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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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He talks about fishing with Bobby Knight in Russia. He talks about how he thinks George Will knows a lot politically but not too much "baseballically." He talks about Joe Jackson and how he should be in the Hall of Fame, damn it! He talks about Mark McGwire, loves Mark McGwire, talks about Nomar Garciaparra, loves Nomar, talks about Joe DiMaggio and Willie Mays and Ken Griffey Jr., loves Ken Griffey Jr.

He takes a myth and deflates it. Remember the old story about the final doubleheader in 1941, when he could have finished with a .400 average simply by sitting out? The story is that manager Joe Cronin gave him the option, and Williams scoffed. Sit it out? He played the two games, went six for eight, finished at .406. He upheld the sanctity of the game, something no one would do in modern, stat-conscious times. Wasn't that how it went? Yes, but....

"I never thought about sitting out," he says. "Not once. But I gotta say this. I didn't realize how much .400 would mean to my life. I mean it had happened only 11 years before I did it, and I thought someone else would do it pretty soon. I felt there certainly would be other .400 hitters. I said that. Always said that. Now here it is, 50, 60 years later."

He talks about hitting the slider, invented during the middle of his career. That new pitch. He talks about hitting against the Williams shift, stepping back an inch or two from the plate to be able to punch the inside pitch to left. He talks about flying in Korea in the squadron of future astronaut John Glenn. He talks...and then he stops.

"You've got enough," he says. "Bye."

Just like that. Fifty-one minutes, 22 seconds. Exactly.

The tape doesn't show the conversation after the interview was finished. He talked informally for another 10 or 15 minutes. He was lively, friendly. He was funny. He took out the needle. "This isn't a paid interview, is it?" he said. "There's no money for this. Right?"

I said there wasn't. No.

"Well, I enjoyed it, and I'd do it again," Williams said, "but the next time there should be a little remuneration. Do you know what I mean? Remuneration. Some compensation."

"Maybe we could send you a hat," I suggested.

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