TALK OF THE TOWN|
For decades, a media sensation
By Bill Griffith, Globe Staff, 07/06/02efore there was cable, there was Ted.
Before there was videotape, there was Ted.
Before there was color TV, there was Ted.
Heck, before there was sports talk radio, there was Ted.
He worked in an era when there were eight daily newspapers in cutthroat competition in Boston. And Ted was a story in each almost every day.
Instead of fading away after he hit his final home run off Jack Fisher in 1960, the legend of Ted Williams only grew in his retirement. It culminated in the impromptu 1999 All-Star Game scene at Fenway Park with Williams, in a golf cart by the mound, surrounded by baseball's greatest players as they paid homage to the man acclaimed as the greatest hitter who ever lived.
How big was Williams?
"If you took Larry Bird and Bobby Orr in their heyday and combined that, you'd have an idea how big Ted was in Boston in his prime,'' said talk-show host Eddie Andelman, who grew up during the Williams era.
Andelman and former WEEI radio partner Dale Arnold had Williams on the air twice. Each keeps and treasures tapes of those shows. On one occasion then-governor William Weld and Williams brought in Chinese food and sat in the studio eating and chatting.
"When they arrived at the building, someone called up and said, `God just came in to see you,' '' said Andelman.
In 1992, when Arnold was soloing at WEEI, he put together a fishing show with Williams, former Red Sox announcer Curt Gowdy, and basketball coach Bob Knight. "You wouldn't believe the work we went through to put that together,'' said Arnold. "As the opening of the show was rolling the operator said first, `Mr. Gowdy is on the line,' then `Mr. Knight is on the line.' Then, just as the opening came to an end, she said, `Mr. Williams is on the line.' I can't tell you how powerful a feeling it is when you heard Ted's voice come over the line.
"It was a four-way conference call, and I was just listening and playing traffic cop when I had to. Knight only did the show because Ted Williams was on. But he said an amazing thing when he noted how tough it is to be the best at anything, and here was a guy who arguably was the best at hitting a baseball and at flyfishing.''
On Sunday, Dec. 6, 1992, Bob Lobel managed to get Williams, Orr, and Bird into the Channel 4 studios at 11:30 for a live, hourlong edition of "Sports Final.'' The show was picked up in Hartford, Bangor, Portland, Maine, Terre Haute, Ind., and simulcast on WBZ Radio.
The show was so successful that Lobel keeps a photo taken of the trio that night on the wall of his office. "There was only one person who could have screwed up that show,'' said Lobel, "and it wasn't one of those three.''
At the time of the show, the three Boston icons had eight MVP awards, careers spanning seven decades, two Hall of Fame inductions, and two retired numbers. Of course, Bird was soon to make it three Hall of Fame inductions and three retired numbers.
Bird told Lobel before the show, "I can't wait to meet Mr. Williams.'' When he did, it was mutual admiration. And Williams growled, "Hey, where's the Great One?'' That was Orr, who was the last to arrive.
All three turned out to be fishing fans and Williams, who had fished with Orr, paid him a compliment by saying, "He's a pretty good fisherman.''
It was Williams, though, who was the giant of the broadcast. And he made some remarkable comments.
About the famous episode of refusing to tip his cap, he said, "I've tipped my hat thousands of times in my heart to the people of New England for their support of the Jimmy Fund.''
On hitting, he said, "If I worried about how I'd fare against a pitcher, I did a lot better than if I said, `Boy, he's my cousin.' ''
Williams, who always maintained hitting a baseball was the most difficult thing to do in sports, said he had to rethink that a bit after saying it to golfing great Sam Snead, saying that golfers had it easier because they got to hit a stationary ball with a flat club, not a moving ball with a round bat. "But I have to [chase and] hit my foul balls, Ted,'' Snead replied.
Known for his numerous feuds with the media, whom he dubbed "Knights of the Keyboard,'' Williams said, "I think a lot of it I brought on myself by not being quite as mature as I should have been, but that's all part of a career. I wouldn't have changed any of it because nothing is preordained . . . that's the way it happened. Some things turned out better than I thought and some worse.''
Williams told of his reaction at seeing his statue in Cooperstown, N.Y., site of the Baseball Hall of Fame. "I shed a tear as I looked at it. You could see the statue of Babe Ruth about 60 feet away. There's my statue right there in view of the mighty Ruth. A lot of things came together then and I realized how lucky I was in my sport.''
And we realized how lucky we were to have had him.
Before we had a lot of things, we had Ted.
After Ted, we have memories.
Bill Griffith's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org