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Ted Williams
June 17, 1968
In the heyday of his career, Boston's splendid slugger hit .406 and won numerous other titles. But all was not serene. The explosive Williams battled fans and the press, and, eventually, went off to World War II
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June 17, 1968

Smooth And Stormy Seasons

In the heyday of his career, Boston's splendid slugger hit .406 and won numerous other titles. But all was not serene. The explosive Williams battled fans and the press, and, eventually, went off to World War II

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Well Grayson took that and blew it all out of proportion. It was all over the papers, and that weekend we went into Chicago. The White Sox then had Jimmy Dykes, and with him the biggest bunch of bench jockeys ever on one ball team. Dykes and Edgar Smith and Ted Lyons. Doc Cramer and Lyons were always squashing eggs on one another. I come out on the field and, cripes, they're blowing sirens and ringing bells, and two of them have on these Texaco fire hats that Ed Wynn used to wear, and then here comes the game and I go out in left field and there's a real fire chief with a real white helmet on and sitting with him are eight guys with big red helmets, real helmets.

Then we go to New York, and Lefty Gomez and Red Ruffing are ringing bells when I get up to the plate, raising all kinds of hell, so I get out of the box and I say to Bill Summers, the umpire, "Those guys can't do that, dammit, not while I'm hitting." Summers warns them, but they keep banging and abooming, and finally he goes over there and kicks them out of the game. Gomez was supposed to have said that he'd just as soon go fishing anyway.

You say, well, that was funny, and sure it was. But I'm still a kid, high-strung and prone to tantrums, and more and more I'm feeling like the persecuted. Next was the incident over the pigeons. There used to be a lot of big pigeons in Fenway Park, and every now and then the groundkeeper would flock-shoot them, put out a bundle of grain and kill them in bunches. I was a nut for guns, and he let me go out one day with my 20-gauge, and I suppose I killed 30 or 40 pigeons. Then Mr. Yawkey came out, too, and he's an excellent shot. Together we knocked off 70 or 80 of the pigeons. We had a hell of a time. Bang, boom, bang.

This was on a Monday. Tuesday night we're having batting practice in Washington and one of the writers comes up to me and says, "The Humane Society has made a complaint about you." Yeah? What happened? "They found out you were shooting pigeons." He didn't say anything about Mr. Yawkey shooting pigeons, old Teddy Ballgame is the s.o.b. they're after. I used to take my .22 out and take target practice on the 420-foot sign, too, but that was put to rest when I knocked out a few lights in the scoreboard. It turned out that a writer in Boston named Hy Hurwitz, a guy I always had trouble with, had mentioned the shooting in a story. So I apologized and promised I wouldn't shoot any more pigeons.

Funny, sure, but not all my difficulties were funny to me, and I didn't know how to handle them. Joe Cronin, our manager then, did. He could really handle the press, but I couldn't, and I sure wasn't getting any help from the front office. I never had problems like that when I was in the minors in San Diego or Minneapolis, and I got along fine with guys like Red Smith and Arthur Daley in New York. Isn't that funny? Well, my way of handling it was to get nasty right back. If there were eight or 10 reporters around my locker, I'd spot a guy who'd written a bad article about me and I'd say, "Why should you even come around me, that shanty-house stuff you been writing?" So that would embarrass him, and he'd get mad, and then off we'd go.

Take Dave Egan. They called him The Colonel, the big columnist for the Boston Daily Record. He could write some elegant things, beautiful things, make you think Ted Williams was responsible for the entire American League. Then, boy, he could tear me down, write rotten stuff. And the other columnists followed his lead.

Like I said, I didn't go home the winter of 1939. It had always been a struggle at home, the tension, my father and mother never really together, my brother always in some kind of scrape. While I was trying to help my mother, she was giving everything to my brother, and I was mad at that. I tried to give my mother everything she wanted, but I could never give her all I really wanted to, because she would have turned it over to my brother. My mother never had a vacation in her life. Never. She didn't want to spend the money. Or she'd go and buy old clothes or old furniture or something that someone was peddling, and it would pile up out back.

I remember when Eddie Collins, the Boston general manager, came to the house a few times before I had a chance to make it presentable. There were holes in the chairs white mice had made years before. One Christmas we had had a new rug in our house. We also got a little secondhand Lionel train that year. And the transformers on it got hot and the insulation melted on the rug. The rug with the spot on it was still there. I mean, it was never a happy place for me, and in 1939 my mother and father separated and there was more grief, so I just stayed away. And do you know what that Harold Kaese writes the first time I do something to displease him? "Well, what do you expect from a guy who won't go home to see his mother."

Before this, I was willing to believe a writer was my friend until he proved otherwise. Now my guard's up all the time. Then here comes 1941 and everything is fun again. I mentioned circumstances. The biggest thing going for me to hit .400 was Fenway Park in Boston, and before you question the logic of that, let me explain. First it had a good, green background. Mr. Yawkey kept all the signs out, everything was green. There were no shadows. And then there was that short, short high fence in left field. You say, but Williams was a pull hitter to right field. That's correct. But the left-field wall gave me a different kind of advantage. Even though I didn't hit out that way, I always said to myself, "If you swing a little late it won't be the worst thing in the world, because there's that short fence, the defense isn't there, and slices or balls hit late can still go out." So I didn't worry about hitting late, and what did that do for me? It allowed me to develop the most valuable luxury a hitter can have: the ability to wait on the ball. By waiting, you get fooled less by the pitch. By waiting, and being quick with the bat, you can protect the plate with two strikes. You can follow the ball better.

I remember Bill Dickey of the Yankees was giving me a lot of conversation that year. When he was catching, he'd try to get you distracted. He'd say, "How much you weigh now, Kid?" and, whup, there goes a strike. And then I'd take a real close pitch, a ball, and he'd say, "How big does that bail look to you, anyway?" Then I'd take another one real close and he'd say, "Just how the hell big does that ball look to you?" Well, Cramer was on second one day, and he gave me the closed fist. Curveball coming. He'd stolen Dickey's sign. So I'm looking for a curve. The Yankee pitcher rears back and gives me a fastball and it's almost past when I give it one of those late, little quick swings. Line drive, right center, home run. The next day I read in the paper where Dickey said, " Williams hit the ball right out of my glove," which was perfect because it meant that I had waited.

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