Early one Tuesday morning in October, in a hilltop house nestled among live oaks dripping Spanish moss—a house set on the highest point in Citrus County, Fla., dominating all it surveys like a medieval castle—an old man struggles. He is close to blind. His long feet are wrapped in leather slippers with elastic across the instep so they won't fall off. A Boston Red Sox cap is on his head. A TV producer smiles and holds up a cue card that isn't helping.
Ted Williams says, "I know a young—"
"No, not 'I know a young man,' " the producer says. " 'This young man.' "
"All right," Williams says. "This young man...said he'd go to prison himself before releasing prisoners early. And he's got... inmates working for the people of Middlesex County."
"That was good—the first part," the producer says. "But the second—"
"All right" Williams cuts in. "If you don't like the second, let's go again."
And with that the temperature in the cozy den ticks upward ever so slightly. Not good. Williams's temper has long been famous for its sudden, lung-tearing explosions, and everybody in the room—the producer; the cameraman; Frank Brothers, Williams's live-in aide; and Buzz Hamon, director of the Ted Williams Museum & Hitters Hall of Fame in Hernando, Fla.—has been grinning, cajoling, trying to take the edge off the morning's project. Williams is making a TV ad for Brad Bailey, a candidate for sheriff of Middlesex County, Mass. Problem is, three strokes in five years have chipped away 75% of Williams's field of vision, so that he sees as if looking through a pipe, and it doesn't help that the glare of the TV light makes the phrases on the cue card nearly unreadable. Long ago Williams bent his life into a furious pursuit of perfection. Now here he is, in a roomful of people, tripping over words.
Hamon protectively suggests that Williams talk off the top of his head. Williams won't have it. "I've got to have the idea to start with," he rasps. "You've known me two years, and you think you can run my goddam life."
Williams grabs the card, wrenches it back and forth in rhythm with a classic example of Ted-speak, his uniquely cadenced blend of jock, fishing and military lingo, marked by constant profanity and a growling emphasis on the most unlikely word. "Now, look, see where that goddam light is?" he says. "The light is on that sonofabitch, and that's where I want it."
In 1941 Williams hit .406 for the Red Sox. In the 55 years since then, few players have come close to hitting .400, and the legend of The Kid's eyesight has only grown: He could follow the seams on a baseball as it rotated toward him at 95 mph. He could read the label on a record as it spun on a turntable. He stood at home plate one day and noticed that the angle to first base was slightly off; measuring proved him right, naturally, by two whole inches. In the '60s Brothers—the son of Williams's friend Jack Brothers, a famous Florida Keys fishing guide—would show up on Williams's porch in Islamorada every Saturday morning to spend the day helping Williams pole his skiff through the shallows. Each time, Williams would bet Brothers one hour's poling that he could cast his line and guess, within six inches, how far the lure had flown. "I lost every time," Brothers says. "He'd cast 112 feet and say, 'A hundred eleven feet, 10 inches.' No marks on the line."