Welcome to (the new) Spaceman’s Pancakes
You got sit on your ass and nod at stupid things. Man, that’s hard to do
– Bill Lee by Warren Zevon
The rich history of professional baseball is full of oddballs, eccentrics and freaks. From the lefty nut-job Rube Waddell, who occasionally had to be restrained from chasing fire engines while in the middle of pitching a game, to the great Yogi Berra and his incredible quotes, right down to MannyBeingManny, surprise cut-off man. But one such weirdo holds a special place in my heart- the Spaceman, Bill Lee, the former Red Sox and Expos lefty who was blacklisted from the majors in 1982 after accusing his team of racism.
Like Yogi, Bill Lee was a top draw for sportswriters looking for good copy, earning the nickname Spaceman thanks to his frequent illusions to cosmology and astrophysics. This blog takes its name from one of Bill Lee’s most famous lines, recapped here by the Spaceman himself- “I told them that I sprinkled marijuana on my organic buckwheat pancakes, and then when I ran my five miles to the ballpark, it made me impervious to the bus fumes. That’s when Bowie Kuhn took me off his Christmas list.” Whether he was considering pot or baseball or the cosmos, Bill Lee was an original thinker.
When I think about Bill Lee, it is impossible not to think about Zevon’s song, quoted above. It is perfectly captures the ultimately doomed relationship Lee had with the majors, summing up his final stand with the Expos, protesting for teammate Rodney Scott beautifully with the line, “I always play to win when it comes to skin and bones.” Professional baseball and Bill Lee were a tough match for each other. Lee loved the game, but the world around it in the Majors was not built for someone like him.
But another lyric also occurs to me as well. In Maggie’s Farm, Bob Dylan writes, “I try my best to be just like I am, but everybody wants you to be just like them.” Bill Lee was and is, just like himself and never caved to that significant pressure to be just like them. He didn’t smoke pot- he sprinkled it on his pancakes. He contemplated his strikeouts in relationship to history of the universe. If that meant he couldn’t work on Maggie’s farm, so be it.
Always the political iconoclast as well, Bill Lee frequently stated his belief that baseball could save the world. Even after he was shunned by the majors, he kept pitching, barnstorming through Independent leagues and specially-assembled team to play in places like China, Cuba and Russia, trying to spread the game that could save us all.
What I originally wrote back in 2010 when I first launched this blog remains true-
In the spirit of the irrepressible Bill Lee, this blog tries to visually grasp “all three sides at once.”
Here you will find what I hope will always be my own original thoughts on all things wild and strange and true from out of cosmic left field, just me trying my best to be just like I am.
January 25, 2016