It was 1982 when Bill Lee was famously booted from the Montreal Expos after he went AWOL in protest of another player's mistreatment by management. His reputation for antics both on and off the field guaranteed that no other club would pick him up. The Ace from Space had landed on professional baseball's blacklist, and so it was that one of the most popular major-league pitchers of our day was fated to pack his bags and wander the globe searching for a ball game.
Have Glove, Will Travel is the chronicle of an amazing odyssey that began more than twenty years ago and continues today. Unable to live without baseball, Lee went anywhere he could find a game, beginning in the dank and dreary locker room of a Canadian hockey team that later became a softball team. We follow him around the world as he competes in pickup games, town tournaments, senior leagues, and fantasy camps, barnstorming like a modern Satchel Paige around the United States, South America, China, Cuba, Russia, and every province in Canada.
At the heart of this story are the rollicking, colorful characters Lee meets during his travels, and the mishaps that befall him whether he's sober or stoned. There's the eccentric Latin pitching master Lee plays with in Cuba, who once struck out Ernest Hemingway. And a hilarious story that takes place in the backwoods of a British Columbia timber town, where Lee and Hall-of-Famer Ferguson Jenkins go fishing and end up being chased back to their pickup truck by a 450-pound black bear.
Have Glove, Will Travel is so much more than the average baseball book. Lee's humor, keen eye for detail, and extraordinary pitching intellect are always on display, but in the end this book is a love story about a middle-aged maverick who refused to stop pursuing his passion for a boy's game long after the grown-ups told him he couldn't play on their team anymore. Readers who loved Lee's bestselling The Wrong Stuff, also written with Richard Lally, will find the long wait for this rich and wonderful sequel well worth it. Those who haven't yet encountered the literary Bill Lee have a great treat in store.
Lee was considered one of Major League Baseball's biggest flakes in the 1970s, a freethinker who defied nearly every manager or owner who tried to control him. Although Lee, who pitched for the Montreal Expos and Boston Red Sox, was removed involuntarily from the pro ranks for his controversial statements and attitudes (e.g., suggesting pot smoking as a way for pitchers to better concentrate), he never lost his love for the game and played whenever and wherever he could, at first with the hopes of returning to the majors, later simply for the enjoyment of it. He picks up where his 1984 memoir The Wrong Stuff left off, recounting his travels playing with myriad amateur and semipro baseball and softball teams in the U.S. and Canada, as well as in Russia, Cuba and Venezuela. Lee's anti-establishment attitudes--he writes candidly, humorously and unapologetically of his drug and alcohol abuse--also drew him into alternative politics, as the 1988 presidential candidate for the Rhinoceros Party. For all his antics, however, Lee speaks eloquently of the connection between baseball and male bonding, especially between fathers and sons. This is a thoughtful and droll journal of an itinerant journeyman, content to ply his trade for whatever he can get out of the experience.
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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May 22, 2006
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Excerpt from Have Glove, Will Travel by Bill Lee
1: A SEASON UNDER THE INFLUENCE
That chess board would not stop shape-shifting. I leaned over the bar in the Cul de Sac, a Montreal hangout on lower Crescent Street, trying to place a pawn on a black square that kept slithering out of reach. The white boxes melted over the lines and swirled into the blacks. Next the board expanded and flopped over the sides of the bar. A tablecloth. But only for a moment. It rapidly shrank again until it appeared no larger than a postage stamp. And then back one more time to normal size, only now the squares re-formed as cubes, elevated off the board in descending heights. An M. C. Escher etching.
Sounds like some nefarious drug held me in its clutches. No, I'd just run a minimarathon through the heart of Montreal. My blood sugar had dropped to my ankles, and dehydration had sucked up all my bodily fluids. My lungs felt scarred after inhaling ten kilometers' worth of car exhaust. This weakened state left me prone to hallucinations as all the toxins stored in my body after a week-long debauchery recycled to deliver a haymaker to my senses.
My chess opponent had introduced himself moments earlier as Milos, a fat, brooding man with a scraggly beard and thick Slavic accent. Never seen him before. I'd come in for a beer, and he challenged me to a game. It took him only a few minutes to notice my disorientation.
"You look all in," he said.
"Rough week. Not enough sleep. Ran too fast too far today. Didn't eat enough. A cold brew will put me right."
Milos handed over a stunted joint wrapped in black rolling paper. I assumed it contained either pot or hash and merrily struck a match. I know. Accepting drugs from a stranger is a stupid thing to do. Nancy Reagan would never approve of me; I rarely say no to anyone offering a good time. I never thought her antidrug slogan got it right anyway. Really want to drive a drug dealer crazy? Don't say no. Say maybe. Dealers hate to wait around while you make up your mind.
I toked twice, paused, and again considered how to outflank my opponent. The board had stopped playing tricks. But as I raised the pawn to shoulder height, the head of the piece grew bulbous and top-heavy. It pulled me backward.
I teetered on the edge of my stool for a moment and swooned. I surrendered to buoyancy. Buoyancy failed me. I could not float. Down, down, down my body fell, off a bar stool the height of a skyscraper. My brain went as well, rolling, tumbling ass over cerebellum down a velvet staircase studded with spikes.
Customers and staff ran over to help. I heard them babbling somewhere far off, cushioned snub-nosed sounds from under a bubble, imploring me to get up. Betty Boop shimmied naked on the pale, hairless chest of Koko the Clown. He passed an opium pipe to Cab Calloway, who was spinning on his heels, fronting an orchestra of skeletons. Hot jive. Hot jive. Cold fingers played hot jive. Bone bebopped against cold metal until . . . jazz slid into dirge . . . and then . . . crabalocker fishwife . . . sheep . . . barking . . . like . . . frogs . . . semolina pilchard . . . rat-faced gremlins . . . flagellating . . . Toulouse-Lautrec . . . yellow matter custard dripping . . . banshees devouring . . . flamenco dancers . . . dead dog's eye . . . a chanting castrato chorus . . . the egg man . . . Gertrude Stein buggering . . . Dr. Billy Graham . . . mouth . . . opens . . . goo goo goo joob . . . Davy . . . Davy Crockett . . . could . . . not . . . com . . . plete . . . a . . . senten . . .
Four hours later I awoke in a beer cooler, splayed on top of six cases of Labatt's. Oh, fuck. Not even my brand. Josh, the bartender, grabbed the front of my sweatshirt and gently hefted me to my feet.
"What the hell did you stick me on ice for? Did I look overheated?"
"No, Bill. You looked dead. We figured this was the best place to preserve the body."
My tongue tasted of glue mixed with sand. I gulped two tankards of water and joined Milos at the bar. "What was that shit," I asked, "opium? Angel dust?"
"Just some pot."
"Yeah. Laced with a little powdered heroin."
"Heroin! Jesus, why didn't you warn me? You could have damaged me!"
He waved me off. "Not with just two tokes. Besides, you fall pretty good."
"I've had lots of practice."
I first experimented with pot, hash, mescaline, peyote, and other hallucinogens during the sixties and continued to indulge throughout my major-league career. Guess that means the experimental phase is over. Drugs erased my shyness, made me more sociable. They wiped the mind clear of extraneous thoughts, so I could listen intently to what other people said without judgment or expectation.