Daniel F. Harrington (firstname.lastname@example.org), a monthly contributor, lives in Warwick.
The finest hitter in the history of Major League Baseball often stood in front of a mirror before each game practicing his formidable swing and repeating over and over, “My name is Ted Williams and I’m the greatest hitter in baseball!”When you consider his bizarre childhood, the affirmation made sense.
Theodore S. Williams was born in San Diego in February of 1918. His mother, a, charismatic Mexican woman named May Venzor, was a foot soldier in the Salvation Army and was consumed with spreading the Gospel and raising money for the poor. But the “Angel of Tijuana” as she was known did so at the expense and neglect of Ted and his younger brother.
Ted’s father, Sam Williams, a sometimes U.S. marshal, quickly tired of his wife’s Salvationist ways and abandoned the family. With the help of benevolent neighbors, lonely Ted would find refuge in the ballfields of San Diego.Success came instantly.
The 6-foot, 4-inch Williams was playing semi-pro ball at age 16 and by age 19, in 1937, was drafted by the Boston Red Sox. He would spend 22 years in Boston and become, in the words of Joe DiMaggio, “the greatest natural hitter I ever saw.”
Forever known as “the Kid,” the 18-time All Star’s accomplishments were staggering. In 1941, when the typical ball player had a batting average of .244, Williams finished the season with an incredible .406 batting average, a feat unmatched even today. Likewise, his career on-base percentage of .482 is also unequaled. He won two Triple Crowns, two MVPs and had a lifetime batting average of an astonishing .344.
More remarkable is that Williams’ records stand despite losing nearly five years of playing baseball while serving his country as a Marine fighter pilot in World War II and again in the Korean War, where, after being struck by enemy fire, he successfully crashed landed his jet against impossible odds.
His weaknesses were legendary as well. Constantly at war with the sports press and prone to vulgar outbursts, Williams was known for his temper and occasionally spitting at the fans who taunted him. Once, when called out on strikes, he hurled a bat 70 feet in the air, striking an older woman in the head. From the hospital, she later criticized the fans for booing her beloved Williams!
Still, even the ignoble in Williams fades when his charitable work is remembered. He became the face of the Jimmy Fund and for 35 years led the fight against cancer in children, quietly visiting thousands of kids over the years and often paying their medical bills. Once, when a little boy refused to let go of his hero’s hand when saying goodnight, Williams summoned a cart and spent the night beside the dying boy.
Fittingly, Ted Williams hit a home run at his last at bat at Fenway Park in 1961. When entering the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1966 he boldly challenged the institution to finally recognize African American baseball players. The man with the perfect swing died in 2002 at age 84.
We all pitch thoughts, hurl affirmations and toss curses at the reflection we see in mirror. And let us continue to do so enthusiastically as we remember “the Kid’ whose quixotic conversations with the man in the mirror helped propel him to the Hall of Fame and into the hearts of millions.
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