FOLLOW-UP

A spaceman’s new orbit

DAN BURKE June 15 1987
FOLLOW-UP

A spaceman’s new orbit

DAN BURKE June 15 1987

A spaceman’s new orbit

FOLLOW-UP

He was one of major-league baseball’s most celebrated eccentrics—a Californian southpaw

whose oddball wit earned him the nickname Spaceman. Bill Lee, the former Montreal Expos pitcher, once told thenbaseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn that he sprinkled marijuana on his morning pancakes. That was one of several controversies that Lee instigated before his release from the Expos in 1982 after four years with the team. After other major-league teams declined to sign him, Lee surprised baseball followers by continuing his career with the Moncton Mets, a senior-league team in New Brunswick. Now 40, Lee is planning a comeback with a completely different pitch. Last month Lee announced that he would lead an American branch of the Rhinoceros party in the 1988 U.S. presidential election. Declared Lee: “Right now the earth is orbiting around the sun like a spaceship at 1,000 miles a minute. If I am the Spaceman, then I should be in charge.”

Currently, Lee and the Rhinos, a fringe party started in Canada and dedicated to lampooning the political process, have only a minimal U.S. political organization. Even in Canada, where in the 1984 federal election the party got 99,000 of the 12.5 million votes cast, the Rhinos are now regrouping after disbanding for two years because of the 1985 death of party leader Jacques Ferron. But Lee, a self-described ecologist, claims he is already considering a number of vice-presidential running mates. Among them: novelist and New Hampshire recluse J.D. Salinger, and Hunter S. Thompson, the gun-loving originator of “gonzo journalism,” whose works include Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in 1971 and who in 1970 ran an unsuccessful campaign for sheriff of Aspen, Colo. Said Lee, author of the 1984 autobiography The Wrong Stiff. “I will carry the liberal vote, and Hunter will be great in states that like to arm themselves to the teeth.”

So far, Lee’s proposed campaign has attracted marginal interest from the U.S. media, partly because the Spaceman’s orbit is far removed from the vortex of American politics. U.S. newspapers have had to contact the Moncton Times-Transcript to locate Lee, who with his Montreal-born wife, Pamela Fair, lives intermittently in New Brunswick, San Francisco and Montreal. Said Times-Transcript sportswriter Gerry McLaughlin: “The Village Voice was calling here recently. Nobody is ever

quite sure where to find Bill.”

In May, Lee began his fourth season with the Moncton Mets, whose members staged a roast for him at a $100-a-plate fund-raising breakfast for the team. Though his pitching talents have diminished, his sense of humor remains strong. “You do not roast somebody at

eight in the morning,” he told the Mets supporters. “You poach them.”

But it is unclear whether Lee is seriously committed to running an alternative presidential campaign. He has adapted comfortably to both Canada and his role as one of baseball’s eccentric ambassadors. In August he will travel to Red Deer, Alta., to pitch in a benefit game for minor-league baseball. “I like the pace of life up here,” said Lee. “It just seems to be more civilized than the United States.”

DAN BURKE