Some of Ted's current and former associates, including Dowd, don't like the new arrangement. There was a time when any of Ted's pals could go to Ted with a project, a favor to ask, a call to make. No more. "Every project has to go through John-Henry," says one friend of Ted's, who requested anonymity. "Every time you make a move, John-Henry says, 'How much?' "
John-Henry and Ted have heard that before, have read anonymous quotes saying Ted signs autographs all day. The fact is, Ted says, he spends most of his time in physical therapy and watching CNN. He signs 30 to 40 items twice a week—if that. "He doesn't make me sign any more than I feel like signing," Ted says. "I just decide: Boom! And that's it. John-Henry's been a helluva guy and a helluva son. He's smart, and he's honest, and of course he thinks, Jee-sus, Ted Williams is really something."
John-Henry makes no apology for liking the things that money brings. He shows off his top-of-the-line BMW and his souped-up Porsche. And he no longer worries much about what people say of him. Not long ago he read that someone had said he would be handsome if he didn't have dollar signs in his eyes. So he took two pieces of adhesive note paper, drew dollar signs on them and stuck them to his eyelids. He smiled wide. Someone took a picture.
The hands that launched 2,654 major league hits, the hands that guided the stick of a bullet-pocked F-9 Panther as it screamed out of the Korean sky on its way to a crash landing, the hands that made Ted Williams the only man to be enshrined in both the baseball and the fishing halls of fame, hover over a photograph. "Where?" Williams asks, narrowing his eyes. The color picture shows Williams and Ruth in 1942. Brothers points to a spot just above Williams's 23-year-old chest.
"Right here?" Williams says, He lays his left hand on the photo and, with his right hand, firmly scripts his name across the gloss. He pushes the picture aside, signs another of the same scene. Then another. Five hundred dollars for the signature, $750 for a personal message. He leaves four fingerprints on each photo, right next to his 23-year-old knee.
"I'm doing all right," Williams says. "I feel right enough most of the time, but I can't sign for hours like I did." He squints hard. The other day he stayed too long in a hot shower ("Shampooed the hell out of my hair!" he says) and emerged dizzy and weak. "But, jeez," he says, "I guess I'm lucky to be able to sign at all."
Here is Ted Williams, rounding third. The first epoch of his public life began with the Red Sox in 1939 and ended 21 years and 521 home runs later as he stood on second base during a midseason game, noticed how far away third base seemed and thought, I'm done. He quit playing at the end of that year. In the second epoch he learned how to live without baseball, trying his hand as a big league manager but pouring his heart into becoming one of the world's best fishermen; for two generations he seemed, with his three broken marriages and his fishing-shack sensibility, the prime example of what used to be called "a man's man." Today, for some people, Ted Williams is but a signature on a photo, a collection of squiggles and dots to be bought and sold, the price rising every time he falls ill and expected to skyrocket the day he dies.
The big news for collectors is that he will be signing for the public during the 500 Home Run Hitters Show at the Tropicana Hotel in Atlantic City from Nov. 22 to 24. Of the 11 living 500-home-run hitters, all of whom are scheduled to be there, Williams will get the most for each signature. He hasn't done a large autograph show since 1991. This will probably be his last.
Yet, even though his body is breaking down, there is a rare vitality to Williams. His mind and competitive zeal remain sharp. Earlier this year Hamon was discussing the .400 hitters' display in Williams's museum, and Williams asked innocently, "We got DiMaggio's bat coming in?" Hamon fell for it and said, "Joe DiMaggio never hit .400," and Williams grinned, spat on his fingertips and shined them up nice on his lapel.
He was never cuddly. In his playing days he was called Terrible Ted as much as he was called the Splendid Splinter. Disgusted by a home crowd that jeered and cheered him in the same inning of a game between the Red Sox and the Yankees in 1956, Williams trotted in toward the dugout spitting toward both the left- and rightfield stands. Then, to make sure everyone got the message, he stepped back out of the dugout and spit again. As he retells the story—as he feels that moment, that crowd—he begins to boil again.