Orbiting Spaceman

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

One of many great scenes in Bull Durham has Kevin Costner's catcher instructing Tim Robbins' young pitcher on the right, rote comments to give sports reporters. Aside from a left arm that kept major-league batters on their toes for 14 years, what's made Bill "Spaceman" Lee a baseball legend is the fact that he never says what's expected of him.

An intelligent, irreverent, outspoken individual (Bull Durham writer Ron Shelton admits to stealing at least one of his lines) who fought for players' rights as a longtime union rep, the pitcher is the focus of Peter J. Vogt's entertaining doc High and Outside.

The film catches up with Lee, still passionate and still playing, and uses his recollections and pronouncements, along with the comments of a who's-who of former players and commentators (Carl Yastrzemski, Peter Gammons), to frame archive footage of Lee's career trajectory. Close attention's paid to his performance for the Red Sox in the 1975 World Series and his infamous, aerodynamically brilliant "leephus" pitch.

While Lee's arm held out, his mouth ended his MLB career, as the film illustrates. Yet his smart, silly ramblings are what make this so enjoyable. As one Boston fan says of Lee in his prime, win or lose, "He was fun. He was worth watching." The same holds true today.

On Wednesday, Sept. 10, Lee will visit the Wexner Center to introduce the film.