He's shouting, swinging the bat smoothly, his muscled right arm guiding it through more than fast enough for a 78-year-old man, because who wants to be late? His wrists crack, and the bat snaps up at the end, making it easy to imagine him in Fenway, lean and whole. "So I have this much to hit the ball," he says, "and here I'd be on a flat plane, and I had six, seven inches to hit it. So anyway, I moved a little farther back, and it was perfect."
And for the next 30 seconds the old man stands over a hassock, the years falling off his shoulders and his bat gliding over the plate. He tells of that hitting lesson from Pittsburgh Pirates star Paul Waner, and of outwitting the Cleveland Indians' great pitchers of the late '40s and early '50s, and of the time New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra picked up on that small adjustment Williams made in the batter's box. Finally, after reaching to show how he went after outside pitches, Williams comes back to the present. "Whoa, I'm going to fall down," he says lightly, and he plops safely back into his easy chair.
It has been a priceless performance, surreal and somehow grand, and now that it's over, there isn't much to say. Brothers clears the room, and Williams shuffles out last. "Hard right," Brothers says, and Williams turns down the hallway toward his bedroom for some rest. Then he stops. "Where's John-Henry?" he says. "John-Henry said he could come this morning."
Brothers says John-Henry had a meeting. "Aw, hell," Williams says. "He's always in a meeting."
Ted Williams's only son is out of his car and moving, feeling that adrenaline again, that hop in his gut. "I don't know what it is," says John-Henry Williams, 28, snapping his fingers. "It's like, I know what I'm doing now. I'm in my element. Like Ted Williams: Put him at the plate, something happens. When I go into a store looking for Ted Williams autographs, I walk in and I can just see one—wherever it is. I can pick 'em out."
For five years he has been cruising malls in New England, in Las Vegas, wherever, pulling up at places like this one, the Sports Treasures kiosk in the Natick (Mass.) Mall. He zeroes in on a $175 plaque or a $199 ball, accosts an unsuspecting clerk and asks about the autograph on the item, its history, who had it last. He demands phone numbers. Sometimes John-Henry buys; he claims to have $40,000 worth of forgeries in storage. Some pieces he confirms as real.
"That Ted Williams plaque you have?" John-Henry says now. "It's fake." The clerk's mouth drops open.
"It is?" he says.
"The ball, too." John-Henry grills the clerk at length about the items' histories. Then he leaves.
Asked later if he makes many mistakes in assessing the authenticity of Williams memorabilia, John-Henry says, "I've never been wrong."