Page Eleven

"Don't Need a Weather Man to Know Which Way the Wind Blows"

A Series of Innocuous Blogs for Vainglorious Edification.

The Last Home Run
April 13, 2007

On September 28th, 1960 at Fenway Park in Boston Massachusetts, baseball legend, Ted Williams came up to bat for the last time.  Never again would Ted stand at the plate, swing the bat, run the bases, ignore the crowd.  Ted was a baseball player.  So much so that in 1959 when his batting average had fallen to .254, an unprecedented low number, he insisted the Red Sox management decrease his salary 28 percent; from $125,000 to $90,000.  He penalized himself.  Ted Williams did the unexpected.  He played the game his own way.  By his own rules.  With his own style.  He refused to participate in the spectacle.  He hated reporters.  Rarely would he let the crowd turn things sentimental.  And typical to his last day in baseball - he announced it at the last minute.  To avoid the “hoopla.” 

Across his career Ted was called a bastard, curmudgeon, disaffected spoiled sport, loner, etc.  He battled with the press endlessly, refusing to give them the warm fuzzy quotes that today’s athletes have at the ready.  He told them off.  Swore at them.  Called them unrepeatable names.  Ted wanted only to play the game - to play the game.  Not to win fame, or fortune or adulation.  He had one charity that he cherished, the Boston Jimmy Fund for crippled children.  For them he would show up at the hospitals, the medical centers, the fund raisers.  But that was it.  He didn’t appear on talk shows, sports centers, pre-game warm-ups or celebrity balls.  He distanced himself from the fans whom he knew as fickle, vituperrious, disloyal.  It was the game itself that made Ted play.  The challenge of hitting 521 career home runs.  The seemingly impossible career batting average of .400.  On Ted’s last day at bat he was 42 years old.  And for his last at bat - he hit a home run.

There are today, more gracious athletes.  They are more articulate, more charitable, and far wealthier.  But in Ted’s day the best ball players were less god-like.  They were drinkers, fighters, shy and boisterous men with enormous talents, egos and competitive spirits.  Back then, it was what an athlete did on the field that inspired the fans.  It was how they played the game that mattered, not their off-stage time, not their private life, not what they did after they left the ball park.  Kids idolized Ted Williams because he would come to the plate when you were praying for salvation… And hit the home run you’d been praying for.  I oughtta know - I was one of those kids.  And Ted’s notorious gruffness never put me off.  I didn’t read sports columns or gossip items at nine years old.  I watched the man at bat.  Sat in a greasy Fenway-green seat and held my breath hoping the man I knew as the world’s greatest slugger - would pull the Sox out of the fire once again.  And so often he did.

You can count the number of athletes who go out like Ted Williams on one hand.  He said goodbye in three sentences, came up in the eighth and hit a one and one pitch 440 feet to the top of the Sox bullpen.  The fact, now legend is Ted  put his head down and ran the bases, stepped on home plate, trotted into the dugout and remained while ten thousand fans went wild giving him a four and a half minute standing ovation.  Ted didn’t come out.  Didn’t tip the hat to the crowd.  For Ted the show didn’t matter - just the play.  Ted went out on top.  Not a pleaser, or entertainer or endorser or spokesman.  A baseball player.  He played the game to the best of his ability producing a record that may never be matched.  And for those of us who got to see him do it, it painted an indelible, unforgettable image.  It is a privilege to have been there.   Thanks Ted.  For Don, Bernie, and Charles.