Ted Williams

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Ted Williams : biography

30 August 1918 – 05 July 2002

Playing style

Williams was an obsessive student of hitting. He famously used a lighter bat than most sluggers, because it generated a faster swing. David Halberstam’s Summer of ’49 recalls him warning teammates not to leave their bats on the ground as they would absorb moisture and become heavier. His biographer Leigh Montville relates the often told story that Hillerich & Bradsby presented Williams with four bats weighing 34 ounces and one weighing 33 1/2 ounces, and challenged him to identify the lighter bat, which he was consistently able to do. His devotion allowed him to hit for power and average while maintaining extraordinary plate discipline. In 1970 he wrote a book on the subject, The Science of Hitting (revised 1986), which is still read by many baseball players. Williams was known to discuss hitting with active players enthusiastically until very late in his life. A conversation with Tony Gwynn was filmed for television.

Williams nearly always took the first pitch, reasoning that the ability to gauge the pitcher’s "stuff" was worth conceding a first strike. He was occasionally criticized for refusing to swing at a borderline pitch to put a ball in play when it might have helped advance a runner or score a run (a recurring theme among sportswriter critics was that "Ted plays for himself."). Yet, Williams argued persuasively about the great advantage that accrues to pitchers when hitters swing at a pitch even one baseball width outside the strike zone. In a graphic from 1968 that accompanied an article in Sports Illustrated magazine, Williams divided the strike zone into 77 baseballs, with each baseball containing his projected batting average for pitches thrown in that location.

Williams was frequently critical of pitchers and their refusal to bring the related kind of strategic thinking to their pitch selection that he brought to hitting. However, he did show great respect for Red Sox pitcher Bill "Spaceman" Lee, crediting him with that kind of mindset.

Williams lacked foot speed, as attested by his 19-year career total of only one inside-the-park home run, one occasion of hitting for the cycle, and just 24 stolen bases. (Interestingly, despite his slowness on the basepaths, he is one of only four players in history – along with the noted speedsters Tim Raines, Rickey Henderson, and Omar Vizquel – to have stolen a base in four different decades.) Williams always felt that had he had more speed, he could have raised his average considerably and helped him hit .400 in at least one more season. Williams was sometimes considered to be an indifferent outfielder with a good throwing arm. He often spent time in left field practicing "shadow swings" for his next at-bat. Williams occasionally expressed regret that he had not worked harder on his defense. However, Williams did become an expert at playing the rebounds of batted balls off of the left-field wall and fences in Fenway Park. Later on, he helped pass this expertise to the left-fielder Carl Yastrzemski of the Red Sox.

Death

In his last years, Williams suffered from cardiomyopathy. He had a pacemaker implanted in November 2000 and he underwent open-heart surgery in January 2001. After suffering a series of strokes and congestive heart failure, he died of cardiac arrest at the age of 83 on July 5, 2002, at Citrus Memorial Hospital, Inverness, Florida, near his home in Citrus Hills, Florida.

Though his will stated his desire to be cremated and his ashes scattered in the Florida Keys, Williams’ son John-Henry and youngest daughter Claudia chose to have his remains frozen cryonically.

Ted’s eldest daughter, Bobby-Jo Ferrell, brought suit to have her father’s wishes recognized. John-Henry’s lawyer then produced an informal "family pact" signed by Ted, Claudia, and John-Henry, in which they agreed "to be put into biostasis after we die" to "be able to be together in the future, even if it is only a chance." Bobby-Jo and her attorney, Spike Fitzpatrick (former attorney of Ted Williams), contended that the family pact, which was scribbled on an ink-stained napkin, was forged by John-Henry and/or Claudia. Fitzpatrick and Ferrell believed that the signature was not obtained legally. Laboratory analysis proved that the signature was genuine. John-Henry said that his father was a believer in science and was willing to try cryonics if it held the possibility of reuniting the family.

Though the family pact upset some friends, family and fans, a public plea for financial support of the lawsuit by Ferrell produced little result. Citing financial difficulties, Ferrell dropped her lawsuit in exchange that a $645,000 trust fund left by Williams would immediately pay the sum out equally to the three children. Inquiries to cryonics organizations increased after the publicity from the case.

In Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero, author Leigh Montville claims that the family cryonics pact was a practice Ted Williams autograph on a plain piece of paper, around which the agreement had later been hand written. The pact document was signed "Ted Williams", the same as his autographs, whereas he would always sign his legal documents "Theodore Williams", according to Montville. However, Claudia testified to the authenticity of the document in a sworn affidavit. Ted’s two 24-hour private caregivers who were with him the entire period the note was said to have been created also stated in sworn affidavits that John-Henry and Claudia were never present at any time for the note to be produced.

Following John-Henry’s unexpected illness and death from acute myelogenous leukemia on March 6, 2004, John-Henry’s body was also transported to Alcor, in fulfillment of the family agreement.

The Tampa Bay Rays home field, Tropicana Field, has installed the Ted Williams Museum (formerly in Hernando, Florida) behind the left field fence. From the Tampa Bay Rays website: "The Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame brings a special element to the Tropicana Field. Fans can view an array of different artifacts and pictures of the ‘Greatest hitter that ever lived.’ These memorable displays range from Ted Williams’ days in the military through his professional playing career. This museum is dedicated to some of the greatest players to ever ‘lace ’em up,’ including Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris."