They didn’t nickname him “Spaceman” for nothing. Bill Lee, who spent 10 years pitching lefty for the Boston Red Sox beginning in 1969, and four with the Montreal Expos after that, was the ultimate countercultural figure in baseball. He may have earned a spot in the Red Sox Hall of Fame for the most games pitched by a left-hander and the third most wins by a southpaw, but his legacy owes much to his outspokenness. He was an environmental advocate long before green went mainstream, practicing yoga, defending Greenpeace and championing the idea of zero population growth. And he was open about his marijuana use, too—even claiming he sprinkled pot on his buckwheat pancakes in the morning and that it helped protect his lungs from Boston bus fumes while jogging. The pitcher, philosopher, author of four books and most environmental-minded baseball player to talk openly on the subject, now lives on a farm in Craftsbury, Vermont, and spoke to E on the day of President Obama’s inauguration.
E Magazine: What led to your environmental awareness?
Bill Lee: You know, it was amazing, I was in the back of my father’s pickup, he hated litterbugs and he picked up trash his whole life. Of course, he was a right-wing nut, too, and he used to run over cats, because they would eat pheasant chicks. It’s funny—I gleaned all the good stuff from him and I kind of filtered out the bad. I was from a really conservative family that recycled stuff and made due with what we had. If something broke, we fixed it—we didn’t go out and get a new one.
E: Do you think with Obama’s presidency there’s a chance to really change direction to clean energy?
BL: It’s got to. The knowledge is there right now. It’s his job to hook up the man from Rice University that learned to turn the carbon molecule on its side with the guy that could store energy at MIT. Between the two of them, we”ll have total solar energy in our lifetime, and we will fulfill what Buckminster Fuller [a futurist who wrote Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth] said: that we”ll eventually have to come out of the egg and quit living on our yolk sack and start living off of what created all our fossil fuels—the sun.
E: You must be aware of all the green initiatives at stadiums—solar panels, recycling initiatives, LEED-certification.
BL: It’s exactly what I envisioned for a long time. That’s why I formed the group “Save Fenway Park” with some guys out of Cambridge. Now the new ownership sees eye-to-eye with me, and I think that’s the reason why I’ve been re-embraced.
E: Why aren’t players acting as the spokespeople for these initiatives?
BL: They’re not educated. They’re economically spoiled and everybody’s so worried about protection. They’re afraid to walk down the street by themselves. It’s such an elite thing. That’s why I live up here in Vermont. I’ve never locked my door in Vermont, and I’ve been here since “88.
E: Craftsbury looks like a very small town.
BL: We’re on the edge of the kingdom. There are deer hunters, rednecks, right-to-lifers, and everybody else here. Vermonters allow each other to speak out even though we may disagree. The reason is we don’t live close together. If we all practiced zero population a long time ago we wouldn’t be in these dire straights. We would have reduced pollution [and] a lot of things but the economics of it were the more kids you had, the more chance you had of surviving. And that paradigm has changed. Once we understand that, we”ll be all right.
E: Is your farm in Vermont a working farm?
BL: It provides enough food for me, and it provides enough wood to heat the house, it provides enough vegetables. It could provide all I need, but I’m never here.
E: Are you still playing with the Alaska Goldpanners?
BL: I played last year. I won the 103rd Midnight Sun Game after losing the 62nd. 41 years. That’s patience. It was packed to the rafters, the largest attended game in a long time, and I ended up pitching until the seventh inning and won the ballgame. A feather in the hat of all 61-year-olds.
E: Do you get a different environmental perspective in Alaska?
BL: Oh, yeah. They’re just like Vermonters. Just a little further spaced.