LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Lee Elia is telling a story and keeping it clean.
“Pulled the tape out of a drawer about three, four years ago,” he said. “Hadn’t heard it since it happened. Me and my wife sat there and listened to it, about 10 o’clock in the morning over a cup of coffee. We couldn’t stop laughing. Of course, every place I go I get my ass kicked over it.”
“Hey, can you not write that word?”
Through my career I’ve had several interview subjects ask me to “clean up” their quotes for them. This was the first time I ever had someone best known for unleashing, a three-minute, 42-expletive tirade ask me to remove the “a” word from harmless context.
Let’s start with this: Lee Elia knows baseball. He knows hitting. It’s why at the age of 73 and after over 51 years in baseball and time with nine organizations as a coach, manager and adviser, he can still get a job. Elia was working with the Los Angeles Dodgers last season as a special assistant when Braves GM Frank Wren offered him a position as a hitting coach, assisting Larry Parrish.
“Lee has a really sterling reputation for his passion, a passion for instructing,” Wren said.
Yes. Passion. It can reveal itself in so many ways. In Elia’s case, passion erupted like Mount Vesuvius on April 29, 1983. This was before Twitter and a 24/7 news cycle, but not before tape recorders. Elia, then manager of the Chicago Cubs, went on a profanity-saturated rant to the media following a loss, notable in that it ripped Cubs fans.
You can find the full audio and a transcript of the tirade online. Here’s one amusing excerpt (sanitized for your protection):
“I’ll tell you one [bleepin’] thing, I hope we get [bleepin’] hotter than [bleep], just to stuff it up them 3,000 [bleepin’] people that show up every [bleepin’] day, because if they’re the real Chicago [bleepin’] fans, they can kiss my [bleepin’] ass right downtown and PRINT IT. … What the [bleep] am I supposed to do, go out there and let my [bleepin’] players get destroyed every day and be quiet about it? For the [bleepin’] nickel-dime people who turn up? … They oughta go out and get a [bleepin’] job. … Eighty-five percent of the [bleepin’] world is working. The other fifteen percent come out here.”
I’ve seen various accountings of Elia’s tender soliloquy. One referenced 37 derivations of the “f” word.
I counted 35. Maybe two got bleeped.
Any way, the Elia rant became woven into baseball’s non-PG fabric, along with Billy Martin and Tommy Lasorda rants. Elia was approached a few years ago about trying to spin the incident into a positive. He autographed baseballs and below that wrote, “And PRINT it!” The balls were sold with a CD of the tirade and a portion of the proceeds went to Chicago charities.
You can still find the items for sale at LeeUnplugged.com for $59.95. When informed of this Monday Elia was stunned. “They used to be $89.95,” he said. (He received only an upfront fee.)
Several Braves players huddled around a computer to listen to a computer download of the rant early in spring training.
“We were all dying laughing,” catcher David Ross said. “He was dropping F-bombs but he was sticking up for his players and talking about how hard they worked while ragging on the fans. We’ve all had those days.”
Elia’s day was a 4-3 Cubs loss to the Dodgers at Wrigley Field. A wild pitch by Lee Smith scored the winning run. Two Chicago players, Larry Bowa and Keith Moreland, went into the stands after arguments with fans. Elia had to pull them out. Then he spoke with four reporters, one of whom had a tape recorder that Elia didn’t see, “And my immaturity as a first-year manager showed,” he said.
Somebody gave him a tape that he threw into a drawer but never listened to. “I tried to erase it from my memory,” he said. Then a few years back, he pulled it out.
Elia cracked that he never even used “that word” until the army. ” My dad told me when I was a kid, ‘That word is going to get you in trouble one day,’” he said. “And it did, 27 times.”
It’s easy to lose count.
By Jeff Schultz
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