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What Do You Think of Ted Williams Now?: A Remembrance Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 24, 2002


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (September 24, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743246489
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743246484
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 5.2 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #556,378 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

Richard Ben Cramer won the Pulitzer Prize for Middle East reporting in 1979. His journalism has appeared in Time, Newsweek, The New York Times Magazine, Esquire, and Rolling Stone. He is the author of How Israel Lost: The Four Questions and the classic of modern American politics What It Takes: The Way to the White House. He lives on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Ted Williams

August 30, 1918

July 5, 2002

Even in the last years of his life -- even as America and the sub-nation of baseball hungrily re-embraced him -- I knew I could provoke surprise (and more than a few arguments) when I said that Ted Williams was not just a great ballplayer, he was a great man.

Reputation dies hard in the baseball nation, and in the larger industry of American iconography. Even at the close of the century, forty years after he'd left the field, there still attached to Ted a lingering whiff of bile from the days when he spat toward booing Fenway fans. And there were heartbroken hundreds who'd freshen that scent with their stories: how he was rude to them when they tried to interrupt him for an autograph or a grip-and-grin photo. (The thousands who got their signatures or snapshots found that unremarkable.)

In the northeast corner of the nation, there were still thousands who blamed Ted for never hauling the Red Sox to World Series triumph. (Someone must bear blame for decades of disappointment when their own rooting love was so piquant and pure.)...Around New York more thousands still resented Ted -- and had to reduce him -- for contesting with Joe DiMaggio for the title of Greatest of the Golden Age. They insisted that Ted never won anything (and reviled him, in short, for never being a Yankee)....And westward through the baseball nation -- even where the game, not a team, was the passion -- historians huffed about his merit (or lack thereof) in left field; the stat-priests essayed talmudic arguments about how many runs he failed to drive in (because he'd never swing at a pitch out of the strike zone); and millions of kindly, casual fans (even those who'd agree Ted was the greatest hitter) seemed comfortable if they could tuck him into some pigeonhole -- most often as a minor freak of nature: "Wasn't it true his eyes were twice as good as a normal man's?"...

They missed the point. It wasn't his eyes, it was the avid mind behind them, and the great heart below. Ted was the greatest hitter because he knew more about that job than anyone else. He studied it relentlessly. If you knew anything about it, he wanted to know it -- and RIGHT NOW! He ripped the art into knowable shards, which he then could teach with clarity, with conviction (something he was never short on), and with surprising patience and generosity. That's how he was about anything he loved. It was the love that drove him.

Fans couldn't take their eyes off Ted because they could feel his heart yearning with theirs. His want -- in his guilelessness he never could hide it -- was ratification for theirs. If the coin of his love flipped, and all they could see was rage -- still, it was honest currency, for there was no counterfeit in him. Love and rage make a warrior...and in the inarticulate gush of words that attended his death in 2002, the particularity of our loss was lost. There were endless rehearsals of his stats, and comparisons to Ruth, Cobb, Gehrig, DiMaggio (of course), Hornsby, Wagner, Mays, Aaron, Barry Bonds...there was solemn reference to his service as a pilot in two wars, and speculation on where Ted might have protruded from the great number-pile if he hadn't lost those five prime years...there were interviews that seemed intent on reassuring fans that Ted was a nice guy. But he wasn't a nice guy. He was an impossibly high-wide-and-handsome, outsized, obstreperous major-league overload of a man who dominated dugouts and made grand any ground he played on -- because his great warrior heart could fill ten ballparks. And latterly (here was our loss writ large), he was our link to that time before baseball became just another arm of the entertainment cartel.


I met Ted in 1986, in service to the entertainment biz: the editors of Esquire were scrabbling for features to fit between the ads in an issue the size of a small phone book, entitled "The American Man." And they had the inchoate sense that, somehow, Ted was The American Man. (Problem was, he was a Famously Uncooperative American Man.) So they sent me to meet him. The written product of that encounter -- you'll see it in the pages that follow -- they ran under the heading: "Mr. Everything."

But I want to spend a minute here on the unwritten product -- unwritten because it didn't come clear for years after that publication -- what I learned from that meeting with Ted. The big thing was he helped me -- when he didn't have to -- helped me to see him, understand him, feel with him, and have him in my life. He gave of himself with generosity that he knew would be unrecompensed -- and with a fearlessness about his own size that was truly exemplary -- that would change my life.

Why didn't I write that?...Well, I wrote what I understood. Anyway, I wasn't the story. But, truth be told, it was hard to tell he was helping me, when I'd leave his house all bruised from his insults and half-deaf from his latest loud evidence of how much he knew and I didn't. If I had to sum up what he showed me, it was the difference between politesse -- Ted wasn't big on that -- and what was the large, true-blue, right thing to do.

Here's one small example. In those days, I was a cigarette smoker, which horrified Ted. Not only had he never smoked, he was way ahead of his time in allowing no smoke around him. So if the urge struck, I'd idle through a Camel in his backyard, with its view of the mangroves and the Florida Bay. One day, he was shouting in his living room when the phone rang -- he started cursing. (He hated the phone, too.) I only spoke to calm him. "Go ahead, Ted, take the call. I'm goin' out back to have a smoke."

"That smokin'," he growled, "that's the WORST goddamn thing you could do. HOW OLD ARE YOU?"

"Thirty-five."

"WHEN I WAS YOUR AGE, I COULD PULL A TREE OUTA THE GROUND!...AN' LOOK AT YOU -- LOSIN' YER HAIR!"


It was later, too, I understood this was pattern with Ted. He had to rough up the people he meant to help. If you asked him about this, he would answer with a purely tactical truth -- in situations where you mean to teach, it's useful to keep clear who knows and who doesn't. But strategically this syndrome was a disaster: as a husband, father, and subject for the sporting press, it brought him unending grief. Ted's old friends couldn't explain it, but they all knew the pattern -- and richly enjoyed it. When the old-timers gathered to teach at spring training camp, Bobby Doerr, the erstwhile Sox second baseman, used to grab some young, eager Boston prospect and counsel him to go tell Ted how he meant to swing down on the ball, and tomahawk-chop it for base hits all over the field. Then Doerr and his cronies would watch in glee as Ted erupted in profane abuse all over the child -- after which, of course, Ted would spend all day to teach that boy the full theory and practice of hitting (which included, in Ted's view, a slight uppercut).

But it wasn't just hitting, or only Red Sox. At an All-Star Game, World Series, or some other inter-tribal rite, Ted might lavish hours of attention on a hunting-dog confab with Bobby Richardson (who was, for God's sake, a Yankee). Apart from the knowledge shared, this was additionally satisfying because Ted could yell at everybody else that they might as well stay the hell away, because he and Bobby were talkin' DOGS -- about which they knew NOT A GODDAMN THING!...Or Ted might buttonhole some young man -- a player of any position, from any team -- who wasn't living up to his talent. And in the guise of a talk about hitting, Ted would teach Living Large. He'd tell them, if they would attend to the game -- instead of every gonorrheal girl who'd flop on her back, or their antique cars, or those STUPID damn drugs, or those UGLY gold chains, or ferChrist-on-a-crutch-sake PORK-BELLY FUTURES -- they could end up with a "MAJOR-LEAGUE NAME" that would be the ticket for "YER WHOLE GODDAMN LIFE!"

None of that ever saw print. For one thing, half of Ted's talk couldn't be printed in a family newspaper. For another, Ted simply wouldn't talk about it. ("WHY THE HELL SHOULD I?")...No one ever wrote, for example, that when Darryl Strawberry spiraled out of baseball in a gyre of alcohol, cocaine, and litigious women...when his imminent return to the Yankees was sadly scuttled by another acting out -- a D.U.I., or getting kicked out of rehab, or something (Straw's woes are hard to keep straight now)...the first call he got was not from his lawyer but from Ted Williams, who barely knew him, but who invited Darryl to come live at his house.

This was also pattern with Ted -- hiding the generosity of spirit that made him a great man. Maybe he assumed it would be misunderstood. Or worse still, too widely understood. "FerCHRISSAKE! YER MAKIN' ME A DAMN SOCIAL WORKER," he yelled at me one time. This was the fact he wouldn't let me print:

For years, personally and secretly, Ted had been keeping a lot of guys in business -- guys too old to qualify for baseball's pension, or they didn't have enough time in the majors, or they didn't have the talent and never made it to the majors -- and mostly they were guys too proud to ask, but he knew they were just scraping by. He'd call them up. He'd tell them he was collecting for charity -- the Jimmy Fund for kids with cancer, or his museum, something -- and they'd hem and haw about how things weren't great with them, just at the moment, might be tough to pitch in...."GODDAMMIT, I CALLED YA!" Ted would bellow into the phone. "SEND ME A CHECK FER TEN BUCKS, SONOFABITCH!"...Then, when he got their check with the number, he'd deposit ten grand into their account.

Copyright © 2002 by Richard Ben Cramer


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Customer Reviews

I read this book in one sitting!
W. P. Danitz
He is both arrogant and enchanting, if one can imagine such a thing.
Steve Amoia
Cramer makes us understand Ted Williams.
Robert Lockwood Mills

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Ernest Joselovitz on December 23, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is an update and extension of a magazine article by sportswriter Cramer in 1986, who also wrote an acclaimed biography of a very different sports figure, Joe Dimaggio. It comprises a number of interviews Cramer had with Williams at that time,a nd then updates it with his decline through illness until his recent death.
I admit to a not-uncommon trait, for those may age, of holding Ted Williams up as one of my boyhood heroes: to see him up at bat in those late 40's-early 50's was nothing short of beautiful. In this book, he is shown as a cantankerous retiree, uncompromising in his earned egoism, unfussy demand for privacy, crusty narrowmindedness, complete dedication to baseball and sport fishing and the seeking of perfection in both those. And his failure as a family man, in his marriages and his fatherings.
But in this latter trait, he mellowed and made up for alot of his past mistakes, which he understood and, if not admitted, tried to make a second effort. And, ironically, his life becomes one of the touching love stories with his last companion, a woman who fell in love with him immediately,w aited through his three failed marriages, and then had sense enough not to marry him herself but to live with him until her own death, loving him with that open-eyed strength that makes a true match.
Cramer also loves this larger-than-life figure, but in that same open-eyed way that makes a fine essay.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By W. C HALL VINE VOICE on December 29, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Some new material is sandwiched around it, but the core of this small book is one of the finest pieces of sports journalism ever, Richard Ben Cramer's justly famous profile of Ted Williams which appeared in Esquire in 1986. This extended essay was also published in a fine photo collection about Williams, Seasons of the Kid. Williams' passing has brought it back into print, and with good reason. For all the millions of words expended during and after Williams' lifetime trying to explain him, I doubt that none came closer to the heart of the man than Cramer.
Cramer is also author of a much-praised and much criticized biography of Williams' contemporary and rival, Joe DiMaggio. Although his book about the Yankee Clipper was subtitled "The Hero's Life," Cramer found very little heroic in DiMaggio beyond the baseball field. Not so in the case of Williams. Revealed here is a true American original, loud, brash, profane, stubbornly independent, courageous in two tours of service to his country, the man who set out to earn the title of Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived, and who, in the eyes of many fans, made good on that lofty objective.
It's interesting to note that Williams inspired not one, but two absolute classics of sportswriting. (The other being John Updike's famous account of Ted's final game, "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu.") Other books may give you more details about Williams' exploits, both on and off the field. But none will come as close to capturing the essence of the man.--William C. Hall
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Johnny Sideburns on March 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Ted Williams lived the kind of irrepressible life that Hollywood tried to invent for its toughest actors; old-skool masculinity personified, he was the finest baseball player of a generation (if not all time), a fisherman worthy of Hemingway's prose, and a lifelong Marine who served his country in not one but TWO deadly wars, the second of which nearly cost him his own life.

He was the eternal paradox, the New England sports hero with the "When Guns Are Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will Have Guns" bumper sticker on his pick-up truck, the all-time All-Star outfielder who practiced his swing while playing defense, the surly bane to those in the sports press charged with selling his image to the Boston public, and the eternal cynic who could never fully give himself to the public's adoration because he would always hear the 2 or 3 boos among the thousands of cheers his very presence on the field generated.

This book does a fine job of encapsulating the highlights of Williams' career, covered sparingly among a (then) current interview of the man as living legend approaching his 70's. But the real joy and success of the book is the author's capturing the essence of the magnitude of Williams to the point that you can't possibly help but feel that you are listening to the man thunder away in your own living room, rather than from a far-off house in the Florida Keys (or from the more appropriate peak of Mount Olympus). Most enjoyable to me is the author's penchant FOR PRINTING WILLIAMS' QUOTES IN ALL CAPS (wherein I can't help but read them aloud -and at suitable volume- to my fiancee', much to her dismay).

We have a suitable account of Williams' life after his time as an active player and manager, but before his health began to rapidly deteriorate.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By nobizinfla on December 19, 2002
Format: Hardcover
"What Do You Think of Ted Williams Now?" by Richard Ben Cramer is a wonderful paean to the greatest hitter who ever lived.
You can almost hear Ted's booming voice vroom off the pages. Mr. Cramer absolutely makes him come alive.
This is short, sweet, swift and pleasant read. It gets right to the point of this larger than life character.
A must for any Ted Williams or Red Sox fan, and a delightful treat for any baseball fan.
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