Never met a celebrity that intimidated me, and I’ve interviewed plenty of powerful people during my newspaper reporting and media relations years, including presidents, governors, movie and TV stars, authors, and Major League ballplayers.
Full disclosure: There was one superstar who left met speechless. Ted Williams. My childhood hero. As a Massachusetts native, I grew up watching Ted and the Boston Red Sox on television throughout the 1950s. Listened to Curt Gowdy call the games, and Ted often being the game’s hero.
When my folks moved us to San Diego in the Sixties, little did I know that my Major League hero was born and raised in San Diego. He grew up living in a small, modest North Park house with his Salvation Army mother, May Williams. His father, photographer Samuel Williams frequently left home for long stretches of time.
Ted’s childhood home on Utah Street in North Park still stands, but there is no plaque or signage to commemorate MLB’s best-ever hitter.)
Fast forward to 1992. I was a field rep, specializing in press relations, for California Assembly Member Mike Gotch (now deceased). The assemblyman was among local and statewide politicos who were dedicating Ted Williams Parkway in the northernmost section of the City of San Diego. My assignment was not to interview Williams but to photograph Gotch and Williams on stage. The dedication took place on the Mount Carmel High School football field in the San Diego community of Rancho Penasquitos.
Like a rock star, the long retired legend was driven onto the field. As he approached the outdoor stage, I was changing lenses on my 35-millimeter camera. Actually, more like fumbling with lenses. Someone in the crowd shouted out to Ted. He stopped to look toward the voice -– right in front of me. So close I could reach out and touch my childhood hero.
Suddenly I was seven years old again. All I could do was look up and stare at the ballplayer I’d worshipped. Pretty sure my mouth was open, never uttering a word. Williams wore his signature fisherman’s jacket. He did not seem to notice me, and resumed his walk to the stage.
During the program, I shot the photo of Ted with Assemblyman Gotch from about 25 feet away, thankful, I was using a telephoto lens.
At San Diego’s Hoover High School, Williams began playing in his sophomore year, batting a whopping .583 one season. He also pitched and managed to find time to play American Legion baseball.
Fresh out of high school, The Splendid Splinter played one season with the Double A Minneapolis Millers and two years with the AAA Pacific Coast League San Diego Padres. The Red Sox acquired him from the Padres for $35,000. At the time, the six-foot-two kid weighed only about 140. In other words, lanky. Nicknamed the Splendid Splinter as well as The Kid, he went on to have the most extraordinarily successful career with the BoSox.
During his 21-year Major League career (1939 – 1960), Williams racked up mind-boggling Major League statistics…
- Record-breaking batting average of .406
- . 344 lifetime batting average
- 521 homers
- 2,654 hits
- 1,839 RBI
- .482 on base percentage
- .634 slugging percentage
- 1950’s Player of the Decade
- Played in 18 All-Star Games
- AL MVP 1946 and 1949
Ted’s career was interrupted twice by war. First World War II, followed by the Korean War. He was a pilot in both conflicts.
God awful ending to his long, historic life: Theodore Samuel Williams died at age 83. Supposedly, when Ted died, he wanted his body frozen in a cryogenics facility in Arizona. A couple of years later, cryogenics staff decided to relocate his body. That’s when Ted’s head was lopped off from the rest of his tall body.
Reportedly, two of Ted’s three children wanted their bodies frozen after death, in order to be with their father. Bizarre, controversial, difficult to believe.
Ted at dedication of Ted Williams Parkway: