Baseball Legend Ted Williams Dies
Hall of Famer was the Last Man to Bat .400

audio icon Listen to a remembrance of Ted Williams on All Things Considered.

audio iconListen to Morning Edition host Bob Edwards' Feb. 5, 1998, interview with Ted Williams about his campaign to put Shoeless Joe Jackson in the Hall of Fame.

Ted Williams
Ted Williams
Photo: PBS, The American Experience

"Baseball's future? Bigger and bigger, better and better! No question about it, it's the greatest game there is!"

Ted Williams

"A man has to have goals -- for a day, for a lifetime -- and that was mine, to have people say, 'There goes Ted Williams, the greatest hitter who ever lived.'"

Ted Williams

July 5, 2002 -- Baseball Hall of Famer Ted Williams died today at age 83. The Boston Red Sox star was the last man to bat .400 for a full big-league season. His career was interrupted by years of service as a fighter pilot in World War II and Korea.

In 1998, on the occasion of of Williams' 80th birthday, commentator Frank Deford offered this appreciation on Morning Edition:

There can be nothing more disheartening than seeing an old person who we remember for the glories of youth, a beautiful actress, say, but now a faded flower. We want so much to think that people like that will always be the way they were. And, you see, now I'm going to meet with Ted Williams, Teddy Ballgame just before he turns 80 years of age. No. 9, the Splendid Splinter, eternally the Kid.

I think it was Bob Knight, the basketball coach, who said that Williams was the only person ever who was the best in the world at three different things: hitting a baseball, fly casting, and piloting a jet fighter plane. A young fellow named John Glenn was his wingman in Korea. And now we're at Williams' house the other day, where he lives on the West Coast of Florida, at #9 Ted Williams Drive, which is up on what is advertised as the second-highest hill in the Sunshine State.

Anyway it looks down on his museum, an absolute gem of a place that celebrates baseball hitters. And just so there's no mistake, when Ted Williams means hitters, he doesn't mean those Punch and Judy choke-up guys. A hitter, according to the best hitter there ever was, is somebody who can hit for power as well hit for average. You got that?

And here comes Ted now. He's in shorts with, yes, a Boston Red Sox cap on, and he's using a walker. But I will tell you something: as impossible as it seems, even with a walker Ted Williams has a swagger, yes sir.

And now he sits down and boy is he fun. There's a baseball encyclopedia there which we refer to regularly. Unlike a lot of great athletes who only play a game that comes naturally to them, Williams is an unadulterated baseball fan, baseball expert. "Isn't that McGwire something?" he calls out in abject joy, and admiration too.

There's no jealousy in the man. He works on the veterans committee to get his old lesser buddies into the Hall of Fame with him. He's also taken on a crusade of getting Shoeless Joe Jackson admitted to Cooperstown.

Suddenly, in fact, Ted has an imaginary bat in his hands and sitting there he is showing you how Ty Cobb swung, hands apart, pushing the ball. But then he's Shoeless Joe, smooth and full out like, like, like -- well, like Ted Williams would swing when he came along in 1939.

When Williams went into the Hall himself he used much of his speech pumping for baseball to allow in the African Americans from the old Negro leagues. Now he's going to induct the great Japanese slugger Sadaharu Oh into his own museum. "What's the matter with Cooperstown, it's baseball, isn't it, not American baseball?" The energy, the enthusiasm pours out.

Once Ted Williams was controversial, so-called. Joe DiMaggio, elegant and distant, a Yankee not a Bosox, was more honored. But in time the appreciation for Williams the hitter and the man has passed DiMaggio, passed them all. I laughed. All I could think was: damn, now this is an American.

Later that day I see him again. He bursts into a crowded room where some very serious baseball fans were assembled, puts aside his walker and bellows out, "Any Marines in here?"

He'll celebrate his 80th birthday this Sunday, August 30. Happy birthday, kid.

Frank Deford is senior contributing writer at Sports Illustrated and appears each Wednesday on NPR's Morning Edition.

In Depth

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Other Resources

The Ted Williams page at the Baseball Hall of Fame Web site.

Career statistics for the last man to hit .400.

Excerpts from My Turn at Bat, the Williams autobiography.

The Ted Williams Museum, located near his home in Citrus County, Fla.

A Boston Herald retrospective on Ted Williams.

A article on Williams and his memorable 1999 All-Star game appearance.

A collection of Ted Williams quotes at the Baseball Almanac Web site.