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Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero Hardcover – April 13, 2004

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Editorial Reviews Review

Leigh Montville's Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero is the definitive biography that baseball fans have been waiting for. Montville, who was a sports columnist for the Boston Globe and then a senior writer for Sports Illustrated is an admitted Red Sox and Williams fanatic, and his passion for his hero rings clearly from every page, along with his clear baseball expertise. But Montville does not hide Williams's flaws. The young Williams was temperamental and justified bad behavior with batting prowess that could excuse just about anything. Quick to anger, "the Kid" had a gift for foul language, too.

Montville's study offers insides accounts of Williams's obsessive development as a hitter and his constant struggle to perfect his swing (mistakenly called "natural" by sports writers with little understanding of his extensive preparation). The chapter on 1941, perhaps the greatest year in his career, draws on research and interviews never before published. Montville lets whole passages stand uninterrupted--from Williams's manager, Joe Cronin, from his teammate Dom DiMaggio, and from other players and baseball officials who tell the story of Williams's quest for a .400 batting average. The tale of the final day of the season (when he refused to be benched and went six for eight in a double header to jump from .39955 to his final total, .406) is as pulse-pounding as any thriller.

Alongside its essential focus on Williams's baseball life, the book also delves into his military service during both World War II and the Korean War, his passion for sports fishing, and his commitment to helping children through the Jimmy Fund. Finally, Montville devotes a chapter to the controversy after Williams's death, exposing the back-and-forth among Williams's heirs in the bizarre decision to freeze his body in a cryogenic warehouse in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Montville's biography makes a good case that Williams was, if not the greatest hitter ever to play the game, certainly among them. For his focused, scientific approach to hitting, Williams is unmatched in the history of the game. His life, marred perhaps by a temper and occasional immaturity that soured his reputation in Boston, is one of true sports greatness. Early in the book, Montville argues that Williams is less appreciated today than he might be because he played out most of his 19-year career in the era before televised highlights. But with Montville's efforts to capture first-hand accounts of Williams's achievements, The Splendid Splinter's legacy is assured. --Patrick O'Kelley

From Publishers Weekly

Montville, who also penned the bestselling bio about racer Dale Earnhart (The Altar of Speed), covers all of Williams's heroic achievements-a Hall of Fame baseball career, two tours of duty as a Marine fighter pilot, an unmatched thirst for the thrill of the outdoors. But thanks to the author's ability to track down new sources of information, Montville presents a more nuanced portrayal of the baseball star than many previous biographies. The Kid, as Williams was known, is brought to life with portraits supplied from the people who made up Williams's very compartmentalized life. Distinct recollections of his former teammates, fishing buddies, former lovers, caretakers, family members and brothers in arms coupled with Montville's ability to display each memory in its own context gives readers an extraordinary glimpse into Williams's complex psyche. Though he admits to worshipping Williams as a youth, Montville's crisp prose holds nothing back when it comes to exposing Williams's many flaws, his heartbreaking final years and the controversy surrounding his death. Relying on his years as a sports writer, Montville is also able to subtly shift the tone of the book to fit Williams's personality as he evolved from an energetic youth to a cantankerous star, from America's bigger-than-life legend to a bedridden invalid. Sure, Teddy Ballgame was an American icon, but Montville's ability to show the darker and lighter human sides of Williams is a pretty remarkable achievement in its own right.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1 edition (April 13, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385507488
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385507486
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.4 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #309,423 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Bill Emblom on August 7, 2004
Format: Hardcover
What Richard Cramer did for a biography on Joe DiMaggio, Leigh Montville has done for a biography on Ted Williams. The book is nearly 500 pages long, and I remained riveted to it until I finished it in a few days. All facets of Ted's personality, warts and all, are included in providing us with information on Ted's dysfunctional family, his love of fishing on the Florida Keys and the Miramichi River in New Brunswick, his initial success in managing the Washington Senators, his hair trigger temper that produced a string of profanities, his difficulties with his marriage partners, and his experiences in World War II and the Korean War. In regard to baseball his obsession with hitting led to his goal of being known as the greatest hitter that ever lived. Ted paid the price to reach his goal in studying hitting as no other hitter has ever done before. He enjoyed picking the brain of Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby who told Williams the secret in hitting is getting a good ball to hit. By this he meant getting ahead in the count (2-0 or 3-1) so the pitcher was put in a situation where he would throw the pitch you, the batter, would be looking for to hit. The book is full of anecdotes of Williams's teammates and opponents from his playing days. It also includes the controversial freezing of Williams's body by son John Henry and sister Claudia while Williams's first child, Bobby-Jo opposed it. Whether Ted, himself, approved of this is left open to question. To me, an interesting story is told by one of his nurses, Virginia Hiley-Self, a Christian, said that Ted Williams accepted the fact that God forgives and provides eternal life. "He prayed," Hiley-Self says. "He knew that Christ was his savior.Read more ›
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Donald Gallinger on June 15, 2008
Format: Paperback
Leigh Montville's biography of Ted Williams is exhaustive in its analysis of one of baseball's greatest hitters. At times childish and self-absorbed, but always focused upon his art, Ted Williams emerges as a troubled genius in this wonderful book. Some of the anecdotes about Williams' intensity evoke a character who loves a few things in life to obsessive delight while ignoring almost everyone and everything else. An absolute master in the science of hitting a baseball, Williams loves his talent and nourishes it in a way that illuminates how beautiful, powerful, and fragile is the human desire to achieve greatness. A must for baseball fans.

Donald Gallinger is the author ofThe Master Planets
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Jason A. Miller VINE VOICE on May 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover
There's no part of Leigh Montville's biography of Ted Williams that is not excellent. In a baseball literature field typically dominated by vapid autobiographies (speaking of which, I just finished Don Zimmer's second book), few third-person bios merit repeat readings. In the last 30 years, books about Babe Ruth, Mo Berg and Sandy Koufax probably own the top of the field. Of course, each of those books used wildly differing approaches. Robert Creamer took an almost mythical approach to The Babe ("The Legend Comes To Life"), and hurries through his final, post-baseball years in literally a dozen pages. Nicholas Dawidoff's take on Moe Berg, on the other hand, uses baseball almost as prelude to the heart of the book, Berg's bizarre late-life wanderings.

The strength of Montville's meticulously written book is that any random chapter is equally fascinating, whether it's about baseball, World War II or Korea, Williams' active role as a Sears spokesman and board member, his fishing life, or his prolonged demise. The baseball chapters are refreshingly free of prolonged statistical parsing. The accuracy of many anecdotes is left up to the reader; the book, as fits a popular biography, is not footnoted, and it seems as if Montville relies heavily on probably embellished stories from Williams' acquaintances and their children. This provides the same mythical air as in Creamer's book (and the Babe himself makes a ghostly cameo here as well).

For my money, though, the creepiest, and therefore most memorable, part of the book is the final three chapters, covering Williams' troubled final eight years. This equals the closing chapters of the Mo Berg book.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By JMack VINE VOICE on November 5, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Ted Williams was the greatest hitters in baseball history. But there is so much more to him than baseball. Leigh Montville's biography is comendable on many levels, though far from perfect. Four and a half stars would be more adequate rating than I gave the book. Still the book is worth the price.

The books starts out jumping all over the place, making the story hard to follow. But once it begins the chronological story of his life, the book is well written. Montville plainly writes of the childhood neglect that influenced Williams life. The absence of his parents is largely the reason he behaved so immaturely early in his career. He was not used to living with rules, so the structure of professional baseball was an adjustment that caused a talented player to spend an extra year in the minors. Ted's only focus was baseball during his youth and career. He always picked people's brains, learning from anywhere he could about hitting. His dedication made people take notice. It is also how he developed his philosophy of hitting. Winning triple crowns and hitting .400 were among his great achievements. He would have hit .400 more than once if batting average were figured as it is today with sacrifices and walks not hurting the average. John Wayne was an actor, but Ted Williams lived the role. He served his country during World War II and the Korean War. Had Williams not sacrificed those years for his country, we would surpassed Ruth's home run record and no doubt other records as well. Yet he is still recognized as the greatest hitter in baseball history.

During his career the media gave the public the impression that Williams was a bad apple. But during his late career and in retirement, the public saw otherwise. Williams did have a foul mouth.
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