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The Boston Globe OnlineBoston.com Boston Globe Online / Metro | Region July 20, 1997

Book review: 'The Wrong Stuff' by Bill Lee with Dick Lally

By Margaret Manning Globe Staff, 6/10/84

Bill Lee - and if you don't remember him, you are not in the right league - always was a baseball nut and while we called him irreverent, he is respectful of the game and those who play it well. That includes his aunt Annabelle, who had an ERA of 1.17 in the Women's Semi-Pro Hardball League - lifetime.

"The Wrong Stuff" is a semi-autobiography with a little help from Lee's friend Dick Lally. My impression is that Lee probably has the wit to have written a lot of it.

He became a pitcher in high school. His father had taught him how to throw a curve and a knuckleball when he was 8. He went to the University of Southern California and played ball, was told not to think: "It can only hurt the ballclub." Fred Lynn was on that team. So was Tom Seaver, for a year. Lee says the guys did a lot of drinking, "excellent training for the major leagues." They smoked pot, too, but liquor was quicker.

Lee talks some, not too much, about the extracurricular sex life of ballplayers on the road. "Every time a bed check was held, they found all the beds. Right where we had left them." His first wife finally put him out with the cat.

After Lee graduated, he was signed by the Red Sox, their 22d-round draft choice, and went to the minors in Waterloo, Winston-Salem and Pittsfield. In June 1969, he was called to Fenway. "It was really fun." Well, most of the time.

Dick Williams was in his last year as manager, but Tom Yawkey and Carl Yastrzemski were really handling the club. Lee likes Yaz, even though he tells funny stories on him (and his clothes). And he thinks Yawkey was a remarkable and generous man.

Lee, who got to be known in Boston as Spaceman, always had been something of an oddball, a loner, and his friends on the Bosox were two others: Gary Peters and Sparky Lyle. They did more than their share of drinking and pranking: the wrong stuff.

Twenty-seven outs, a formidable barrier, especially when the Boston pitching staff. . . well, unfortunately we know too much about that. And Baltimore: couldn't beat them. The Yankees: mayhem. Why in the world did the Sox trade Lyle to New York! It ruined the team, though it was slightly revived by the arrival of Luis Tiant.

Carlton Fisk, by 1972 up from the minors, became Mr. Sox.

Eddie Kasko, Williams' successor, didn't like Lee (according to Lee) and kept him in the bullpen when he could have been striking out enemy batters. Ah, ego!

Finally Kasko let Lee start because the other pitchers were so bad. He did pretty well.

As we remember, he also collected a reputation for being crazy, and, in truth, he was a bit. He did outlast Kasko and went into the Darrell Johnson management era of 1974, during which spinal chills were the rule. Players were coming and going like yo-yos, and Lee today is awash in second guesses. In addition, he became addicted to causes that endeared him only to the abominable snowman. The high point, I guess, was his getting a letter of protest, misspelled, from Albert (Dapper) O'Neil.

Later he had to suffer Don Zimmer, whom he alienated when he called Zimmer a gerbil for the benefit of the press.

By 1978, the team had totally changed. Bernie Carbo and Lee were the only, well, the only "boys" left, and they knew United Parcel would come for them soon. Carbo was sold to Cleveland for a pocket of coins. Lee says that deal ruined the spirit of a winning club. In any case, the Sox certainly couldhave used Carbo in the playoff game they lost to the Yankees.

After that season, Lee was traded, and, as the world knows, he went, reluctantly, to Montreal. But he liked it. It, too, was fun. For a while. And then it was over, and he found he couldn't get another job in baseball.

Lee agrees that he was crafty, rather than fast, and threw a lot of dish rags. But a low ball for a double play? That was happiness.

On the Green Monster: Fenway is not a park built with the welfare of pitchers in mind, but with control you can make The Wall work for you. "You just have to know what to feed it."

"Umpires do make allowances for established veterans."

"Baseball is the belly button of America."

"Dennis Eckersley lived on a diet of prime steak and Jack Daniels."

On drugs: "Coke sprinkled over hot cereal in the morning is rapidly becoming the breakfast of champions."

I can't imagine anyone not a sports addict wanting to read this lightweight book; but for those of us who are, it is fun and even instructive.

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