Ted Williams returned to Fenway for last night’s All-Star Game, a 4-1 American League win. Correctly introduced as “the greatest hitter that ever lived,’’ Teddy Ballgame, now 80, rode into Fenway on a golf cart driven by somebody who worked here when Williams played in Boston, 42-year Sox employee Al Forester.
After his victory lap, Ted was taken to the mound, where he was surrounded by both All-Star squads, plus 31 of the top 100 ballplayers in baseball history. It was without question the greatest assemblage of hardball talent ever gathered on any diamond, with the possible exception of when Babe Ruth stood alone on the Fenway hill.
With the Citgo sign pulsating behind him, a giant No. 9 stenciled into the outfield grass, and the ancient theater shaking on its landfill foundation, Williams stood in front of the mound, flanked by Mark McGwire and Tony Gwynn. Behind homeplate, dressed for dinner but wearing a catcher’s mitt, was Carlton Fisk.
“This has been a joyous day for me,’’ Williams said later as he munched a hot dog smothered with mustard in luxury box L-22. “I’ve been treated so very, very nicely. It just substantiates even more solidly the way I feel about these fans. They are the greatest. They really are.’’
There were few other great moments on All-Star Tuesday. New hero Pedro Martinez (the winning pitcher and game MVP) punched out the side in the first inning and finished with five strikeouts in two scoreless frames. Nomar Garciaparra made his start at short, flied out twice, and was ceremoniously replaced at the start of the fourth inning by Yankee Derek Jeter. But it was an otherwise dull contest, as the NL extended its Fenway All-Star homer drought to 27 innings.
Last night’s lasting moment -- the indelible event of All-Star Week -- was the sight of Williams engulfed by players who’d hit several thousand homers and thrown more than a million pitches at Fenway Park during this century.
“When I got up there, tears were coming out of Ted’s eyes,’’ said Rockies outfielder Larry Walker. “I kind of turned away. It almost brought tears to my eyes. The greatest player in the world is surrounded by more great players.’’
“It was like something out of ‘Field of Dreams,’ ” said Cleveland’s Jim Thome.
In an effort to keep the program moving along, the Fenway PA announcer implored the star players to take their seats, but none wanted to leave Ted’s side.
“Everybody said no,’’ said young Nomar. “Nobody wanted to leave.’’
“Those players had such nice things to say,’’ said Williams. “Fisk told me that it was one of the greatest moments of his career. I thought that was great.’’
It was a career highlight for most of the 34,187 ticket-holders.
“Oh my god,’’ said a young woman in the stands. “Ted Williams threw a pitch to Carlton Fisk. I’m going home happy.’’
So there you have it. Boston pulled it off. The Hub gave the hardball world three days of packed houses, postcard weather, and an American League win with Pedro as MVP. In a city where it’s easier to fix an election than a pothole, the All-Star festival played out almost perfectly.
In the first four days, McGwire hit a country mile of home runs, Ken Griffey won the dinger derby, Jim Rice carried Cambridge homeboy Matt Damon, FanFest packed the Hynes, and Fenway was repeatedly celebrated as the sport’s Sistine Chapel.
But Boston saved its best for game day, when the Fenway lawn became Cooperstown East and New England’s greatest athlete returned to light the torch for the final All-Star Game of this century.
No. 9 forever will be No. 1 in New England. He’s a war hero, a champion in the fight against children’s cancer, a tunnel, and the greatest hitter who ever lived. He’s bigger than Bill Russell, Bobby Orr, and Larry Bird, the other three heads on the Boston sports Mount Rushmore.
It was fitting that Williams come back for the much-hyped All-Star celebration. Last night’s game was the third All-Star Game in Fenway’s history, and Williams had a hand in every one. In 1946, he had the greatest day in All-Star history, hitting two homers, going 4 for 4, and driving home five runs in a 12-0 rout of the Nationals. When the AL and NL dueled again here in 1961, the newly retired Ted came back to toss out the first ball.
He hasn’t been in Fenway much in recent years, but Williams flew into Boston last Thursday night for his All-Star adventure. Friday he visited the Jimmy Fund Clinic and met Einar Gustafson, the 63-year-old man who was the original “Jimmy’’ when the charity was formed in 1948. Ted went to Loudon, N.H., for a NASCAR race Saturday and Sunday, then returned to Boston for the final two days of the Starfest. He had breakfast with Kevin Costner Monday, and yesterday morning entertained Damon. Damon was back in Ted’s box in the sixth inning last night.
“Ted said it would be OK to bring my dad,’’ said Mr. Good Will Hunting.
Ted was better than the game. A 4-1 homerless contest is easily erased from the mind, but there’ll never be another sight like that of Williams engulfed by Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Bob Feller, Hank Aaron, Bob Gibson, McGwire, Cal Ripken, and Nomar. Just to name a few.
The ovation was loud and long.
“I thought the stadium was going down,’’ said smiling MVP Pedro. “I don’t think that there will be any other man that’s going to replace that one.’’