Back in the day Griff and I collected a lot of sports memorabilia: all kinds of baseball and basketball cards, also various framed, autographed and otherwise notable balls, mini-balls, gloves, mini-gloves, pictures, plaques, and jerseys. Some were bought with saved up allowance, others were gifts, and some we got waiting in long lines at public appearances by athletes in malls and sporting goods stores. When we lived in the Woodlands (1994-96) there was a badass little memorabilia/comic store in the mall called Igor’s Dugout where we used to hang out with the owners while our parents shopped. Usually we’d leave with a pack or two, but sometimes we just pestered them for hours about their opinions on the latest Beckett listings and other dumb stuff that concerns prepubescent sports memorabilia collectors.
We probably get it from our dad, who still has his personally signed Brooks Robinson glossy and the Colt 45s jersey he got as a kid. He loves telling us about all the great cards he used to have, which at some point all got mistakenly thrown out in an old shoe box. Griff and my dad recently started ordering unopened boxes of old baseball cards off the internet and tearing them open pack by pack, but I’ve had neither the funds nor the inclination to do so myself. However, my interest in sports memorabilia hasn’t totally waned and this week at the original Gas Pipe in Dallas I saw something I couldn’t live without: a copy of the July 1980 issue of High Times magazine featuring Bill “Spaceman” Lee on the cover. As a devoted High Times reader and devout Spaceman believer, this was special. It was a treat just to hold in my hands and I had to have it. Even totally broke, the ten dollar price tag seemed like a bargain.
I said in my earlier Spaceman homage that Bill Lee was the only major athlete I knew of to appear on the cover of High Times while playing. I’m happy to report that this is no longer true. Tim “Light my fire” Lincecum was included on the January 2012 issue of High Times as one of the “92 cannabis celebrities appear[ing] at a fantasy pot party” (Congratulations to Westley Cramer, who won a trip to the 2012 Cannabis Cup for correctly naming 89 of the 92 cannabis celebs). Lincecum also made it into the same issue’s “Pots Greatest Hits” where he was named the “Top Baseball Stoner” of the present. He shared this distinguished honor with Bill Lee, who High Times named the “Top Baseball Stoner” of the past and is undoubtedly the top baseball stoner of all time. Sure Freak has stacked far more accolades (2 Cy Youngs and a ring) and cash ($23 million in 2010) than Spaceman ever did, but from a stoned baseball fan’s perspective, none of that really compares to Bill Lee calling out then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn about MLB players blazing the herb, on the cover no less. Lee was blackballed by the league within two seasons of this article’s printing over thirty years ago, and it is impossible to conceive Big Time Timmy Jim blasting Bud Selig on the cover of High Times in 2012. It just couldn’t happen. Even in an age when many athletes spew tweets by the million, nobody who makes their paycheck playing sports gets to be this candid.
While this certainly gives value to the magazine as a relic of a bygone era, it is Lee’s own words that are truly priceless. As Ken Kelley, who conducted the original interview, says in his introduction, “Lee is nothing if not imminently quotable,” and much of the Spaceman’s wisdom rings true, maybe truer, three decades later. Lee was unhappy with how the article came out, telling the Boston Globe that summer, “Kelly is a jerk. He tried to exploit me, make a buck off me. I always try to deal straight with people. Then you run into a situation where they only use what they want to use. They don’t give the complete answer, or everything you had to say about a subject. There’s never any clarification.” Here Lee appears to be a victim of his own naivety, and to this stoned baseball fan, the whole interview is a gem. For copyright reasons I don’t think we can run the entire thing; instead here are some of the highlights, so to speak, from my new favorite piece of sports memorabilia.
“High Times: So let’s begin with a discussion of drugs.
Lee: Whatever’s cool.”
This is just what every journalist wants to hear when starting an interview, and gives the reader a pretty good idea where things are headed. Lee then explains how exactly he ended up getting fined $250 for his admission of using marijuana while playing for the Boston Red Sox.
Then there is this sequence, which begins with the question on the cover:
“High Times: What would happen if Bowie Kuhn levied a $250 fine against every player in baseball who smoked dope?
Lee: He’d be a rich man.
High Times: So it’s safe to assume that lots of ballplayers smoke it?
Lee: Who doesn’t? Smoking’s a way to let you down slowly from a ballgame… It makes people better in the way they act towards society. Everybody’s nicer. It’s hard to be mean when you’re stoned. It’s made players a lot less alcoholic.”
I wonder how Spaceman felt about the Red Sox this year.
Maybe the Dodgers should team up with some of LA’s dispensaries for a new form of crowd control. Roving blunt vendors at Dodger Stadium? Sign me up.
Lee shares his thoughts on other drugs as well.
On cocaine: “Some ballplayers grind it up with Cheerios for breakfast. Gotta keep it up on the up and up though – as long as he can do his job, and it’s an ally of his instead of an adversary, it sure beats coffee.”
On mushrooms: “I like them because they cause a periodical cleaning out of the system. Roto-Rooter type of thing. They do that for me… mushrooms are kind of like a psychedelic enema. I think probably High Times readers do the same thing.”
Well I know at least one of them who does.
On other drugs:
“High Times: Let’s talk for a moment about the drugs that are sanctioned – indeed, virtually mandatory – in organized sports, such as novocaine, cortisone, the steroids –
Lee: It’s all rotgut. Your kidneys produce enough cortisone. As far as the management is concerned, the short-term goals outweigh the long-term ones. Novocaine and steroids, especially. It’s ironic that Bowie Kuhn gets upset about pot when, every day, ballplayers are being shot up with drugs that actually destroy players’ system.”
He goes on to claim that baseball management encourages players to use steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. While this may have seemed outlandish when it was published, looking back it reads as an ominous warning for what would come in MLB over the next twenty years.
“High Times: What else, in your opinion, are the most harmful drugs in America?
Lee: All are bad if you don’t neutralize them with another one.”
A great metaphor: “Some people clean the laundry; some people do the laundry. Doing the laundry means not really understanding the concepts that are involved.”
And to finish it off, Bill Lee on the big picture:
“High Times: So, in summation, what’s the meaning of life?
Lee: Play to win and always adhere to the law of averages. The strange may occur. But just because things may happen and the sun comes up and gravity pulls on you and you age, resist age and stay healthy and go easy into the future. And keep laughing, and be kind to people on the way up because you’re gonna see them again on the way down. Actually, I don’t know what nuthin’ means. English is not my trump card. That’s why I get quoted a lot, like Casey Stengel. I walk the tightrope between two worlds. Between the oral and the doing, which I think are contradictory worlds.
High Times: How do you resolve the contradiction?
Lee: Do ‘em both. There’s a time and place for everything. And keep your mouth shut at all times.”
As a hippie ski bum working on a master’s degree in creative writing, I feel like I sometimes walk that same tightrope. And as a stoned baseball fan, I’d like to give a huge thank you to Spaceman and High Times for inspiring me to keep fighting the good fight.