It is rare that someone knows a true expert in any vocation, let alone an expert in three distinctively different fields. Let me introduce you to Ted Williams, baseball Hall of Famer, Marine fighter pilot, and world-class sport fisherman.
Born in 1918, and reared in a home full of strife, Ted yearned to become the best hitter in baseball. Playing in youth baseball leagues during is formative years; he sought to be validated as the best at something. Hitting a baseball would be his vehicle to stardom.
In Ted's hometown of San Diego, Herbert Hoover High School was a sports powerhouse during the Great Depression and with the terrific weather, baseball was a year-round sport. Ted excelled at Hoover as a pitcher, and was such a prospect that he signed a AAA contract with the local minor league club, the San Diego Padres. Because hitting was his passion, Ted switched to the outfield so that he could play every day and, concentrate on successfully hitting a baseball. A year later in 1936 he signed a minor league contract with the Boston Red Sox. Two years later he was ready for the big leagues.
On April of 1939, Ted dug into the batters box for the first time in the big leagues to start his Hall of Fame career. Two years later in 1941, he became the last man to hit over .400, finishing the season with a .406 batting average. It is interesting to note that he clinched the batting title on the last day of the season. Team manager Joe Cronin urged Ted to sit out the game so he wouldn’t have to risk his .400 average. Ted entered the game with a .3996 average that would be rounded to .400 and the title would be his. Ted was incredulous, telling Cronin “If I can't hit .400 all the way, I don't deserve it!” He played two that day went 6 for 8 in the double-header and ended the season with a .406 batting average.
Later that year came the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and the World War II officially spread to the Pacific Theater. With these developments Ted was drafted into the military in early 1942, but worked out an arrangement with the draft board to postpone his entry into the service for one year so that he could take care of his ailing mother. Eventually, Ted spent the entire 1943, 1944, 1945 baseball seasons in the service. With his keen 20/10 eyesight, he quickly became a candidate to become a naval aviator. In 1945 WWII quickly came to an end without Ted seeing any combat action. He was back in the major leagues in 1946.
In the early 1950s the United States entered into the Korean conflict. Ted had been in the inactive reserves and was called back into active duty in 1952, this time as a marine pilot. He spent the next season and a half flying combat missions over North Korea. On his 39th mission Ted’s Grumman F-9 Panther fighter jet was hit with enemy anti-aircraft fire. The hit knocked out the plane’s hydraulic system, rendering Ted dependent on the plane’s momentum.
He had the plane heading back south and was hell-bent on making it out of the country. Although his fellow pilots urged him to eject, Ted was apprehensive because of his 6’4” height. He was afraid that the ejection would take his knees out so he stayed with the plane. Ted limped back to the base in South Korea and with no hydraulics left to control the plane, he brought her in at 225 MPH, twice the recommended speed. The plane hit the runway on its belly, spraying sparks from the friction of metal on concrete. With the plane already on fire from the attack, the cockpit filled with smoke, all Ted could do was ride it out. Several hundred yards later, the plane skidded to a stop and Ted stepped out of the F-9 unscathed. His flying career was over and soon it would be back to baseball.
Ted returned to the Red Sox late in the 1953 season and played another 7 years before his retirement in 1960. He finished his stellar career with a .344 lifetime average, 521 home runs, 18 all-star appearances and 2 MVPs. His performance for the Red Sox earned him induction to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1966.
During his adult years Ted had an offseason love affair with sport fishing. He has fished all the prime areas on the globe with the world’s greatest fishermen. Following his retirement from baseball he hosted a fishing show on television for several years, and continued to fish the world. This involvement earned Ted entry into the IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame.
During the next three decades, Ted was in and out of baseball, even managing for a couple of years. He visited Red Sox training camps imparting his knowledge on the younger generations of players. As father time took its toll on Ted, it is ironic I think that the perfect eyes, that could see the seams on a 90 MPH fastball, or an enemy fighter jet ascend from the clouds a couple of miles out would be the first of his organs to fail. I saw an appearance one time where Ted was to speak to crowd of admirers and was led to the podium by an assistant. Ted immediately started speaking however he was speaking at a 45 degree angle away from the crowd. Once discovered the assistant hurried back to the podium and straightened Ted out. It was sort of funny but at the same time very sad.
Ted’s son, John Henry Williams, had taken over his personal affairs. When Ted was later using a wheelchair, he was taken to autograph shows and appearances to sign baseballs at a cost of course. Speculation then seemed to show that John Henry was eager to capitalize on the opportunity to make money while Ted was still alive.
John Henry had other things in mind as well. He contracted with a firm headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona known as Alcor. Alcor specializes in cryonics, whereby a body is frozen in liquid nitrogen, so that sometime in the future when technology allows, the body is brought back to life. Ted rest there today, nearly a decade after his death in 2002, waiting for technology to become advanced enough to bring Ted back to life.
As we look back on the life of Ted Williams, it is sad to realize that a father is exploited by a son, be used for profitable gain, and not having dignity in death. As if there is always poetic justice, John Henry died a couple of years following Ted from leukemia, leaving others to try to restore the legacy a Ted Williams deserves.