Former Montreal Expos pitcher Bill Lee’s life and career are shown on the silver screen
On Oct. 1, a group of Montreal baseball personalities, in collaboration with Dans La Rue, hosted a special screening of the film Spaceman at Concordia. The film was released on Aug. 19 and is based on former Montreal Expos pitcher Bill “Spaceman” Lee’s first book from 1984, titled The Wrong Stuff.
The film stars Josh Duhamel as Lee and depicts Lee’s life following his departure from the Montreal Expos and ultimately, to his career as a Major League Baseball pitcher.
“I had my doubts about Duhamel, [but he] captured the essence of Bill,” said Montreal radio personality Mitch Melnick. “He got his soul down—I mean that was Bill Lee on the mound to me for 90 minutes,” Melnick said.
The film screening took place at the de Sève Cinema, in Concordia’s Webster Library building. There were screenings at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., each one preceded by a panel of Montreal baseball personalities discussing the film and Montreal’s baseball scene.
The panel included Melnick and TSN 690 host Matthew Ross, editorial cartoonist Terry Mosher, RDS baseball analyst Marc Griffin, Philadelphia Phillies scout Alex Agostino, as well as the primary organizer of the event, CBS Sports’ Jonah Keri and Bill “Spaceman” Lee himself. The panel was emceed by CJAD’s Dave Kaufman.
“There’s a certain amount of conformity in baseball and [Lee] didn’t believe in that,” Keri said. “The fact that he’s still pitching competitively now is great. He’s such a fun storyteller, and has a great joie de vivre.”
At the entrance to the cinema, Lee autographed Spaceman caps, t-shirts and photos, depending on which type of ticket guests purchased for the event.
“I think it would have been an even better movie if it was shot in Quebec, but I’m happy with the way I was portrayed—Josh Duhamel did a beautiful job,” Lee said. “I would have changed a lot of the script. I would have taken the divorce out of it and made it more about baseball.”
The event was branded, in many respects, as another way for Montreal baseball fans to unite and discuss their nostalgia for the Expos. The event was also a way to honour Lee and speculate on the possible return of the Expos to Major League Baseball.
“It’s a chance to get people together, and we feel that anytime we do a baseball event like this, there’s always a heartbeat with baseball in Montreal,” Keri said.
The movie intended to capture the eccentric character of Bill Lee, a man whose passion and desire to play the game of baseball persisted even when he knew his MLB career was over.
“I just continued to play—in Longueuil, I played for Moncton and all over, even in Alberta and British Columbia,” Lee said. “We shot a documentary about it in Cuba, then [director Brett Rapkin] bought the rights to the book to make the movie. I thought it was going to be shot here in Montreal, but ended up being in [Los Angeles].”
Lee’s relationships with his friends, teammates, MLB executives, wife and kids as well as the city of Montreal are all documented in the film and help the viewer realize why a film was made about Lee in the first place.
“He’s the essence of baseball. He played for the love of the game,” Melnick said. “He had his career taken away from him when he still had a lot left, and that was at a time before the advent of the left-handed specialist.”
The second screening ended around 11 p.m., and most people followed Lee and the panel guests to Hurley’s Irish Pub for a drink and a chance to talk about the film.
“He’s an iconoclast, a loner, very much his own man, but also the ultimate team guy and a guy who was really born to play baseball,” Melnick said. “That’s the message of the film. He’s a fascinating guy because he’s well-read, incredibly intelligent, he’s philosophical, worldly but he’s down to earth.”