Bill Lee says controversial things. The former Boston Red Sox lefty cum New England cult hero once compared the New York Yankees to Nazis and "a bunch of hookers swinging their purses." He has written about his desire to bite the ear off an umpire over a call in the 1975 World Series. (“I would have Van Gogh-ed him.”) He has claimed that ingesting weed pancakes made him immune to the exhaust from buses during his regular jogs to Fenway Park. During the 1970s, Lee famously backed a judge’s decision to forcibly desegregate Boston’s schools.
Age has not softened Lee’s outspoken eccentricity. The 66-year-old recently told me that had he been elected president in 1988, when he ran under the Rhinoceros Party, September 11 would never have happened. He is the subject of a Warren Zevon song, and he is, without a doubt, the only man to win 119 major league games and also grace the cover of High Times. He was a central character in one of baseball’s most infamous brawls too:
One really doesn’t need a specific reason to speak with such a man, but the fact that his former club will be playing in the World Series starting tomorrow seemed as good an excuse as any to talk with the guy they call the Spaceman.
VICE: Hey there, Bill. What do you think of the recent progress made on marijuana legalization and decriminalization?
Bill: I was a member of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) a long, long time ago—back in the 70s. It was a pretty ineffective group. They didn’t have the science behind it to realize that there were so many additional benefits than THC. Glaucoma, depression, high pressure, epilepsy... There are specific properties in any organic matter that are good for you.
So do you attribute the headway that’s been made on weed in this country to the marijuana lobby getting its act together and clearly articulating the benefits of the drug?
Most definitely. It’s the scientific community that has bailed out a lot of people. There are a lot of good properties in there and that’s being shown with proof. And that is what’s forced the law enforcement community to question their procedures. The drug czars—their policies were based on incarceration. The war on drugs will not work just like the war on al Qaeda will not work.
What do you mean?
We’re the haves and they’re the have-nots. It’s basically a battle for economic freedom and we equate it to a religious freedom. It’s just like back in the crusades. It divided people and festered all these years and it came back through technology and our occupation of the Middle East. We’re the ones who brought all the weapons in there. The Russians, the French, the English, and the Americans. Now they’re using them against us.
So what’s the solution?
Start taxing the top one-and-a-half percent of Americans at the right rate. And use that to encourage more of the have-nots to start having a little piece of the pie. Don’t isolate them and put sanctions on them. Educate and feed them. You’ll find that eventually they’ll come around.
Every time you divide and separate, you force the radical religious side to act.
Getting back to marijuana, some economists estimate that after taxation, legalized weed could cost more than 50 percent of the current street value. What do you make of that?
I don’t believe it. If you start mass-producing it, the price will go down. Eventually, you’ll have two-thirds of the people not incarcerated. They’ll be working and competing in the tax base and adding to the tax base. We have the largest jail population in the world. Most of them are drug crimes.
Did you smoke pot when you played for the Sox?
According to High Times I didn't smoke it, but I ingested it other ways. What I said was that I put it on my buckwheat pancakes in the morning, which made me impervious to the bus fumes.
Are you still impervious to the bus fumes?
Yeah, I’m still impervious to the bus fumes. And you know, I’ve never been incarcerated. I’m about as lily-white and clean as anyone, which shows the hypocrisy of everything. I was so far ahead of my time. They’ll have to say that about me eventually. If they had elected me president back in 1988 when I ran, we never would have had the Twin Tower bombings. We never would have had any of these problems we have now.
After the recent government shutdown and the idiotic bickering our lawmakers are engaging in, what would Bill Lee’s message to Capitol Hill be?
I would suspend the Senate and Congress and until we have a referendum on one person, one vote and get rid of this gerrymandering. We have to suspend the laws that were passed by the Supreme Court that allow corporations to say they are people. Corporations are not people. And they’re not going to be able to pump money into elections like that. When you do that, then we’re going to have a representative government.
Did you smoke weed on days that you pitched, and did it help your performance on the mound?
You know, I did perform with it. I had good games. I had bad games. I never used it as a crutch. It never enhanced, you know? I would say it’s not something kids should do before a ball game. In fact, I don’t think you should use it before you’re 21 years of age.
I don’t smoke anymore, per se. I have on occasion. People tend to bring me weed all the time because of who I am but I don’t…
Why don’t you smoke anymore?
Because smoking isn’t good for you. There are other ways, though. I like brownies.
I wanted to ask you about your stance on performance-enhancing drugs. Should human-growth hormones and steroids be legalized?
They are legalized. They’re in our food supply—bovine growth hormones. Everyone’s on them, and they don’t even know it. It’s basically a scam from these bigger corporations to come down on the smaller ones like BALCO who have created a substance that probably does no harm, it only does a good. I feel bad for Lance Armstrong. I feel bad for all the guys who have been basically incarcerated because they were trying to improve their ability.
So should it be a Wild West situation? People should take whatever they want?
Yeah, as long as they’re not doing any harm or getting ‘roid rage and they don’t become like Jerry Remy’s son, you know what I mean? Everything in moderation, including moderation.
But the counterargument to what you’re saying is that guys like Jhonny Peralta and Barry Bonds broke the rules and got an unfair advantage over the guys who were following them.
I listened to the rules and I ended up the same way. I was injected by the team physician. I was given this by the pharmaceutical corporation. It’s the same thing they were doing. I see no difference. That’s the hypocrisy.
When you say you were injected by the team’s physician, are we talking about B 12 shots or steroids?
Steroids. Every time I had cortisone shots. Cortisone is a steroid. We were all injected with steroids, and some guys had tons of shots. It basically erodes the lining of the joints and eventually you’re out of the ballgame. Look, you don’t want to do them all the time—once it starts affecting your behavior, you have to shut it down.
If you were a 25-year-old guy in the game today would you indulge in performance enhancing drugs?
If it allowed me to get out there on Thursday and throw a two-hitter, you’re damn straight I’d do it.
Everybody who says they wouldn’t is a hypocrite. If there was a miracle drug that allowed people to pitch two more years in the big leagues, everybody would be standing in line. Ponce de Leone—he was looking for the fountain of youth, you know what I mean?
What’s your World Series prediction?
Red Sox over St. Louis in four straight.