I never got to see Ted Williams hit in person. He retired after the 1960 season, 12 years before I even entered the world. I’ve only seen old black and white footage of him, including his final game, the one that John Updike famously chronicled in his timeless piece, “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu.”
Williams and Boston made up, after a time. He came back to Fenway, that “lyric little bandbox”, for the ’99 All-Star Game, where the older legend rode in on a cart to home plate, where he was given a hero’s welcome. This time, the god did answer his letters, waving to the crowd, lapping up both the adoration of those in the stands and those players, many of whom were superstars in their own right, who surrounded him, eager as young kids to shake his hand and get a few words of wisdom from the man that people called Teddy Ballgame.
When it came to hitting, there were few that were as thorough in their approach to the art of putting a bat squarely on a ball that had been thrown at high velocity from 60 feet 6 inches away in his direction. He literally wrote a book on the topic, one that many future baseball players used as their own bible. Many would go to church and read the Bible to learn the Word of God. They’d read Williams’ book to soak in the Word of Ted. It’d be interesting to have been able to hear him sermonize about the Steroid Era. I think he’d scoff at those who juiced up. He might have withdrawn his kind words for Mark McGwire.
Watching him hit in those videos… it’s something to behold. He has such sure balance at the plate. His interpretation of the strike zone was near textbook and if he argued with an umpire about a call, he darn well had a good reason to do so. One of the favorite arguments among baseball fans… or all sports fans… is to debate whether an athlete from an earlier era could compete today. Some might scoff at the caliber of pitching during the time that Williams played. Those players were not known for their devotion to exercise. I think that Williams was a special case. If a young Ted Williams could be placed in 2017, I think he’d handle himself fine.
He died three years later after that All-Star appearance, though he did outlive Joe DiMaggio, one of his chief baseball rivals, who died that Spring. Teddy Ballgame’s in cryogenic storage, where he hopes that one day, science will be able to revive him. Like the videos and pictures and the drawings, like the one I did above, forever capture him in his youth, he’s now in the same state as when he died. There will be no decomposition. Maybe one day… he will be brought back to life and he’ll be able to regale a new generation of people about what life was like when he played ball and tell them his hitting theories.