Geddy Lee sits comfortably in his favorite room, surrounded by one of the world’s greatest memorabilia collections.
The legendary rock icon has always been a collector. It started with stamps as a kid, and then it became vinyl records and vintage bass guitars and six string guitars and a wine collection which would rival that of hockey’s Mario Lemieux.
So it might nor surprise anyone to know that the lead singer, bass player and keyboardist for Rush, a Canadian band that was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, would have one of the most significant collections of baseball memorabilia ever assembled by a private individual.
His baseball fandom and his passion for collecting is as hard core as the hard rock music he is globally known for. Many of his items will be for sale in a live event, Dec. 6, in a collaborative effort between Christie’s and Hunt Auctions.
“When I was a kid, I wasn’t hugely sportif,” the 70-year-old Lee told SC Daily in a recent interview. “I was a bit of a quiet guy, but I watched a lot of baseball on television. In Toronto, we used to get the American League games, so I was familiar with the Yankees-Tigers rivalry from that period – Al Kaline, Norm Cash, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris. I also liked Sandy Koufax, (but) we wouldn’t see many National League games.”
Geddy Lee was born in Willowdale, a community in the Toronto suburb of North York. His parents were Holocaust survivors from Poland. They were imprisoned in Auschwitz, and then his father went to Dachau and his mother to Bergen-Belson during World War II. After the war, Morris eventually found Manya at a displaced persons camp at Bergen-Belsen. They were married there, and then emigrated to Canada.
Morris and Manya Weinrib were hard working people. Morris owned and operated a variety store in the Toronto suburban community of Newmarket. Their son Gary was known by his friends as Geddy. Because of his mother’s thick Polish accent, she pronounced his name as “Geddy”. His friends picked up on it, and the nickname stuck. He eventually changed his name to Geddy.
Morris died in 1965, when Geddy was a pre-teen. His mother took over running the store to support her three children. Young Geddy Lee turned to music, learning instruments in school and then taking piano lessons away from school. He turned the family’s basement into a practice space and formed a band in high school.
When he wasn’t practicing or rehearsing, Lee was a baseball fan. He grew up as a Tigers fan, and then transitioned into a Blue Jays fan when his hometown landed a Major League Baseball team in 1977. Because his music career had taken off, his interest in baseball had faded a bit. Eventually, he got his love for the game back, and it grew exponentially.
“It was years later when I was touring that I found myself in hotel rooms waking up at 2 in the afternoon and begging room service for some semblance of breakfast,” Lee said. “Whatever would arrive, as I woke up, I would turn on the TV and eat, and all you had was soap operas and baseball on WGN. So it kind of rekindled my interest in the sport.”
Lee became fascinated with the analytics of the game, and began reading books written by stats guru Bill James. While touring, baseball became part of Lee’s routine.
“I started watching games during the day, following the Braves on TBS, and the Cubs, and then on days off I started going to ball games,” Lee said. “In minor league cities I would go to minor league games. I really fell in love with the game all over again.”
Geddy Lee Discovers Memorabilia
While Lee’s love for the game had taken him to stadiums big and small across North America, a visit to a memorabilia shop in Missouri would be a life changer for him.
“Being a nerdy collector inherently, when I was in Kansas City one time, I walked into this memorabilia shop that was selling all kinds of stuff – presidential signatures, paperwork,” Lee recalled. “There were a couple of baseball photographs. One was Satchel Paige and the other was a signed photo of Bobby Thomson’s shot heard around the world. I bought those and kept them, and I that those would be cool in my office, but it sent a whole bunch of other things into motion for me.”
The photographs of Paige and Thomson created one of the biggest rabbit holes in the history of collecting. Lee became more interested in the history of baseball, and more interested in artifacts representing the early days of the sport.
“I got more interested in the history of the game and the more I read about it, the more I thought I could start a modest collection of things that were signed and represented the earlier part of the game and some of the early heroes, beginning of course with the obvious, Babe Ruth,” Lee said. “But there’s no such thing with me as a modest selection of items. I just went to town and got obsessed with it and spent the next 35 years amassing an enormous collection of artifacts.”
While every collector who sells has a different reason or situation, Lee said that his items are being sold so that other passionate collectors in the hobby can enjoy them.
“It got to the point where now, I haven’t added to the collection in many years,” he said. “I’ve started collecting many other things. So I wanted to cull the collection a bit and pass on some of these items to the world of collectors.”
A Completist By Nature
Lee said that in building his collection, part of the challenge he faced came from within.
“I’m sort of a completist by nature,” he explained. “That’s my problem, because if I start collecting game-used balls – for example I started collecting no-hitter balls. Well then I needed to have every no-hitter ball I could find.”
He has both of the last out baseballs from Johnny Vander Meer’s back-to-back no-hitters in 1939.
He also has balls signed by a number of prominent Jewish Major Leaguers.
“I made sure to get a Sandy Koufax ball and then a Hank Greenberg ball,” he said. “I also have a ball signed by Moe Berg, and I find him one of the most fascinating people in baseball history.”
As time has gone on, Lee has become somewhat of a Toronto Blue Jays superfan. He sang the national anthem at the 1993 All-Star Game in Toronto, and he is often visible in his seat behind home plate scoring the game. While they are not officially part of his collection, he has many scorebooks filled with games he has been to.
In 2020, when the Blue Jays played in Buffalo, a cutout of Lee was put in the seats behind home plate.
For Lee, the process of selling some of his memorabilia is somewhat bittersweet. He is glad to make room in his display for other items he had been storing. He admits that some of the items are not easy to part with, including a ball autographed by the 1917 Chicago White Sox. The players involved in the 1919 Black Sox scandal, including Shoeless Joe Jackson, signed the ball. Jackson’s autograph is among the rarest from that era. At the end of the day, however, he feels that it’s someone else’s turn to have that special item in their collection.
“Parting with some these things is difficult, but at the same time, I have so many things that will replace them in my beautiful display at home, that I feel totally fine with it,” Lee said. “There are other things I won’t part with – personal things and gifts that I have received from so many players over the years. There are significant Blue Jays items and Expos items.”
Items from the auction will be on display at Christie’s from December 1-6. Online bidding is available.