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.
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