Their numbers are in the Red Sox/Brooks Brothers classic style: the red 9 of Ted Williams and 4 of Joe Cronin, lined in blue in white circles, sitting on the facade above Section 1 right below the Jimmy Fund Sign.
Ted stood up at the ceremony and played it as if he were accepting the Republican nomination or receiving the National Merit of Honor; or as if it were 1946 or 1967 or 1978 again. “You people who came out here tonight after all the rain really showed me something,” he boomed enthusiastically as he finished his speech. “As far as I’m concerned, baseball’s the greatest, Boston has the greatest fans and I salute you,” and, with that, got into the cart and was chauffeured around Fenway.
But the crowd to which Ted waved was about the size - far smaller than the 15,472 announced - of one usually seen in late September on a Thursday afternoon with the Indians in town. Sure, the weather had something to do with it, but the bittersweet part of the occasion was that the state of this franchise’s current interest is such that when the Red Sox officially retired uniform numbers for the first time - uniforms of two men who had dramatic impact on not only the franchise but the game - and did so not only with dignity but with the intention of raising money for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, fewer people witnessed it than will see the University of Maine play in Omaha Saturday night.
“A real hitter’s manager,” Ted wrote of Cronin in “My Turn at Bat.” He recalled, fondly, how Cronin had helped him grow up, how Cronin told him, “Hey, kid, how about practicing more of this and a little less of that?” while waving an imaginary bat, and how he “jerked me out of a game for loafing . . . He was a big, good-looking Irishman who could swoon you. He could suave writers to death.”
Ted called Cronin “the biggest part of the night,” and as the former superstar shortstop, manager, general manager and American League president beamed down from a box above the third base stands, Williams remembered him. “One of the great breaks I had in this game was that I got to play for a manager like Joe,” Ted told the audience. Later, he told reporters that “Joe would always have some little blip before a game to get you thinking about the pitcher and the situation.”
He then laughed and recalled a story. “One day I told him, Joe, you’re getting gray hair,’ and he snapped back, and you know who put them there.’ “
“Joe was both the manager and the shortstop when I broke in,” Bobby Doerr recalled. “He’d slowed down a little, but he really helped me. He was smart, extremely smart, and, you know, I never saw him make a bad throw. But the thing I remember about Joe was that he was as good a hitter as I ever saw with a runner on second and two out. He might have been the greatest clutch hitter who ever lived.”
Charlie Wagner seconded that memory, then added his memory of Cronin the manager. “Never,” said Wagner, “did the man ever second-guess anyone.”
Cronin wanted this ceremony to be last night. The Twins were the Washington Senators when he reached the peak of his brilliant playing career, he married the daughter of the owner and Mildred Cronin still owns part of the club with her brother, Calvin Griffith. Cronin is fighting for his health and, no matter how many people and no matter what the weather, the people who bought seats for last night bought them to see him and Williams. So the ceremony went on despite the size of the crowd.
After Doerr presented the Thomas A. Yawkey Award to Cronin, Ted recalled that when he was a skinny benchwarmer in San Diego and was discovered by Eddie Collins, it was Doerr that Collins was out to see. Then, what it meant to be in Boston from 1939 to 1960, until the final home run off Jack Fisher. “They can’t ever say that I didn’t give 100 percent,” said Williams.
In one clubhouse, Vinnie Orlando, who saw both Cronin come from Washington and Williams from Minneapolis, told the story of how Ted used to stand in front of the mirror, swinging his bat, naming the pitcher and the ballpark and the count and the runners on base.
In the other, Twins catcher Dave Engle, who happened to be hitting .364, recalled his relationship with Ted. Engle’s father Roy was Ted’s high school catcher, and later ran the Ted Williams Camp in Lakeville. “I was at that camp for 11 consecutive years,” Engle remembered. “I’d get out of school for the summer at 3:30 in the afternoon and we’d be headed East from San Diego to Lakeville. Those were the days before freeways. We were pulling a 20-foot trailer behind a station wagon. That was 22 cross-country trips, three trailers, three wagons and two dogs in 11 years.
“But I’ll tell you, I learned a lot about the way this game is played from Ted. He was at the camp in those days, and we’d play three games in two days. Then there were the days when it would rain, and after we looked at films, Ted would sit around telling story after story after story long into the night. He’d talk for hours about the minutest of situations.
“I’ll tell you, it was great. The time when your hitting style is developed is between the ages of 8 and 16, and I was learning from the greatest hitter who ever lived. I’m not a natural hitter. I don’t have the loose body, I don’t have the classic swing. I’m a product of my coaching - learning from Ted, refined at USC under Rod Dedeaux, and a lot of help from people like Jim Lemon. But I learned how to cope with the game.”
Coping right now means .364, but Ted never forgets him. Every spring, when Williams is in Winter Haven, he has Dave Engle to his house for a barbecue.
Cronin came into the press room to offer his respect for Ted and tell of how “he could do anything he wanted - take apart a camera, be the best bone fisherman in Florida . . . I’m the one who’s lucky to have been associated with Ted Williams.”
But before he or Williams sat down with the media, Kent Hrbek - who is called “Ted” by his teammates - smashed a two-run homer beyond the Minnesota bullpen into the bleachers for a 2-0 lead off Mike Brown. Then, as Ted talked, he kept looking up at the television monitor across the room.
“I got this letter from a kid in New . . .”
And stopped to watch.
“Ugh. Rice struck out.”