If there is such a thing as wholesome indulgence, this is it. Lee, 70, is the singer and renowned bass player of the Canadian rock band Rush. He is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, his signature literally etched into its walls. He is a rock star in every sense of the word.
But Lee is also a meticulous curator of the American pastime. Over many decades, Lee has filled his office with baseball treasures. He has a a 1917 Chicago White Sox ball signed by Shoeless Joe Jackson, a 1942 Negro Leagues ball signed by Josh Gibson, and a Mickey Mantle bat that’s been traced back to the 1960 World Series. He also has a ball signed by The Beatles and four signed by John F. Kennedy. It is a collection of Rock and Roll excess, but also of passion and stewardship.
Some 300 items from Lee’s collection will be auctioned by Christie’s on December 6. It is being billed as “Selections from The Collection of Geddy Lee,” and the auction house has estimated The Beatles ball alone to be worth upwards of $300,000. Same for the Mantle bat and a ball signed by Rube Waddell. One of the Kennedy autographs could fetch $100,000. It’s a lot of money.
“If you really look at it from an abstract point of view, it’s greed,” Lee said. “You want to own the game. You want to own a piece of every great player, to hold in your hand a ball that was signed by Lou Gehrig. It just became a magnificent obsession for me.”
What’s telling, though, are the pieces Lee has decided to keep, and the unmistakable care with which he accumulated so many artifacts in the first place.
“Baseballs, nobody owns them,” Lee said. “They’re like houses. You take care of them for a while, and then they move on to the next person, the next custodian.”
Truth is, Lee has his own place in baseball history. It’s a footnote in the grand scheme of things, but it exists. Rush songs have been used as walk-up music, and former Padres play-by-play man Matt Vasgersian once called a home run by singing the chorus to Fly By Night on the air. Lee threw the ceremonial first pitch for the Blue Jays’ home opener in 2013, and he sang the Canadian national anthem for the All-Star Game in 1993. With no pitch pipe and no accompaniment, Lee walked up the microphone and sang a cappella — but not before someone from the TV network told him he would be “happy to know” 80 million people were watching from home, which did little to calm his nerves.
“The whole thing wound up being a very marvelous experience for me and very memorable,” Lee said. “But it’s one of those things: Once you do it once, why would you do it again?”
Lee’s brother-in-law took a picture of him from the stands, and 30 years later, that picture is still framed in Lee’s office. He also added to his baseball collection that day, though he didn’t mean to. Marlins closer Bryan Harvey, whom Lee didn’t know, gave him a baseball before the first pitch.
“And he just said, ‘This is for your son,’” Lee said. “I mean, how sweet is that?”