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HITTING WAS MY LIFE
Ted Williams
June 10, 1968
One of baseball's greatest hitters and its last to bat over .400, Ted Williams was always colorful and almost always controversial during the 22 years he played big league baseball. Now, for the first time, he tells his own story—from the boyhood days, when he used to accompany his mother, a Salvation Army worker, in the streets of San Diego, to school ball and to fame in the majors. Throughout his stormy career Williams never lost sight of one goal—to become a superlative hitter. In this and three following issues he relives his quest for excellence and in a concluding part demonstrates his secrets of hitting
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June 10, 1968

Hitting Was My Life

One of baseball's greatest hitters and its last to bat over .400, Ted Williams was always colorful and almost always controversial during the 22 years he played big league baseball. Now, for the first time, he tells his own story—from the boyhood days, when he used to accompany his mother, a Salvation Army worker, in the streets of San Diego, to school ball and to fame in the majors. Throughout his stormy career Williams never lost sight of one goal—to become a superlative hitter. In this and three following issues he relives his quest for excellence and in a concluding part demonstrates his secrets of hitting

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I'm glad it's over. Before anything else, understand that I am glad it's over. I'm so grateful for baseball—and so grateful I'm the hell out of it. Oh, in a minor way I'm still involved with the Red Sox, working in the spring with some of their younger players as a batting coach, but I certainly do not have a youth wish. I mean, I wouldn't go back to being 18 or 19 years old, knowing what was in store, the sourness and the bitterness, knowing how I thought the weight of the damn world was always on my shoulders, grinding on me. I wouldn't go back to that for anything. I wouldn't want to go back. I've got problems now. I've always been a problem guy. I'll always have problems. But I'm grateful that part of my life is over.

I wanted to be the greatest hitter who ever lived. A man has to have goals, for a day, for a lifetime, and mine was to have people say, "There goes Ted Williams, the greatest hitter who ever lived." Certainly nobody ever worked harder at it. It was the center of my heart, hitting a baseball. Eddie Collins used to say I lived for my next turn at bat, and that's the way it was. If there was ever a man born to be a hitter it was me. I remember the first time I saw Carl Yastrzemski as a youngster in the Red Sox batting cage a few years ago, and how much he reminded me of myself at that age—I mean he positively quivered waiting for that next pitch. And I have to think there was nobody who had any more opportunity than I did, along with the God-given physical attributes and the intense desire. Almost always the first at the ball park, almost always the last to leave. I'm talking about from a kid on. I have to laugh now at my last five or six years in Boston, how I just wanted to get in and get out, to beat the crowds, to get it over with.

I should have had more fun in baseball than any player who ever lived. I played in what I think was baseball's best-played era, the years just before World War II, and then during the game's booming years, 1946 through the early '50s. We were always fighting for a pennant, we played before the biggest crowds. I won batting championships and home-run championships and Most Valuable Player awards, and I made the Hall of Fame. I had people around who encouraged me—a real hitter's manager like Joe Cronin, who would sit around the clubhouse for hours talking hitting, and I always loved that, and Joe McCarthy, who in my mind was the best of managers. I played before the greatest fans in baseball, the Boston fans, and I know what you're going to say about that: old Teddy Ball-game loved those fans, all right. He spat at them and made terrible gestures at them and threw a bat that conked a nice old lady on the head one day, and he never tipped his hat to their cheers. And you would be right. But there came a time when I knew, I knew, they were for me, and how much it meant to me, and I will get into that later. As for tipping my hat, I did my first year but never again. I just couldn't. I was just fed up for good with that part of the act.

Certainly baseball doesn't owe me anything, a not-too-well educated, not particularly smart guy who played probably the only game in which he could excel. And to excel, to participate, to see things, to have a few material things, I'm grateful for all that. I think at the same time I've taken a lot of undue abuse. My 22 years in baseball were enjoyable, but many times they were unhappy, too. They were unhappy because I was in a shell an awful lot. I felt a lot of people didn't like me. I did things I was ashamed of and sorry for, and yet know in my heart I would do again under the circumstances, because that was me. I felt—I know—I was not treated fairly by the press, and I'm not going to go soft on that now, and I am not going to say the Boston management did not deserve part of the blame for those bad relations. Because it did, especially when I was a young player, when I needed and should have had some protection, to head these things off before they got worse, which they always did.

Oh, I hated that Boston press. I've outlived the ones who were really vicious, who wrote some of the meanest, most slanderous things you can imagine. I can still remember the things they wrote, and they still make me mad: how I was always trying to get somebody's job, the manager's, the general manager's, the guy's in the radio booth—and I never coveted another man's job in my life. Or how I didn't hit in the clutch, and yet I drove in almost as many runs per time at bat as Babe Ruth, and my on-base percentage was better than anybody's, including Babe Ruth's. I was a "draft dodger." I wasn't a "team" man. I was "jealous." I "alienated" the players from the press. I didn't hit to left field. I took too many bases on balls, I did this, I did that. And so on and so unfair.

I remember the time I broke my elbow in 1950. I'd had one of my best years in 1949. I batted .343, I hit 43 home runs, I drove in 159 runs, I was voted Most Valuable Player in the league, and gee, we missed winning the pennant on the very last day. I had started 1950 as if it was going to be an even better year for me. I felt great. Then in the All-Star Game, first inning, Ralph Kiner hit one deep into left center in Comiskey Park. I caught it and crashed the fence with my elbow. I didn't know then how serious it was. The elbow swelled up and there was pain, but I played seven more innings and even got a single in the fifth inning to put the American League ahead. Later they X-rayed and found I had broken eight little chips off the head of the radius, and they were talking about taking out the whole thing, which would have finished me for good, but they managed to make a repair. This has to be the greatest disappointment of my career, because as time went on and my arm never completely came around, I knew I would never again be the hitter I had been. It was two months before I played again. I could barely straighten the elbow. To this day I have trouble with it. But the Red Sox were anxious for me to get started because we were hot in the pennant race. I went back into the lineup. It was a mistake, because I wasn't ready. For two weeks I hit like an old woman. I was miserable. I wanted to play, but I wasn't doing the club a bit of good. We lost in the last week to the Yankees, and do you know what they wrote in Boston? "The Red Sox do better without Williams." That's the kind of writers they were.

There's no doubt, of course, that things got started and grew worse partly because of my temperament, because of my emotional, explosive nature. I have never been regarded especially as a man with great patience. Certainly as a young player I had none at all with myself. I was impetuous, I was tempestuous. I blew up. I'd get so damned mad, throw bats, kick the columns in the dugout so that sparks flew, tear out the plumbing, knock out the lights, damn near kill myself. Scream. I'd scream out of my own frustration. There was the time in Minneapolis. I've still got the scars on my wrist. It was 1938, the year before I went up to the Red Sox, and to appreciate how intense I was you have to remember that it was a year any 19-year-old kid ballplayer would love to have had. I led the American Association in everything—runs, average, RBIs, homers, everything. I had a wonderful manager, Donie Bush, who put up with me. The town was mine, and I loved it.

Anyway, Lloyd Brown was pitching for St. Paul, a tough little pitcher with a good curve. I got him to 3 and 1 in the first inning, bases loaded, short right-field fence. Now he has to come in with the fastball. He does. Right there, perfect. If I'd gotten that much more bat on the ball it would have gone 440 feet, but I got just under it and popped it up. The St. Paul first baseman reached over the boxes and made a hell of a play. Boy, I'm mad now. I go back to the bench, this little wooden bench, little cracker-box dugout in Minneapolis, and I'm so mad I don't know what to do. I sit down and here's this big water cooler right there next to me. About half full of water. And I just can't contain myself. Whoomph. I hit it with my fist. Kerr-rash. They must have thought a cannon had gone off in the dugout. It just exploded. Blood's flying, glass, everything. Well, I was lucky I didn't cut my hand off. There was one cut that went pretty deep and just missed a nerve. You don't have to cut very much there to do real damage. I could have ended my career before it started. As it was, the cut wasn't even bad enough to take me out of the game. But that shows you how intense I was.

I was never able to be dispassionate, to ignore the things people said or wrote or implied. In a crowd of cheers I could always pick out the solitary boo. I don't mean to say that criticism affected my hitting, because the boos always seemed to have the reverse effect. My last real outstanding season was in 1957 when, as an old man who turned 39 in August, I hit .388. I spent the season being mad at the world for one reason or another. I don't think I said two words to the Boston writers all year. That hardly made life pleasant. I read the other day where Joe DiMaggio said that he felt the Yankees always tried to win without him. There had never been anything written like that, he just sensed it. So Joe's got to be a sensitive guy, too. And there he was in New York with the grandest press support in the world—because the Yankees won.

And there I was in Boston, where there must be more newspapers per capita than any place in the world, with writers vying for stories, all trying to outdo the other, all trying to get a headline, all digging into places where they had no business being. They—one of them—sent a private detective to San Diego in 1942 to find out if I really did support my mother. They went out into the street to take a "public opinion" poll on my parental qualifications in 1948 when I happened to be away fishing when my daughter Bobby Jo was born—prematurely. That type of thing.

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