Goodbye, Teddy Ballgame

This review appeared on Purebaseball.com in 2002.

  • Ted Williams: The Pursuit of Perfection by Jim Prime and Bill Nowlin
  • I Remember Ted Williams, by David Caetano

Williams1 Ted Williams would have turned 84 years old on August 30. Rather than concentrate on the bizarre circumstances following his death, two books released prior to his passing remind of how much he meant, not just to the baseball, but to America.

Williams was a member of “the greatest generation,” those who served the country and enjoyed the post-war boom. While sportswriters pump up players as heroes, Williams actually was one. He laid his life on the line, complaining slightly only when he perceived the injustice (as he did for African-American players and Shoeless Joe Jackson’s continued exclusion from the Hall of Fame) of being called up while younger men stayed home in the Korean “police action.”

Tedwilliams2 There are numerous theories about how much better his records would have been had he not lost time to both WWII and the Korean War. But there are problems with such projections. Yes, he might have hit over 600 homers, but he also could have sustained a career ending injury in the mid 1940s, rendering all subsequent statistics moot.

Historiography is the study of history and how it changes over time. With the passing years, fans have gained a new appreciation for players like Williams and the sacrifices they made. Prior to Jim Bouton, most biographies were written as though its entire audience was children, dealing with on the field heroics and battles against adversity, such as illness or extreme poverty. Williams’s autobiography, My Turn at Bat, was an extension of his straightforward style. He may have been gruff at times, especially to the writers, but most fans will tell you of their admiration for the man as well as the ballplayer. His work on behalf of the Jimmy Fund was an inspiration for future generations of athletes when it came to giving something back to the community.

The two new books are the perfect accompaniment to the tributes that came out after the death of the Boston legend. That they are basically the same in spirit does not take anything away from their value and enjoyability.

Jim Prime and Bill Nowlin are well known for their prolific writing about all things Red Sox. Their compilation of anecdotes and photos in The Pursuit of Perfection follows the career of The Splendid Splinter from his childhood in San Diego to his glory days in Boston to his dual hitches as a Marine fighter pilot to his days in retirement as the poet laureate of batters.

At the same time, Tony Caetano’s I Remember Ted Williams follows a similar pattern, sans the illustrations. It is full of reminiscences by Ted’s friends, family, fans, teammates and rivals.

With the passing of Williams, both titles serve as eloquent eulogies of the man whose deepest desire was to be known as the “greatest hitter that ever lived.”

There’s little doubt that he got his wish.

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