Former Expo Bill Lee might have to quit pitching at age 70

Seventy-year-old, former Montreal Expo Bill Lee, pictured here with his wife Diana in Springfield, N.Y., might finally have to quit pitching. Photo Credit: Danny Gallagher

Seventy-year-old, former Montreal Expo Bill Lee, pictured here with his wife Diana in Springfield, N.Y., might finally have to quit pitching. Photo Credit: Danny Gallagher

By Danny Gallagher

Canadian Baseball Network

SPRINGFIELD, N.Y. --  Bill Lee is holding court at the Sunflower Café on State Highway 80 in this tree-brushed town outside Cooperstown talking about how he might have to shut down his baseball career.

"At least as a pitcher,'' the popular Expos legend was saying in the course of an interview that lasted close to two hours over breakfast.

Lee was skipping stones with grandchildren in Idaho not long ago when he felt a "pop'' in his throwing left shoulder. He knew there was something wrong.

Until this year, Spaceman has been pitching non-stop since 1968 when he suited up for Winston-Salem in the Carolina rookie league in the Red Sox system.

Lee figures the arm problems stemmed not just from skipping stones but from throwing three games in one day in a tournament back in May in Port Hardy, B.C.

"I did something with the deltoid muscles and rotator cuff muscles,'' Lee was saying. "After those three games, I was exhausted. But I blame it all on the fact I fouled a ball off the big toe on my right foot during a game earlier. That hurt like a son of a gun. 2017 has not been a good year. Trump is doing all this stuff, I broke my toe and hurt my left arm.

"I'm using a metaphor of getting the Expos back in Montreal. It was like driving on a highway going 60 mph in Newfoundland a few weeks ago and then the road became sterified cement where they scrape the bottom of the road. So you're driving and skipping over this rough pavement, going himp, himp, himp and I was singing O Canada and it was like saying goodbye to my life in baseball at least as a pitcher.''

So now Lee probably won't pitch another game but he might continue to play another position because he's a pretty decent hitter.

Lee is also waiting word from Tweed, a company that specializes in supplying premium marijuana. Tweed is located in Smiths Falls, Ont., which is the home of women's golf sensation Brooke Henderson. The famous chocolate-bar company Hershey manufactured goodies there for decades before closing up shop. A famous junior hockey team called the Smiths Falls Bears had its origins there in 1961 under the direction of the NHL's Montreal Canadiens.

Lee wouldn't be a salesman for Tweed but rather a spokesman. Both sides are excited. The gig would be up Lee's alley because he was known to have taken marijuana at least a little during his playing career although he admitted to me he no longer sprinkles it on his pancakes.

"They're the largest cannabis grower in Canada,'' Lee said. "I began talking with them around the time of Exposfest in Montreal on April 1.''

Lee was about to give more details of what he would be doing for Tweed when his Calgary-born wife Diana intervened. She suggested that there has to be more clarity from various levels of government about marijuana before Lee begins any job with Tweed.

Diana clearly is the counter-balance of an intellectual, very spiritual, bombastic man known for his eccentricities, plays on words and peculiar statements.

"He's really good with people,'' Diana said, as Lee made a trip to the washroom. "He's pretty much loved by a lot of people.

Including Quebec francophones.

"One French person told me one time, 'The reason we like you is that you don't speak English and we don't either,' '' Lee said, laughing. "That's why Quebecois are a distinct society. I remember playing ball against a guy in Lévis in Quebec City. His name was Bill Baker and he never spoke a word of English.''

Bill and Diana were married in a neighbour's barn in the Midwest 10 years ago and exchanged their vows in another ceremony in Craftsbury, Vt., his main home for decades although he spends some time at his second home in California, a house his grandfather took over.

Bill and Diana loved reciting poems and Bill is especially enamoured with the one written by Tom Clark about the late Pittsburgh Pirates star Roberto Clemente, who died in a plane crash in 1972.

"Man, that is some poem,'' Lee said.

No matter how many times
Manny Sanguillen
dove for your body
the sun kept going down
on his inability to find it

"We do five minutes of poem reading before the day starts. It's the best five minutes of our day,'' Lee said.