In baseball and beyond, Williams was a true American hero
By Gordon Edes, Globe Staff, 07/06/02
Theodore Samuel Williams was born in San Diego on Aug. 30, 1918 -- 12 days before the Red Sox would win their last World Series title. He was one of two children, both sons, born to Samuel and May (Venzer) Williams. His father, who was of Welsh and English extraction, originally was from Mount Vernon, N.Y., and claimed to have ridden with Teddy Roosevelt’s cavalry regiment and served in the Philippines. On his first-born’s birth certificate. the first name is listed as "Teddy.’’
"I never did like that ‘Teddy,’ so I always signed my name ‘Theodore,’’’ wrote Williams. Later, on his birth certificate, "Teddy’’ was crossed out and "Theodore’’ written in its place.
Samuel Williams owned a little photography shop in downtown San Diego, where he took passport photos and pictures of sailors who were stationed there.
May Williams, who was of Mexican and French parentage, worked for the Salvation Army, and on the streets of San Diego, she was known as "Salvation May’’ and "The Angel of Tijuana.’’ Williams and his younger brother, Danny, born in 1920, saw little of their parents.
"My mother was gone all day and half the night, working the streets for the Salvation Army,’’ Williams wrote. "I didn’t see much of my dad ... He wouldn’t get home until 9, 10 o’clock.’’
On numerous occasions as a child, Williams accompanied his mother as she solicited donations.
"I was embarrassed that my mother was in the middle of the damn street all the time,’’ Williams wrote. "Until the day she died she did that, and it always embarrassed me, and God knows I respected her and loved her.’’
In 1924, the family moved out of an apartment and into a one-story, six-room house on Utah Street that was purchased with a loan from a local landowner, John Spreckles, who knew May from her charity work. The loan was silently forgiven.
The house was only a block away from the North Park playground, where Ted played baseball by the hour and was befriended by Rod Luscomb, the playground instructor who would be acknowledged by Williams at his Hall of Fame induction.
"I don’t know why but from the time I was able to carry a bat to the sandlots of San Diego, I hit lefty,’’ Williams wrote.
Lelia Brown, a fifth-grade teacher at Garfield Elementary in San Diego, said Williams always demanded to be the first to get his at-bats on the school’s playground. "If he didn’t get them, hats flew and feet stomped,’’ she said.
Under Williams’s name and graduation picture in the 1936 yearbook for Hoover High, where he pitched and played outfield for coach Wos Caldwell, there was one word under interests and activities: "Baseball.’’