They don’t make ’em like Ted Williams anymore

The last man to hit .400 in the major leagues died today at 83. But there was a lot more to Ted Williams than carrying a big stick.
Williams was a flawed role model, but he certainly got one thing right, and it’s fitting that he died on July 5. You see, Ted Williams gave up seven of the best years of his career to be a Marine pilot. Can you imagine Barry Bonds going through boot camp to become a Marine? I didn’t think so.

Ted Williams had a lot of enemies. Opposing pitchers didn’t like him much, because he was the best hitter in the league. He was their natural enemy. But the press hated him too. So did Boston’s fans.

When Ted Williams went to his first spring training, his new teammates greeted him. “Wait until you see Jimmie Foxx hit,” one of them said.

“Wait ’till Foxx sees me hit,” the cocky Williams responded.

Jimmie Foxx was the best home-run hitter in the game at the time. The only man up to that point who had hit more homers than Foxx was the recently retired Babe Ruth. Teams used to build walls and put up screens to try to keep Foxx’s screaming line drives from becoming home runs. Many of Foxx’s records stood for 50 years. And this kid, who’d never seen a big league pitcher except in the stands or on a baseball card, was saying “Wait until Foxx sees me hit?”

They say it’s not ego if you can back it up, and Williams backed it up. In just his third season in the majors, he batted .406. Now, 61 years have passed, and the closest anyone has come since to hitting .400 over a full season was George Brett in 1980.

Williams hit .344 on his career, and hit a total of 521 home runs. Given those six years back, he would have set records no one would have reached. The man hit .342 with 38 home runs in 1946, after he’d sat out the 1943, 1944, and 1945 seasons flying airplanes in World War II! There are a lot of men in the Hall of Fame whose best seasons paled with Williams’ rusty comeback season.

Yeah, Williams had a lot in common with Barry Bonds. Both feuded with fans and teammates. Both collected a lot of bad blood. But what Williams gave up for his country is something baseball fans can only imagine.

It’s fitting, in a way, that Williams went out on July 5, 2002. This country’s been through a lot the past 10 months–the biggest threat since the threats that had Williams trading his fielder’s mitt and bat for an airplane. There were men who gave up more than Williams did–they gave up their lives–but it’s hard to imagine very many stars today doing what Williams did. Some do, but the majority of them are more concerned about their next piece of expensive jewelry.

Fortunately, we still have good men willing to fight for something worth fighting for. Be grateful. Be ever grateful.

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6 thoughts on “They don’t make ’em like Ted Williams anymore

  • July 5, 2002 at 1:35 pm

    Capt. Bonds? Yeah right.

    I read a story yesterday, either on CNN or Foxnews, about the current crop of men and women in our forces. Many of them over in Afghanistan, were sad to not be home with their families, but the prevailing theme was, a large majority plan to reenlist

  • July 5, 2002 at 6:18 pm

    comment Dave,
    Don’t forget that Ted Williams gave of his time and effort in Korea too!
    Thanks for the post
    PS: This should be labeled “Human Interest”

  • July 5, 2002 at 11:18 pm

    Right. Three years for WWII, and the majority of three years to Korea.

    As far as labels, who knows, a lot of the stuff I do could fall under several. Since Ted Williams was a baseball player, I put it under that heading. The newspaper editor I worked for several years ago had every intention of burying the O.J. Simpson story in the Sports section, and I guess some of him rubbed off on me.

  • July 6, 2002 at 9:03 am

    “Mr. President,” Ted said, in a summation as clean and succinct as his swing, “I have always known what a lucky guy I am. I was born an American, I served my country and I got to play baseball.”

    Not to shabby for a flawed role model. Players today should be so flawed.

  • July 6, 2002 at 9:33 am

    Williams’ serving our country was very noble and admirable, as I tried to say.

    Williams’ arrogance, however, wasn’t very different from that of Barry Bonds and other players who represent much of what’s wrong with the game today. And Williams was also known for making obscene gestures to the fans after making poor plays in left field.

    Late in his career, Boston fans tried to make good. Williams ended his career with a walk-off home run. Boston fans cheered like there was no tomorrow. But no curtain call for them. No tip of the cap.

    Great hitter? The best. Great patriot? One of the best. Someone I want to be like? Not on your life.

    There’s no hitter like him in modern baseball (Tony Gwynn, George Brett and Rod Carew were the closest we’ve had in the past 30 years). But I have no problem pointing at the Royals’ Mike Sweeney (one of those players today who isn’t “so flawed”) and telling a kid, “Be like him when you grow up.”

    I’m glad the Boston media and Red Sox fans are being gracious to Williams in death. That’s big of them. Williams was anything but gracious to them for most of his life.

  • July 7, 2002 at 10:11 pm

    comment some might say “Ted Williams gave up seven of the best years of his career to be a Marine” Rifleman, his assigned duty was flying jet airplanes. In fact somebody once said words to that effect.

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