Bill “Spaceman” Lee is 63 years young and just as verbose as ever. The erstwhile Red Sox and Expos southpaw waxed poetic following a panel discussion hosted by The Sports Museum, in Boston, earlier this afternoon.
On Luis Tiant and Tony Oliva: “They should both be in the Hall of Fame. Look at their records. Tiant was domineering; he has better statistics than Catfish Hunter. Tony Oliva was probably the greatest left-handed hitter in his day. If you ask any pitcher from my era, they’ll say that the toughest out was Tony Oliva. His career was shortened with the bad knee, but Jim Rice has set a precedent to allow every Tony Oliva…actually, I don’t think that Jim Rice could carry Tony Oliva’s jock in that respect. Tony Oliva was one of the greatest hitters I have ever seen. He belongs in there for sure.”
On Tiant’s evolution as a pitcher: “He was a flamethrower when he was with Cleveland; he threw gasoline. He came over to Boston and he had a broken scapula so he had to retool the slot of his delivery because he couldn’t throw as hard as he had. He developed into a very tricky pitcher with that herky-jerky windup and the way he timed his delivery out of the stretch. He was very hard to pick up.”
On physics and pitching: “The physics of a spinning object — the conservation of energy…if you hit a spinning object that is spinning away from you, it’s always going to go down. If you can throw a ball that spins that way, like a sinker, and the batter tries to pull it, he’s always going to hit ground balls. The only way he can beat you is to try to inside-out the ball, and if the ball is away, he can’t hit it that far anyway. So, if you can throw sinkers low and away and play your outfield around to right field, you can beat almost every ball club if you put the ball there all the time. I’ve always known that a spinning object…like, if you throw a curveball, and the guy hits it in the right spot, he increases the spin of the ball, which increases the lift of the ball, which makes breaking balls go out of the park so much faster. If you know physics, math and logic, you can pitch.”
On the second game of the 1975 World Series, which Cincinnati rallied to win in the ninth inning: “During the long rain delay in Boston, Johnny Bench was being interviewed by Joe Garagiola and said that I was pitching him away and that he was going to try to hit me into the right-field corner. Sure enough, as the leadoff hitter in the ninth inning, he hits a double into the right-field corner. During that rain delay there were 90 minutes where any of the 47 million Americans listening to him could have let me know how to pitch him. 47 million and not one of them opened their mouth and did that. That was before cell phones, of course, but they probably could have sent me a telegram or something. It drove me nuts.”
On the three rainouts that preceded Game 6: “That’s when I asked Zeus to tell Apollo not to come out, when he raped Europa in the form of a bull. He kept the sun chariot from appearing, which gave him 48 hours of darkness. Damned if it didn’t rain for three days and we got 86 hours of darkness. That allowed Tiant to come back and pitch.”
On Carlton Fisk’s historic home run in Game 6: “When Fisk hit the foul pole, George Foster caught the ball off the screen without it even hitting the ground. People never see that. It caromed off the pole and then he backhanded it coming off the screen. Then he kept the ball and ended up selling it for $74,000 to help pay his back taxes in Connecticut. But it’s unbelievable that it never hit the ground. I believe that there are signs, and things that are significant, about that. Maybe it was a deflective out or something, because it never hit the ground or left the ballpark. There was almost something mystical about it.”