The great Ted
all fun and games
By MAURY ALLEN
This was maybe 40 years ago when I was first getting
my feet wet as a big shot sportswriter. I traveled the country
with the Mets and Yankees and the Knicks and Jets for my first
visits to San Francisco, Houston, St. Louis, Oakland and all
points on the map.
Pretty heady stuff for a kid from Brooklyn.
The first thing we did each morning in the classy hotel rooms
provided free by our papers was to read the opposition newspapers.
I always took great pride in knowing how I blew the local guys
out of the water with my hot and funny stories.
Self-confidence at the typing machine was never a problem for
There were always a few guys along the trail that I admired and
envied for their ability to capture a scene with a clever, witty
phrase. One of the best of them was Larry Merchant in Philadelphia.
He went into television but had a resounding journalistic career
even joining me at the Post for a while before he opted out for
the big bucks.
He called what we did for a living the Fun and Games Department.
I had never thought of that apt description of what we did watching
games for pay, eating free meals in press rooms, living in fancy
hotels, traveling with Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Joe Namath
and Bill Bradley.
Once in a while I would write a tear jerker story if the situation
demanded it. Mostly I looked for the funny angle in the Fun and
Games department. After all, this was sports, not wars and riots
I was writing about. Merchant said it best.
I have just finished a book that made me cry. It was a blow to
the Fun and Games department. It never should have been that
The book is "Ted Williams: The Biography of An American
Hero" by Leigh Montville (Doubleday) and it is a damn fine
book and one of the saddest sports journals I have ever read.
Most of the story is familiar. Ted Williams, the guy who dreamed
of being the best hitter and probably was. Not the best player,
of course. Thats Willie Mays for me with Babe Ruth, Hank
Aaron and probably Barry Bonds now closing the gap. Teddy Ballgame.
The Splendid Splinter.
There was the .406 average in 1941 that he didnt think
was a big deal because Bill Terry had batted .401 only 11 years
earlier. Joe DiMaggio buried it anyway with the 56 game hitting
streak. That great home run in the All Star game that year off
Claude Passeau with the figure of Ted dancing the bases and clapping
loudly seen on televised All Star games ever since.
Then the war record. Flying service without combat in World War
II and then the serious stuff in Korea with a near miss right
at the start.
When he was on the field he was so dramatic, so damn handsome,
so charismatic before most people knew what that overused word
Then came the six batting titles, one at the age of 40 when most
ball players are just stealing money. There was the dramatic
farewell in Boston when he hit homer number 521 and jogged home
without tipping his cap. He was Ted Williams for crissakes and
he could do anything he pleased. He could spit, curse and howl
at press and fans. He could ignore the traditions and keep his
hat on his head without a tip anytime he pleased.
Montville deals with all this like a lab technician, digging
down deep for the small stuff that brings Williams alive. Read
this book and you are in the room with Williams, at the banquets,
on the field, in his homes, fighting with his wives, spending
so much time alone and escaping to some cool water hole for fishing,
a lonely mans sport. You and the fish. What a hoot.
I met Williams a couple of times in 1959 and 1960 when he still
played. He scared the shit out of me as a young reporter with
his loud voice and obnoxious tongue. I still remember him screaming
at me, Unfuckingbelievable when I asked some inane
question he disliked.
When he managed in Washington and I had matured as a member of
the Fun and Games Department, he was easier to take. He was pretty
interesting about hitting, of course, and he bragged about his
pal, Richard Nixon, the slimiest of presidents. We argued about
that. He cursed and I just laughed.
I ran into him at sports banquets or the Hall of Fame ceremonies
in Cooperstown many summers. One year I played tennis with his
handsome son, John-Henry, across from the Otesaga Hotel in Cooperstown.
The best thing about my tennis game was showing up. John-Henry
was pretty good but Ted sat on the side beating up on him verbally
for every ball that wasnt whacked down my throat or for
every defensive lob he threw up.
Ted died at 83 and his son froze him. Thats what people
talked about instead of the home runs he hit, that graceful swing,
that overwhelming personality, that intensity of life. Just the
frozen Williams body and the severed head.
Montville details all of this in a brilliant reporting scenario.
Ted Williams was supposed to be a celebration of the Fun and
Games department, a legacy of a baseball hero, a combat pilot,
a guy who marched to his own drummer, himself.
Instead the book portrayed the ugliest family scenario I can
remember. Fights over money, battles over his care, barriers
thrown up to his friends. Dont put a needle in his right
arm because thats his autographing arm, the son commanded
Montville has written a wonderful detailed book, dramatic, sharp,
and concise. You know what. Im sorry I read it. I wanted
Fun and Games when I read Ted Williams. All I got was sadness
I didnt need.
©2004 by Maury Allen. The Maury Allen caricature is ©2001
by Jim Hummel.
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