The Kid would be 100 Thursday.
Ted Williams was born on Aug. 30, 1918.
How could The Kid ever turn 100?
We lost Ted Williams in July of 2002, but imagine if he had lived. We’d have headlines screaming, “Kid Turns 100!’’ We’d have quotes from Ted about how sweet it was finally seeing the Red Sox win the World Series in 2004, 2007, and 2013. We’d have him delivering an homage to his dear friend, John McCain. And I’d love to hear what The Kid would have to say about this newfangled “launch angle,’’ which Ted invented sometime back in the 1930s.
Bill Russell, Bobby Orr, David Ortiz, and Tom Brady delivered spectacular service and won 21 championships in the name of Boston, but Ted Williams forever will be the No. 1 sports star in the history of our region.
Ted ruled baseball when baseball was king. He lost five big league seasons serving his country in two wars during the prime of his career. He forged a friendship with Dr. Sidney Farber and put the Jimmy Fund on the map in the battle against childhood cancer. With the exception of John F. Kennedy, Ted Williams was Boston’s top newsmaker of the 20th century. Don’t believe me? Look it up.
Statues and tunnels have been dedicated in Ted’s honor. There’s a never-ending glut of Ted Williams books and documentaries, and it’s just a matter of time before he gets the major motion picture. The Hall of Fame legend is secure, and we can recite his deeds (.406, 521 homers, two Triple Crowns, etc.) as easily as we can name our parents and siblings.
So in this week of centennial celebration, here are a few things you maybe never knew or forgot about the Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived.
■ We all know Carl Yastrzemski succeeded Ted in left field in Fenway. Ted held the position from 1939-60, and Yaz took over as a rookie in 1961, playing until 1983. There is only one period of overlap: spring training 1960. It is the only time the two players appeared in the same box scores.
On March 18, 1960, Yaz batted second and played second base while Ted batted fifth and played left in a game against the San Francisco Giants in Scottsdale, Ariz. The Giants lineup had Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, and Orlando Cepeda hitting 3-4-5. Yaz went 1 for 4, Ted 1 for 2. Pumpsie Green played shortstop for Boston and Haywood Sullivan was the catcher. The Sox lost, 4-3. Attendance was 2,983. Wish I’d been one of them.
■ “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu,’’ John Updike’s New Yorker masterpiece on Ted’s final game, was released in book form in 2010. In the preface, Updike revealed, “The compliment that meant most to me came from Williams himself, who through an agent invited me to write his biography. I declined the honor. I had said all I had to say.” Our loss.
■ Ted was a John Wayne Republican. Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy may have helped Ted with some tax problems in the 1950s, and was hoping for Ted’s support in the 1960 presidential race, but Ted was a Nixon guy all the way. When JFK was in the White House, Williams ignored invitations to visit the president.
■ Ted managed the Washington Senators in 1969, the same year Vince Lombardi coached the Redskins at RFK Stadium. Joe Mooney, Fenway Park’s legendary groundskeeper for several decades, tended to the RFK lawn in the summer of ’69 and remembers standing behind the batting cage between Williams and Lombardi, listening to the legends banter. “The worst thing I ever did was not tape them,’’ Mooney said years later.
■ In the summer of 1970, when Ted was still managing the Senators, the late Tito Francona was in the final year of his playing career with the Milwaukee Brewers. Francona had played against Ted in the 1950s and wanted to make sure his 11-year-old son met the Splendid Splinter. During batting practice at County Stadium, Francona steered his son toward the visitors dugout and said, “That’s Ted Williams. Go introduce yourself.’’
Williams, who loved to make parents look good in front of their children, was impressed by Little Tito’s manners and told the boy, “Well, you are a great-looking kid! And your dad is a hell of a ballplayer!’’
■ In 1992, Bob Lobel assembled Ted Williams, Larry Bird, and Bobby Orr for WBZ-TV’s “Sports Final” at 11:30 on a Sunday night. When the station played video of Orr’s high-flying goal to win the 1970 Stanley Cup (it’s a statue in front of the Garden today), Ted teased Bobby, saying, “Jesus, I see that goal all the time! Is that the only goal you ever scored?’’
■ In 1993, when my 8-year-old daughter was in the early days of leukemia treatments at Children’s Hospital, she received a phone call from Ted. After listening, and nodding and saying, “Thank you,” Kate handed me the receiver and said, “Daddy, there’s a loud man on the phone telling me I’m going to be OK.”
I took the receiver and heard, “You tell that little girl she’s going to be fine! I knew Dr. Farber and he always told me, ‘We’re gonna find a way to cure those kids.’ And goddammit, he did. You tell your little girl I’ll come up and see her when she’s better.’’
In 1999, a healthy Kate visited Ted in his suite at the Four Seasons the day before the All-Star Game at Fenway Park. Talking about hitting, Ted asked for a pen and paper, drew the mound and the plate, and explained that the ball was coming down at the hitter so the batter has to uppercut slightly. I believe they call this “launch angle” today.
■ In 1994, after his first major stroke, an impaired Ted agreed to meet me in Florida. His vision was terrible and he had trouble walking, but he was still in good voice and told me he had dreams about hitting off ace lefty Randy Johnson.
“I said, ‘Geez, I can’t hit him. I just had a stroke and I’m not even seeing good,’ ’’ Ted recalled. “But they kept teasing me and I thought, ‘Aw, Christ.’ So I started to get up there and he’s throwing a couple and I’m saying, ‘Geez, he’s got pretty good stuff.’
“He threw one ball and it was a ball. I seen his speed. He threw another one and another one and it was right there and I just punched it through the middle.’’
■ After the dedication of the Ted Williams Tunnel in 1995, the tunnel was restricted to taxi cabs and commercial vehicles for a few years. In August of 1998, speaking to Ted in his kitchen in Hernando, Fla., I told him my goal was to pick him up at Logan Airport sometime, and blast through the tunnel illegally with him riding in the passenger seat.
It would have been great to get pulled over by a state cop, roll down the window, and say, “Look who I’ve got riding with me, officer!’’
Ted rolled his eyes and said, “Aw, they probably wouldn’t even know who the hell I am anymore.”
■ Matt Damon’s father, the late Kent Damon, was a baseball coach at Newton North High School for many years. When movie star Matt and his dad got to meet Ted at the 1999 All-Star Game, Matt told him, “I read your book, ‘The Science of Hitting.’ ’’ When Ted snapped back with, “Oh yeah? What’s the most important message in that book?’’ Damon was ready, answering, “Get a good pitch to hit!’’ This pleased the slugger.
■ Pedro Martinez should have been American League MVP in 1999. He finished second to Pudge Rodriguez, but only because he was robbed by a couple of writers (one from New York) who refused to put the name of a starting pitcher anywhere on their 10-vote ballot.
Similar illogical MVP votes plagued Ted. Boston’s slugger did not win the MVP in either Triple Crown year, and also not in the year in which he hit .406.
I called Ted on the day of the Pedro snub to ask him about it and he said, “Yeah, I know how that feels. I hit .400 one year. I thought that was pretty good.’’
Hmm, I thought. I hit .400 one year. It is likely that no man will ever utter those words again.
■ Ted had been dead more than two years when the Red Sox finally won the World Series in 2004. This is what he told me he had planned to do when the Sox almost won it in 1986:
“I’m going to watch the game with some friends, and if we win, we’ll raise our glasses and say a toast. It won’t be a martini, but it will be a big milkshake or something. Then I’ll go to sleep with a warm feeling.’’
In 1998, Ted amended his answer to this: “I don’t want to live to be a hell of a lot older than I am, but . . . someday, I would like to look in the stars and say, ‘Damn, we did it.’ ’’