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Happy Birthday, Teddy Ballgame

TEd Swing

Ted Williams was born on this day back in 1918.

While there's been much debate of late as to where David Ortiz stands on the list of all-time great Red Sox players, it's really been nothing more than a battle for second place for Big Papi.

Williams' place atop the pantheon of Boston sports remains unchallenged and undisputed. Only Bill Russell, who won 11 championships and endured the scorn of a city still segregated in so many ways, could ever stand equal to Williams atop that mythical Mount Rushmore of Boston Sports. Tom Brady and Bobby Orr have their place, too, but it's a bit lower down the hill.

While Williams's Red Sox never won a World Series, he remains the last player to hit over .400 (.406 in 1941). He retired in 1960 with 521 career home runs and a CAREER slash line of .344/.482/.634.

Carmine would crash trying to process those numbers these days.

Far more importantly, he gave up parts of five seasons to serve his country in World War II and the Korean War. Williams did all he could to avoid having to be recalled to fly Marine attack fighter jets in Korea. But once those efforts failed, he served his country in combat with valor and honor, flying in the same squadron as astronaut John Glenn.*1

39-0. That's how many combat missions Williams flew, and how many times he didn't come back. He did crash-land once. It is still the best stat ever in the history of Boston sports.

When I was a boy, my dad used to tell the story about how Williams gave him and his brother a ride across the Mass. Ave bridge back in 1946 from Boston to Cambridge. Teen-agers at the time, they sat on the hood of his car, the story went, and did not get off it until Ted acquiesced to their demands.

At Winter Haven, Fla., in 1979, we met Williams after a Red Sox spring training game. While Teddy Ballgame was signing autographs for this small gathering, I asked him whether or not he remembered driving my dad some 33 years earlier.

Williams turned toward me, his eyes squinting in the Central Florida sun, he then looked down and flashed a grimace that he usually reserved for the sportswriters of his day.

"Kid, if your father says it, then it's so."

My dad was then given bragging rights for the rest of his life.

Yes, I still have the ball he signed that day. It also has autographs from Jim Rice and Yaz.

Like so many of us, The Kid's ancestral roots were spread throughout the Old and New World. His parents were part Welsh, Irish, Spanish, Russian and Mexican. His mother's family came from Mexico and one could argue that he is perhaps the greatest Hispanic ballplayer of all time.

Williams died in 2002. Currently, his body remains cryonically frozen in two pieces at Alcor labs in Scottsdale, Ariz. The tragically comical events after his death have, for some, tarnished his life.

Williams remains a figure who was both so incredibly human and so unbelievably superhuman. He may been both the greatest hitter and one of the greatest anglers of all-time.

He was not always the best husband and father and was accused of being a "me-first" player throughout his career. But he also helped the Jimmy Fund raise millions in his day, visited countless sick children without press coverage, helped hundreds who less fortunate on a personal level, and used his Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 1966 to lobby the Hall to include players from the Negro Leagues.

On the 96th anniversary of his birth, it is his life, with all of its stars and blemishes, that we choose to remember and honor.

The Last Great American Hero.

Indeed.

The OBF column is written by award-winning journalist and Bay State native Bill Speros. Hit up Bill on his Obnoxious Boston Fan Facebook page, on Twitter @realOBF or at his
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. Thanks always for reading.

*1 - Yes, kids. Once upon a time, we fought a war in Korea. It ended in a tie. Kim Jong-un's grandfather started it when he invaded the South in 1950. We used to launch Americans into space on a routine basis, as well. All of this happened before Twitter and Snapchat.

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