fact that I’m still playing. I hit a home run against High Times magazine yesterday in Central Park! I’m telling you, an inside the park home run for a 70-year-old, that’s pretty good.

What is it about baseball that you continue coming back to again and again?

It’s a game that you play with your fathers, your grandfathers, your children, your grandchildren. It’s a pick-up game, it has no clock, it can go on. There’s just something magical about the game. It’s a feeling you get. Like that home run I hit: I hadn’t hit a home run in a year. I ended up giving up a two-run home run in the 6th, kind of misplayed ball, but I almost beat the number one team in New York City, which happens to be High Times, which means they’re all smoking doobies. I go, “Is that an amazing rhetorical question? That Bill Lee who was on the cover of High Times beats High Times magazine with a walk-off home run.”

Did you have any concessions or fears when you appeared on the cover of High Times?

No, I could care less what people thought. I knew I was in the right. I knew that it was a naturally occurring substance, that it was on the planet Earth. I read Carlos Castaneda, I read Search for Miraculous, I’ve read Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi who Luther Burbank brought to Los Angeles, actually, back in the 1900s, so I really don’t care. I know I’m doing the right thing. I want to just keep playing and helping the planet Earth. Basically that’s all I’m doing and I think the movie kind of represents that.

Have you always had that independent streak in you?

Yeah, I think I’ve always been. My dad said it in this documentary that hasn’t seen the light of day called High and Outside, and it’s a beautiful documentary made by two guys from Microsoft up in Seattle, and I think after this movie comes out, someone will sponsor it and get that documentary out. It should be seen, I think, because my father says it best. He says I was basically a loner, an independent thinker, and always sided on the side of the underdog. It’s kind of like The Grapes of Wrath, the great Frank Capra movie with Henry Fonda.

You mentioned you had a lonely streak in you has a kid, but you don’t strike me as someone who feels particularly lonely.

Well, I’m not. I’m surrounded, I’ve got four children, I’ve got a lot of grandsons, I’ve got a granddaughter that caught three games in 98 degree heat down in Mississippi in her tournament and showed no signs of fatigue. I’m surrounded by my family who all love the game of baseball. You can’t be lonely when you’re surrounded by great people.

And you’re running for office!

I’ve ran for office before, or President, but you’ve got to remember that the American public’s pretty gullible. P.T. Barnum said it, “Never underestimate the gullibility of the American public.” And they’re so dumb that they’ll always vote in their best disinterest. If they want real, true harmony, they’d better elect me president, or Charles Barkley. One of the two. 

“We should only elect basketball players and smart baseball players, and I think I’m the only smart one out there.”

Really? You or Charles Barkley, those are the two options?

Isn’t that amazing! Hey, if America’s not great you’ve got to rebound, and he was a great rebounder. I throw strikes. So I’m a strike-thrower, he’s a rebounder, and the two of us, if we ran together, we could save America.

Yeah, but by that logic we should be considering Dennis Rodman for office.

Dennis Rodman, exactly! Rodman could be Secretary of Defense! He was a great defender.

I think he’s gone off the deep end a bit…

If Rodman was in there, Korea would not be a threat because we’d bring NBA basketball to Pyongyang and we’d have world peace.

It’s funny, when I mentioned your gubernatorial campaign, you laughed. Do you not put a lot of stock in it?

Who wants to put their life on the line? Look at how Obama has aged. It’s a very difficult place to go out there and go to funerals every goddamn day. There’s nothing but people dying in accidents, in gun shootings and everything else. You don’t want to be an apologist for our system, do you? That’s exactly what the president is now. All he does is wake up in the morning and he apologizes.

And you don’t want to apologize?

I don’t want to apologize. It’s not my fault, I didn’t start that. I told him to run, I told him, “There’s no such thing as accidents. Just bad judgement.”

You don’t believe in accidents?

I don’t think there’s [such] a thing as accidents. Aristotle said, “Luck is when the arrow hits the guy next to you.” That’s how I look at it. You’ve got to be able to sense everything around you and sense where you are. A Sense of Where You Are about Bill Bradley by John McPhee is one of the great books. I don’t think Bill Bradley ever had any accidents. He should’ve been president a long time ago. Too bad we didn’t have him. We should only elect basketball players and smart baseball players, and I think I’m the only smart one out there. 

Bill "Spaceman" Lee

Josh Duhamel plays Bill Lee in Spaceman.

© Photography: Courtesy of Spaceman

Didnt you run for president with Hunter S. Thompson in 1988?

Yeah, it was called the Rhinoceros party. A guy named Jacques Ferron — a professor of philosophy at the University of Montreal — came to me and he said, “Bill, you have to run for president.” I said, “Why?” He said, “Because every time the U.S. sneezes we catch a cold.” So that’s why I did it.

Is there any part of you that wishes you got elected?

No. Well, I mean there is a part. The thing is, when I’m elected, all the people will pull together and we’ll all do this ourselves. We’ll be right out there, there’ll be no opioid crisis. I’ll put running back in elementary school, I’d put gymnasiums, physical education, clean water, free education, free medical, and that’s it. We’ll be happier. And I’m telling you, the money’s going to come from the upper 2%. They’re the ones that benefitted from capitalism the most, they’re the ones with the yachts and their Learjets and everything. They’re the ones who are going to foot the bill for the rest of the American public that they’ve been stealing from forever. Do I sound like Bernie Sanders? That’s Bernie Sanders speaking.

You’re channeling him for sure. He supported you, right?

Bernie loves me, I love Bernie. I’m a Liberty Union candidate for governor and that’s Bernie’s original party, so if he doesn’t support me there’s something wrong. If he goes for Matt Dunne, the Democrat, or John Kenneth Galbraith, well… He’s smart, but not as smart as me.

Do you think we’re on the verge of some sort of revolt given the current election that were watching.

I don’t know! It’s like Chauncey Gardiner in Being There, the Peter Sellers movie. I’m kind of like Forrest Gump. I’m a cross between Chauncey Gardiner and Forrest Gump.

I have one last question: you once said, “Every question you ask me, I have the answer.” How does that happen?

A guy at USC named Ray Bradbury taught me to be a book. He taught me in Fahrenheit 451 that everybody’s got to be a book, and I took him so literally I became every book that was important to the survival of mankind. I know every book out there, and I think Ray Bradbury anointed me to be the spokesperson for this planet. Is that a good answer?

Yeah, it was a good answer. It was definitive. A good closer, too.

Well thank you. I can close a ball game and I can close a bar.

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