An Interview with Lee Maye

added 07/16/01 by Ray Kerby

Thanks to Bob Hulsey, I was able to reach Lee Maye through Phil Milstein. Maye was an outfielder who was signed by the Milwaukee Braves, had some very good seasons, and was traded to the Houston Astros on May 23, 1965 for pitcher Ken Johnson and outfielder Jim Beauchamp. He played with Houston through the 1966 season before being traded to Cleveland. Since he came up with the Braves in the late Fifties and early Sixties, Maye had the good fortune of playing alongside all-time greats Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, and Warren Spahn. I thought this was a great interview, and I tried to keep my mouth shut and let Mr. Maye do all of the talking!

(c) Houston Astros
Ray Kerby: First, Mr. Maye, let me thank you for your time.

Lee Maye: Now don't ask me any silly questions or I'll give you silly answers (laughs)

RK: As a child, did you always want to play baseball?

LM: Ever since I was big enough to know myself. When I first started playing, I used to play stick-ball, rag-ball, hit the old milk cans with a broomstick... I always wanted to be a baseball player and that was my dream.

RK: When you were watching big-league players, which ones did you look up to?

LM: Now let me tell you this. I grew up in Los Angeles and we didn't have major-league baseball out here. The only thing that I used to listen to were re-created games from back east with a guy by the name of Hal Berger, and I used to get out of school early to hear him re-create the games. I never saw a major-league game until I played in one. Now we did have AAA baseball out here with the Los Angeles Angels, which had a "Wrigley Field", which belonged to the Cubs. It was a duplicate ballpark built just like the Wrigley Field in Chicago. We had AAA baseball which was a very different AAA than most of the AAA leagues. On the West Coast, they played seven-game series -- you'd play one team a whole week. I used to go to Wrigley Field here in Los Angeles and watch the LA Angels play, but most of the guys on the LA team were former major-leaguers, but I had never saw a major-league game until I played in one.

RK: When you made it to the major-leagues, who were some of the players that served as your mentors while you were learning the ropes?

LM: Nobody helped me. The thing about getting from playing in the minor-leagues to playing in the major leagues, guys would tell you things like if a player sees that a pitcher is trying to pitch to your weakness, he'd try to teach you how to keep them from pitching to your weakness. The guy that helped me on that was Hank Aaron, and he'd tell me... I used to like the ball away from me, out over the middle of the plate, and he told me that "they're going to try and pitch you inside, so all you have to do is look for the ball inside and hit it hard a couple of times and they'll go back to the other way of pitching you." And it did. Just like he told me, it happened that way. And I also had one of the great Hall-of-Famers, Paul Waner... he helped me tremendously to become a major-league hitter.

RK: Hank Aaron, Paul Waner. Playing among those guys must have been special

LM: The greatest thrill is not getting to the major leagues, it's staying there. I played 13 seasons when they had only 16 teams and I think that was a great accomplishment for me.

RK: Definitely, and to hit .300 as well

LM: Oh yeah. Even in the minor leagues I always hit .300, and I just felt deep, down inside that I was never given the right opportunity to play everyday like I should have. I really believe that if I had played every day, I would have put up great numbers. But I was just happy to be there and I never complained about playing or not playing. But I still think that if I was an everyday player I would have put up even better numbers than I put up. I have a lifetime batting average of almost .280 -- I feel very proud of that but I think I could have done much better.

RK: That was a tough time to hit .280.

LM: Every team that I played for never really gave me the chance... the Milwaukee Braves gave me a chance. I played regularly more with the Milwaukee Braves than I did with any team, but I still thought that I should have played every day. I was an everyday player. If you look at my minor-league credentials and at my major league credentials - I was an everyday player. I can't say that any other way. I never got the opportunity to do that. I don't know why, and I never questioned why. They paid me, and I did what they told me to do when they paid me.

RK: What were contract negotiations like for you in the Sixties?

LM: Well, back in those days if you went in the office demanding more money... they'd release you.You didn't have the luxury of going in there and saying, "well, I think I'm worth this" like these guys have today. All of this came about along with Curt Flood and it's the greatest thing that ever happened to baseball... that they can't treat you like a piece of meat, like they can take off a slab and sell you when they get ready. I think that all of the major-league players did Curt Flood an injustice by not giving him a salary because if it wasn't for him they wouldn't make all of that money they're making today. Here's a guy that was a very talented ballplayer and he turned down $110,000 from the Philadelphia Phillies because he didn't want to be traded to a last-place club and I don't blame him! He stuck by his word and said "if I can't, I'll just sit out and y'all do what you want with me". That's what really happened and I am so thankful for him that he changed the whole game of baseball... he changed the whole ruling of baseball. And not only for baseball, but for all sports: basketball, baseball, everything. He changed it all because all of these guys -- hockey -- all of them are making big money.

RK: It changed the public's perception of how the ballplayer should be paid.

LM: Well, everyone talks about the ballplayer... the baseball players. But they never say anything about the movie stars. They make millions of dollars but people don't complain about the movie stars. There's only a few guys in baseball as great -- that can make this kind of money. Oh, you make a good salary but there's only that handful that makes $10-20 million a year. But now, you've got it where anybody can come up in the majors now and have two or three good seasons and can make five or ten million a year.

RK: But if they can make the money that means the owners must have it to spend.

LM: If the owners didn't have it, they couldn't pay it. The owners did it to themselves. Any time you start bidding for service, you're gonna be in trouble because I'm gonna go to the best place where I can get the best salary. You can't blame the ballplayers. Everybody says that they're greedy. They're not greedy. They're just doing what the owners say. If one guy won't give it to you, another guy will give it to you - so take it.

RK: I think you can see greed on both sides. Everyone wants to look after themselves.

LM: Everybody's greedy. Everybody's looking for something better.

RK: What was it like getting traded from a good team like the Braves to a weak, expansion team like the Astros?

LM: I'm gonna tell you something. I have never been more hurt in my whole life -- I was in Milwaukee's organization twelve years before I got traded -- and it wasn't because I was going to an expansion club, but I thought that I belonged with the Braves. You can tell from what I did the year before. I had a great year in '64: I hit over .300, I drove in 75 runs batting second, I scored almost 100 runs. I had my best year - I had 44 doubles - and yet they trade me and I was one of the catalysts to make their team go because I got on base. Hitting in front of Hank Aaron made me a better hitter because I got a lot of good pitches to hit. They weren't gonna walk me to get to Aaron, Mathews and Adcock. So when I go to Houston, they had nobody that could back me up like that. They started pitching me like I was Aaron (laugh). Even though there I had a good year, I hit .288 which was a very good average. Whereever I played I always did well. I always played well, I always hustled, I always gave it my best. I never let down on the field and nobody can ever tell you that "Lee Maye didn't give his best on the field".

RK: When you went to the Astros in 1965, what were your impressions when you first walked in the Astrodome? Were you already an Astro or did you play as a Brave?

LM: I don't think I had played in there before, I'm not sure. I remember that we used to play outside when they were the Houston Colts and, as a matter of fact, I will never forget that I got sent to the majors from Houston. I was playing with Louisville in the American Association. We played a doubleheader and I think I got 7 or 8 hits in the doubleheader and they called me up from Houston. I used to wear Houston out; I used to really hit them hard and I got called up. I stayed in Houston for about 14 years, I lived there a long time. Even after I left there and wasn't playing for them, I used to sing at this club, "The Dome Shadow", have you heard of that?

RK: No, I haven't.

LM: Well there was a club right across from the Astrodome and they called it "The Dome Shadow". I was a singer and I had a couple of big records. I'd sing after the game was over and I got in a lot of problems with the owner because he wanted to tell me that I couldn't sing. The guy that owned "The Dome Shadow", Marshall Stewart, and Judge Hofheinz didn't like each other for some reason and they got into a big controversy about me. I didn't even pay any attention to it.

RK: Were there any players on the Astros that stood out as "stars" to you?

LM: Well, they had two guys there that I thought were good: Jim Wynn and Joe Morgan... and Rusty Staub. I think when you go to an expansion team and if you go in there just to pass the time away, you're not gonna win. We had an expansion club that could win. If every guy thought they could win, we could have won a lot more ballgames. I really feel that because I don't care who you are or who you're playing against because when you're playing against major-league ballplayers, that means you're a major-league ballplayer. Yeah, you have some ballplayers that are better than others, but on any given day any team can win and I thought Houston had the type of expansion club that could have won more games if they put their minds to it instead of worrying about individual stats instead of team stats.

RK: You mentioned that you lived 14 years in Houston. In their books, both Joe Morgan and Bob Watson talked about some of the racism they encountered when they played in the South, from the locals or even from the team. I was curious if you had any kind of experiences like that, too.

LM: Of course. There's still a lot of prejudice going on there. I got in problems with the.... we used to have speaking engagements, and they would pay us to go on these speaking engagements. This really pissed me off that they would give the white guys the $200, $100 and give us $25 and I wouldn't accept that. And I cursed... I said some things I shouldn't have said to Judge Hofheinz's daughter at that time. I told him "Hey, I'm just as good as anybody out here. If you can't give me what the other guys are getting, I don't want to go." And I wouldn't even go because of that. Let me tell you something. There's still a lot of prejudice in the game today. It's never gonna change. It'll slide a little bit, but it's never going to change. The only thing about life if you see... see you can't tell me about being black because you're not black. Do you understand what I'm saying?

RK: Yeah...

LM: See, a lot people say "I know there's a problem". Well, you don't know because you've never been in that situation. You can't go that way because you don't even know. You've seen it, but you've never experienced it. Anything you have to learn, you have to experience it. But it's much better [now], because I remember when we first started playing in Houston we had to stay in different hotels and stuff like that. When I was playing in the Texas League, we used to play against Houston and I would play for Austin. We had to ride the bus -- we had to eat on the bus while the white guys would go into the restaurant, take their time and then they'd bring food on the bus. So I told them, "I'm not gonna do this. If they are going to eat in the restaurant, then take me down to the black side of town and let me eat and pick me up when y'all are finished." You know they called me a bad guy because I spoke out. I didn't say anything that wasn't right, but I just felt that you couldn't treat me in any kind of way. And I refused to be treated in any kind of way, even today. I really wanted to stay in baseball and I wrote to every club for ten years seeking employment -- even if it's coaching in the minor leagues, helping young guys, teaching what I learned, and do you know there wasn't one club that gave me a chance to play? Here I've got twenty years of experience playing professional ball, now do you think that there should have been a place for me?

RK: You'd think there would be something.

LM: Well, I was the kind of guy that they didn't like. I just said, "to hell with it" and I went on with my life. I went on and I enjoyed my life. I still love baseball. Baseball will always be a part of me because it's the only thing I know that I really loved -- playing baseball. And I am so happy that I played in the major leagues because we had the best players when I played. And I've seen some of the greatest ballplayers. I've played with a whole bunch of guys that are in the Hall of Fame. To me, that makes me feel real great. As a matter of fact, I played with at least three in Milwaukee. I played with Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, and Warren Spahn. I played with Joe Morgan, played against Juan Marichal, Bob Gibson -- I could name a whole bunch of guys -- Koufax. Those guys were great ballplayers and I played right along with them and I hit them just like I hit anybody else.

RK: Speaking of pitchers like that, who do you think was the toughest pitcher you had to face?

LM: All of them (laugh). I tell you the honest truth, I never went into a big slump -- you know some guys will go 2-for-40 or something like that -- because I could run. I could run pretty good and I never was in a slump and I made contact with the ball. My best year, I went to bat 588 times and only struck out 50 times which is a great ratio. The difference is when you have speed, and you can utilize your speed, it keeps you from going into a slump.

RK: You are kind of unique among players in that you've had a career in music in addition to your career in baseball. Looking back, do you consider yourself a baseball player who dabbled in music, or a musician who could play baseball?

LM: I was a great baseball player and a hell of a singer (laughs).

(at this point, our time unfortunately ran out)

I hope you enjoyed reading those stories as much as I enjoyed listening to them! I would like to personally thank Phil Milstein for putting me in touch with Lee Maye. If you would like to read more, Phil wrote an extensive article on Maye which was recently published in Roctober magazine. Anyone interested can purchase it by writing:

1507 E. 53d St. #617
Chicago IL 60615

Or, if you'd prefer, you can e-mail It's an excellent overview covering both his baseball and music careers.