Story and Photograph By Felix Manuel Rodriguez
Every year prior to the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, a crew from Waterbury always visits the Baseball Hall of Fame Museum. This year Geraldo C. Reyes Jr., Alex Santiago and I made the three-plus hour trek to Cooperstown, NY, to witness Yankees legendary captain Derek Jeter get inducted.
While in the museum, we took our traditional tour of The Plaque Gallery. It is the cathedral for baseball heaven which opened in 1958. It's the place where baseball’s elite are enshrined in bronze plaques and displayed on beautiful oak walls to be cherished from fans around the world. It is a must visit for any one who walks through the doors.
According to the Hall of Fame, approximately 260,000 visitors enter the museum each year, and the running total has surpassed 17 million. These visitors see only a fraction of its 40,000 artifacts and 140,000 baseball cards.
You can easily spot a father and son admiring plaques together and pointing to their favorite players of the past or modern-era. You can easily spot a senior pointing to the old veteran ball players and sharing his or her once-upon-a-time story.
While we were walking around we heard a loud laugh coming from the corner of the 1968 plaques. The laugh was coming from one of baseball’s colorful characters Bill “Spaceman” Lee. The Spaceman was given that name for his antics on and off the field. He is filled with stories. Heck he is credited with writing four books. He’s a Red Sox Hall of Famer.
Lee played for the Boston Red Sox for a decade, and then played for several years with the Montreal Expos. Lee continued playing baseball throughout his adult life, including being signed by the San Rafael Pacifics of the independent North American League at age 65.
Lee's personality was the key to his popularity. He was outspoken and was often quoted in the press for his outlandish comments. His outspoken manner and unfiltered comments were frequently recorded in the press. When asked about his views on mandatory drug testing, Lee said, "I've tried just about all of them, but I wouldn't want to make it mandatory".
When Lee first came to Boston in 1969 he was given a tour of Fenway Park, he stared at the Green Monster wall in left field and asked, “Do they leave it there during the games?”
Lee enjoyed controversial quotes. He once bragged about sprinkling marijuana on his organic buckwheat pancakes so that when he jogged to the ballpark he would be “impervious to bus fumes.”
In 1975 Lee criticized an umpire after a questionable call and threatened to bite off the umpire's ear, also encouraging the public to write letters into Major League Baseball demanding that the game be replayed.
After baseball, Lee unsuccessfully ran for Governor of Vermont and in 1987 announced plans to run for President of the United States for the Rhinoceros Party.
The Waterbury crew recognized him, but not many people did. It was only when I approached him and asked if he would mind posing for a picture did other people start taking notice. Lee was thrilled. He was filled with so much joy. Literally. He made you smile simply because he was constantly smiling and chuckling.
The Spaceman graciously posed and before we headed our happy way, he said, “I have a story to tell you guys about Ted Williams.”
Ted Williams is a Hall of Fame player from the Boston Red Sox and is considered by many experts to be the purest hitter to ever play Major League Baseball. Williams was a nineteen-time All-Star, a two-time MVP, six-time batting champion and a two-time Triple Crown winner. Williams finished his playing career with a .344 batting average and 521 home runs. His career batting average is the highest of any major league player whose career was played primarily in the live-ball era.
After he got our attention, The Spaceman shared his Ted Williams story.
“When Ted Williams walked down the street he wanted to be known as the greatest hitter that ever lived," Lee said. "He hit on all three of my wives.”
The Spaceman burst out laughing and said, “true story”, while raising his right hand as if he was offering his testimony in a Superior Court. The Spaceman certainly made us all laugh, and I have the video to prove it. The Spaceman delivered a special treat with his humor.
While walking away a grey haired older gentleman asked me, “Who is that?”
I replied, that is “The Spaceman.” He looked puzzled.
He may have been puzzled, but we were delighted. The Spaceman can still deliver.