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Farewell, Teddy Ballgame
Leigh Montville
July 15, 2002
With the death of Ted Williams, the author reflects on encounters with the Splendid Splinter over half a century
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July 15, 2002

Farewell, Teddy Ballgame

With the death of Ted Williams, the author reflects on encounters with the Splendid Splinter over half a century

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"Looks like he'd be a pretty good hitter," someone at the table suggested.

"I don't give a s—-about that," Williams said, loudest voice yet. "I'm just saying he's a great-looking kid. Look at him."

It was a moment. My son is 30 years old, and I still talk to him, maybe once a year, about what happened. He rolls his eyes.

Ted 3

The idea was that Ted was going to be dead pretty soon. That was what the producer said. Ted was going to hit his 80th birthday in a couple of weeks, he'd had the three strokes, he was half blind, and he didn't get around much, didn't submit to many interviews. Anything could happen, you know. This might be the last television interview he ever would do.

This was the summer of 1998. I was the interviewer. I showed up with two cameramen and the producer around noon on the appointed day at Williams's house in Hernando, Fla. The house was relatively new, part of the Citrus Hills development, which featured a bunch of streets named after former Red Sox players and officials. It wasn't the kind of house you would imagine for Williams. There was a commercial aspect here, a lack of dignity.

Buzz Hamon, then the director at the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame, also located on the Citrus Hills property, briefed us on what to expect. There would be 30 minutes, no more than 45, with Williams. His attention would wander after that. He would be ready for his afternoon nap. He had a cook and an aide who helped him. Hamon said it had been a tough stretch for Williams. Not only had the strokes affected him, virtually all his friends had died. Joe Lindia had died. Williams's longtime companion, Louise Kaufman, had died. His dog had died. He pretty much had outlasted his generation.

I feared the worst. When Williams came into the den, where we had set up our lights, he was using a walker and was helped by the aide. He was shrunken, frail. The robust character of 20 years earlier was gone. The baseball god of 40, 50 years ago was long gone. He was helped into the easy chair and landed with a grateful thud. And he was wonderful.

I have a copy of the tape. From the core of that besieged and worn-out body, Ted Williams emerges. The voice is still loud, challenging, authoritative. It's him. His right hand might wander, almost out of control, and he might dab now and then at a little saliva coming from the side of his mouth, but he's funny and definitive and in charge.

I have my little list of questions, but they are mere starting points. He drives the conversation wherever he wants it to go. I'm only along for the ride. "Oh, brother.... Now here's something interesting! Glad you brought that up!...Oh, that's in all the books. Go read about it.... Where are you from? This is inside stuff you're getting, buddy."

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