In baseball and beyond, Williams was a true American hero
By Gordon Edes, Globe Staff, 07/06/02
A great rivalry
Williams outlived by three years Joe DiMaggio, the Hall of Fame outfielder for the New York Yankees and Williams’s greatest rival in the 13 years their careers overlapped, 1939-51. DiMaggio, who died at age 84 on March 8, 1999, was considered the more complete player of the two, and his record 56-game hitting streak, which also came in 1941, overshadowed Williams’s .406 season. At the end of that year, DiMaggio was named MVP, with Williams finishing second.
DiMaggio, who would beat out Williams as MVP in 1947 as well, also enjoyed postseason success that Williams never knew. The Yankee Clipper, as he was called, played on 10 pennant-winners in 13 seasons for the Yankees, who won the World Series in nine of those seasons. Williams would appear in just one World Series, in 1946, when the Red Sox lost in seven games to the Cardinals.
"In my heart, I always felt I was a better hitter than Joe,’’ Williams said long after both were retired. "But I have to say, he was the greatest baseball player of our time. He could do it all.’’
Williams, who served as a Red Sox batting instructor in spring training after his retirement, also spent four seasons as manager of the Washington Senators/Texas Rangers. Williams was named American League Manager of the Year in 1969, when the Senators finished fourth; that would be the highest finish of any Williams-managed team, and his final team lost 100 games while finishing last.
An avid fisherman, Williams served many years as spokesman for Sears, Roebuck & Co.’s line of outdoor sporting equipment. He also had his own rod-and-tackle consortium, Ted Williams, Inc., and part-interest in a Miami-based tackle distribution company. Locally, he also was known as a spokesman for Nissen, the bread company.
For many years, Williams had a home in Islamorada in the Florida Keys, where he fished for bonefish and tarpon, and a cottage on the Miramichi River in New Brunswick, Canada, where he fished for salmon.
"He was the best fisherman in the world,’’ Bobby Knight, the former Indiana University basketball coach and a Williams fishing buddy, said at the NCAA basketball Final Four in 1987. "Can you imagine being the best at two things in your lifetime? He was the best hitter and now he’s the best fisherman.’’
Williams, who was married and divorced three times, turned over direction of many of his business affairs to his son, John Henry, after his partner in a sports memorabilia venture, Vincent Antonucci, was sentenced in 1992 by a Florida court to 4 years in prison and 10 years probation for stealing from Williams. John Henry Williams estimates the business sustained losses of nearly $3 million.
Williams was a spokesman for a housing development in Hernando, Fla., since 1987. He opened the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame near his home in 1994, and has honored stars such as former Sox slugger Mo Vaughn, Garciaparra, and Dante Bichette.
In addition to the three strokes he had while living in Florida, which dramatically affected his vision, Williams also sustained falls in which he broke his left shoulder and his hip, and had been confined to a wheelchair. But with the assistance of Gwynn, at the 1999 All-Star Game, he stood and threw a pitch to Carlton Fisk, the Red Sox catcher who a year later was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
"I’ve always realized what a lucky guy I’ve been in my life,’’ Williams said when he was honored at the White House. "I was born in America. I was a Marine. I served my country. I’m very, very proud of that. I got to play baseball. Had a chance to hit. I owe so very, very much to this game that I love so much. And I want to thank you, Mr. President.’’