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No Easy Way: The Story of Ted Williams and the Last .400 Season Hardcover – February 4, 2010
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From School Library Journal
Grade 2–5—Bowen's picture-book tribute introduces readers to a baseball great whose strong, smooth swing, eagle eye, and tireless work ethic accompanied him from an impoverished childhood to the major leagues. In his rookie season with the Boston Red Sox, he hit .327, belted out 31 home runs, and earned nicknames like "the Splendid Splinter." In 1941, many players were readying to fight in World War II; Williams would join up once the season finished. Nonetheless, it was "a magic summer for baseball" with Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak and, as the summer wore on, the thrilling possibility that Williams might hit .400 for the season. Red Sox fan Bowen wears his heart on his sleeve, but he captures all of the drama as Williams's pursuit of the record books came down to the final games of the season. Pyle's brilliantly composed paintings, reminiscent of 1940s book illustrations, underscore the baseball action and teem with period details. Newsboys hawk papers on street corners, soda jerks serve up ice-cream cones, and through it all strides the tall, determined figure of Williams. Two-color borders, plenty of white space, and a smattering of black-and-white photos add to the overall appeal, and Williams's 1941 stats are reproduced on the back cover. Together, the text and artwork create a warmly realized portrait of this icon and his significance in baseball history. This winning book should resonate with a wide audience.—Marilyn Taniguchi, Beverly Hills Public Library, CA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Usually, only a handful of Major League baseball players hit .300 or better for a full season, making the fact that Boston Red Sox slugger Ted Williams hit more than .400 in 1941 seem all the more incredible. Bowen’s recounting of Williams’ remarkable year begins with a young boy’s determination to become “the greatest hitter who ever lived” but quickly moves on to the last day of the 1941 season. At that point, Williams was batting .39955, which would have rounded up to .400, prompting the notion that Ted should sit out the final doubleheader. Williams, however, was having none of it: he always knew there was “no easy way” to become the greatest, so he played both games, amassing six hits and ending the season at .406. Unlike many decades-old baseball stories, this one hasn’t lost its appeal over the years, and Bowen makes the most of it in terms kids will understand. Pyle’s illustrations, combined with vintage photographs, capture the drama of Williams at bat, especially his long stride and powerful follow-through. Grandparents will enjoy reading this one to young fans. Grades 1-3. --Bill Ott
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He played at junior high, high school, and then for several minor-league teams. Ted kept practicing and playing until he "was good enough for the major leagues." He was elated when he stepped off the train in Boston. His rookie year was sensational and the newspapers began to give him flattering nicknames. A .327 batting average was nothing to sneeze at, but there was something else he had his eye on and that was a .400. No one had ever done that before. Practice, play, practice, play, practice, play . . . those blisters had long ago turned to calluses. At the end of the season in 1941 he was pounding that ball like no tomorrow. His average was up, it was down and with just two games before the end of the season his average was .39955, technically a .400. Was Ted going to risk it and play those two games or was he going to rest on his laurels and stay on the bench?
This exciting book will bring back memories for the old timers and create some new young fans for the great Ted Williams. I loved the way this book brought Williams to life and made his life and 1941 season to the edge of my seat, just as if I were in the ball park. I got a real sense of who he was and not only his talent, but also his integrity. I think I was hooked from the title page when I glance at a photograph of him standing at the edge of the dugout with an innocent, but determined look on his face as he held a load of bats. The nostalgic artwork meshed perfectly with this story and the few scattered photographs blended in nicely. If you are a Sox fan or love to read stories of the greats, this one should be added to your list!
Rather than write a conventional biography of Williams, Bowen chose to concentrate on Williams' 1941 season with the Red Sox, the year he hit .406, a feat no other baseball player has come close to equalling in the following 60 or so years. We learn a bit about Williams' background growing up in San Diego in the 1930's, during the Depression. Right away Williams' enormous ambition is highlighted:
From the time he was young, he knew exactly what he wanted to be. "My dream was to walk down the street and have people say, 'There goes Ted Williams, the greatest hitter who ever lived.'"
Bowen emphasizes Williams' dedication to the sport, and the hours he spent practicing, before and after school, until blisters grew into hard, ugly calluses on his hands. Why spend so much time practicing? Because Ted "knew there was no easy way to become the greatest hitter who ever lived. No easy way to do the single most difficult thing in sports: to hit a round ball with a round bat." No other player, Bowen tells us, practiced more than Ted, even when he made the major leagues, not only swinging the bat over and over but also squeezing rubber balls to make his wrists and forearms strong.
All this practice pays off in the extraordinary 1941 season, when not only was Joe DiMaggio hitting in a record-breaking 56 straight game streak, Ted Williams was hitting consistently all over American ballparks--could he hit the magic .400 batting average? By the end of the season, his average had dropped to .39955 with only two games to play. He could sit out those last games, and stick with his average, which would have been rounded up to .400, according to baseball rules. Even his manager thought he should sit out the last two games. But that would be taking the "easy way out," and that wasn't Williams' style. Although we know the results in advance, Bowen's exciting narrative builds a suspenseful mood as Williams takes his at-bats during the last two games, a double-header against the Philadelphia Athletics. And the Athletics weren't going to make it easy for him....we almost hold our breath as Bowen describes how Williams, with his stupendous performance in this double-header, raised his average to a stellar .406.
This book is a great addition to baseball collections, and could be enjoyed by baseball fans young and old. I particularly appreciated the way Bowen emphasized Williams' work ethic and his commitment to practicing. An afterword with additional biographical information on Williams' life would have been a nice addition. I also want to give special praise to Charles Pyle's old-fashioned illustrations, which brought to mind classic American illustrators such as Norman Rockwell; they complement the text perfectly, capturing Williams' speed and power but also the innocence of an earlier baseball era, with scenes of Williams eating an ice-cream cone and young boys selling newspapers from canvas bags.