Ted Williams’s daughter Claudia writes, “[C]hampions can be very demanding.” And she always knew that she was at a disadvantage, being a girl in Ted’s world. There was no way she could compete with brother John-Henry for her famous father’s favor. She came to live “vicariously through John-Henry.”
In her forthright, uncompromising but loving memoir Claudia Williams recalls life with her famous father. She notes that Williams was a very complicated man, and it took her “many years to finally put together the puzzle of my father’’ — a task made tougher because she never knew him as an “at-home parent’’ since her parents divorced when she was young.
Because that is the case, the book moves through her life, and we come to understand things about Williams as Claudia does, which offers a unique perspective on both of them. Few sports figures have attracted as many authors as Ted Williams; there are Ted books aplenty. But this memoir truly stands out, simply because it offers insights no other author could.
Claudia was born five years after Williams was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Her mother, Dolores Wettach, a model and former Miss Vermont, was Williams’s third wife. The marriage was relatively short-lived — the couple split up by the time Claudia was 3 and her beloved older brother, John-Henry, was 6.
After the divorce, Claudia and John-Henry were raised by their mother in an isolated Vermont farmhouse. Dolores and her two children lived so far removed from celebrity that they did without television, and Claudia didn’t know her father was famous for baseball until she was 10 years old, the only time she saw him in a baseball uniform — at the 1982 Old-Timer’s Game in Boston.
Over the years, Claudia comes to see her father as someone so obsessed with achieving perfection that when he couldn’t control something — including the complexities of love — “he was likely to walk away from it. This is what he did to [her older half-sister] Bobby-Jo early on, and it haunted both of them in very different ways.”
She learned to anticipate and navigate her dad’s usually predictable but explosive temper, and let the curse words roll off her back. No one was exempt; Williams even profanely raged at God for the suffering small, sick children were sometimes forced to bear — such as those involved in the Jimmy Fund for young cancer patients, which he faithfully supported. Williams’s fondness for children remained a constant theme throughout his life.
Even though her time with him was oft-times fleeting in her formative years, Claudia’s “Ted Williams, My Father’’ presents a wealth of personal, even intimate information such as the time she inadvertently plugged the toilet while Ted was on the phone. Evidence began to drip from the ceiling, and he angrily ripped a phone from the wall and flung it across the room — then realized he couldn’t call the plumber.
Claudia nearly worships her mother, who comes across as sainted (and who never remarried), and her brother, who could seemingly do no wrong: “[h]e was always finding animals that needed saving.” She perhaps over-romanticizes the “three musketeers” relationship she says formed between her, John-Henry, and her dad.
Nonetheless, she comes across as fully honest when presenting her father’s imperfections, and more understanding than one might expect regarding Bobby-Jo, whom she had never met until 1993, given their later antagonism.
One senses Claudia had a few scores to settle. There was Louise Kaufman, whom Ted never married but was a constant in his life for many of his later years. Then there was the uproar that descended on her and her brother after they had placed Williams’s body in cryogenic suspension. She strikes back at some as she presents her case.
In the end it’s the Ted Williams who lived who will interest readers the most, however, and here Claudia excels, supplying a look at the man that feels very much on target.Bill Nowlin is the author of several baseball books, including “521: The Story of Ted Williams’ Home Runs.’’