Back when Boston fans started booing Ted Williams, an onlooker might have supposed he didn't have a friend in the world. But even then there were intimates who believed he could do no wrong and they became the nucleus of a group of three dozen whose loyalty is never questioned?his doctors, druggist, dentist, accountant, a couple of bellhops and others outside the baseball world.
Last week they gave a birthday party (he was 36 on Aug. 30) for him in the Cub Room of Jimmy O'Keefe's Restaurant?across the Fenway from Fenway Park. It is a room that is dedicated to baseball, with a glassed-in shrine containing Joe Cronin's old Red Sox shirt and one of the bats with which Ted hit .406 in 1941.
John Buckley, theater manager, who got acquainted with Ted as a rookie keen about Westerns, was there. So was Captain John Blake, State Police Adjutant who first met Ted when, as a traffic cop, he stopped him on the road. So was Dr. Russell Sullivan, the surgeon who put a steel pin in his shoulder. (The surgeon is now debating whether to remove it.) No one was present from the Red Sox and there was only one baseball player?superannuated "Jumping Joe" Dugan. Ted's feud with the press was indicated by the fact that there were only a couple of sports writers?a Boston Traveler columnist and the SI man.
Williams, who looked handsome indeed in a tweed jacket with a brown sports shirt open at the collar, was in an ingratiating mood. He clapped his friends on the back as he came in, grinned at a waitress who brought him a training schedule tipple of ginger ale and yelled, "Hey, this is nothing but straight ginger ale!" He also presented each of the gang with a present?a Zippo lighter bearing a red enamel Sox emblem, the recipient's own name and Ted Williams' engraved signature. "I'll never carry this around and take a chance on losing it," said one of the 35.
Two aging Irish minstrels sang "That Old Gang of Mine." A six-year-old boy, the protege of a friend of Ted's, was perched on a table and sang a tearful song about "She's My Mom." Williams seemed delighted. "Gee," he said, "that was wonderful." Everyone watched a motion picture which depicted 1) Ted Williams bonefishing and 2) Ted Williams hitting a home run.
After Chef Guy Marchitelli entered in a towering white cap, carrying a big cake, and after the gang stood and sang "Happy Birthday, Dear Teddy," Williams was presented with a big maroon-and-ivory wardrobe trunk. "Ted," said the venerable Boston Traveler columnist, George C. Carens, "I guess you know what you're supposed to do with this. You will now have no excuse not to play next year and we all hope that you'll be back."
But one condition of friendship with Williams consists of refraining from even suggesting an interest in his more personal affairs. Williams, as everybody present knew, has had both a good and exasperating season. He has cracked out 25 home runs. He leads most other American League hitters with close to a .350 average but because his injury kept him idle so long (and because pitchers walk him so often) he will not have enough official "at bats" to win the American League batting championship. Despite all, no one present had the temerity to ask him whether he had reconsidered his decision, announced last spring, to retire from baseball at the end of the year. The dinner broke up at 10 o'clock with the question unanswered.
But Dr. Sidney Isherwood, Williams' dentist, hopefully reported what he conceived to be a significant fact: on a recent visit (the Williams' teeth are in excellent condition) Ted asked how often he should report back for a cleaning job. Their hero, the 35 decided happily, is considering at least one more year at Fenway Park.