Full Episode
Ted Williams

The new documentary from THIRTEEN’s American Masters, co-produced by Albert M. Tapper Productions, in association with Major League Baseball, David Ortiz’ Big Papi Productions and Nick Davis Productions, explores not only the Baseball Hall of Famer’s remarkable on-field accomplishments but also his complicated relationships with his family, teammates, press, fans and himself.

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♪♪ [ Melancholy tune plays ] Narrator: In the summer of 1953 with an armistice in the Korean war imminent, a 34-year-old captain in the U.S. Marines flew home from Korea.

For 18 months, the man, six foot four inches tall and still built, one writer said, 'like a splendid splinter,' had been on active duty, flying 39 successful combat missions, many as wing man to future astronaut John Glenn, who was not alone in calling the man one of the finest pilots he had ever seen.

But returning to the United States after nearly a year and a half of war, the man wasn't sure what he would do next.

All he really wanted to do, he told a friend, was fish.

Still, on the morning of July 29th, he dropped by the place he had worked since 1939 and went upstairs to say hello to his old boss, Boston Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey.

Montville: And Yawkey jumped up and grabbed him.

Bradlee: Yawkey said, 'Well, come on. You're here.

You know, go down to the field and let's take some BP.'

Montville: And Ted said, 'No. I'm not gonna go down and hit.'

Tom said, 'Oh, come on. You gotta go down and hit.'

Bradlee: 'Nah, I don't wanna do it.' 'Oh, come on, Ted.'

Montville: They kept goin' on and on and Ted said, 'Okay. I'll do it.'

Narrator: Theodore Samuel Williams had not picked up a baseball bat in 456 days.

Bradlee: And it's before the game and there's only, you know, some ushers in there and maybe a couple of players.

Montville: And people just started comin' from everywhere because they heard that Ted Williams was back and Ted Williams was gonna hit.

Bradlee: And he gets up there and he digs in and he hasn't picked up a bat in a year and a half and he starts hittin' the ball, starts hittin' some line drives, and he hits several out, and then more out.

Montville: Here was Ted, back from Korea, and nothing had changed.

He was like a metronome.

Bradlee: The batting practice pitcher, as he hit one shot after another at batting practice, said, 'Jesus, Ted. You're lookin' pretty good.'

'Shut up. Throw the...ball.'

[ Laughing ] ♪♪ Narrator: He had lost nearly two full seasons to the Korean War and before that, three to World War II.

Nearly five full seasons serving his country in the prime of his athletic life.

Bradlee: He bitterly resented Korea, especially.

'Can you imagine what my... numbers would've been, if I hadn't missed those goddamn wars,' you know.

♪♪ Narrator: Now back at his baseball home in Fenway Park, Ted Williams was like a man trying to make up for lost time.

By one account, he hit an astonishing 13 pitches in a row over the fence that morning.

Bradlee: And he finally flipped his bat up in satisfaction and walked out and his hands were bleeding.

♪♪ [ Outro plays ] The atmospherics in the park changed when Williams came to bat.

Sutton: Everybody stopped and watched.

Flavin: You were just so captivated by him.

Bradlee: Everyone was on the edge of their seat.

[ Applause ] There'd be a murmur in the crowd [ Haunting tune plays ] 'cause he was electric.

You just didn't know what was going to happen.

Flavin: He was like a Bengal tiger, this beautiful animal that was so captivating, but dangerous at the same time.

Montville: If I had met Jesus Christ himself, I couldn't have been more overwhelmed.

It was like being in the presence of a deity.

Flavin: He was almost a godlike figure.

Votto: He's a baseball god.

Emily: He really studied his game.

He was a master at it.

Bradlee: He loved putting on a show.

Emily: To look at, he was gorgeous.

Ahh! He was a beauty to watch.

Bradlee: He loved his swing.

He had a beautiful swing.

Votto: His swing was a work of art.

Boggs: His bat being the brush and Fenway Park is the canvas.

Costas: What he said himself was that his only desire was to walk down the street and have people say, 'There goes the greatest hitter who ever lived.'

Claudia: He took that one aspect of baseball and perfected it.

Angell: Baseball holds out the possibility of perfection.

You keep hitting, the game never ends.

So it's out there.

Claudia: He was so focused on what he wanted to do and it was to the exclusion of everything else.

Boggs: He was obsessed with hitting.

Angell: Everything about him is interesting, in this gnarled, difficult way. [Chuckles] I mean, he was that way himself. What's the matter with him?

You'd constantly ask about that.

'What's wrong with this guy?! What a weirdo!

What a great hitter.'

[ Laughs ] ♪♪ [ Bat cracks ] Costas: Were you unhappy as a kid?

There's people who theorize you had an unhappy childhood and baseball was an outlet. -Williams: There were things, of a personal nature, that bothered me.

Claudia: I remember, one day, I actually was -- I think it was in this house.

We were sitting at the kitchen table and I asked.

I started inquiring a little bit more about his childhood.

I wanted to know more about my dad, what it was like growing up.

What was your mom like? What was your dad like?

He didn't wanna talk about it.

He had to be a survivor at a very young age.

Underwood: He came from abject poverty.

Narrator: Ted's mother was May Venzor Williams, a 28-year-old foot soldier in the Salvation Army in San Diego, California, where she acquired the nickname the Angel of Tijuana.

Montville: She'd go across the border to Tijuana and try and get drunks to come out of the bars.

Bradlee: She spent her life trying to save souls and was up until all hours of the night, doing so.

Venzor: Ted would be home alone, sometimes for over a day and a half, two days.

Bradlee: Later, she tried to get Ted, who was an atheist, involved in the Salvation Army, and Jesus, you know, he'd run for cover.

Montville: He was always, I don't know, reticent to talk about his mother, you know, and his mother did have that Mexican heritage.

Venzor: I'm related to Ted Williams.

His mother was my dad's sister.

He is my first cousin.

Bradlee: He actively concealed that he was Mexican American for most of his life.

Venzor: He would never mention it to anybody.

Williams: My mother was strictly Salvation Army, strictly non-family.

I wouldn't wanna be married to a gal like that.

Narrator: Ted's father was a former soldier, sometime photographer, and one-time pickle salesman, gone for long stretches at a time.

Bradlee: Sam Williams was a ne'er-do-well and a drunk.

So Ted and his younger brother Danny were some of the first latchkey kids.

They were out on the porch, waiting for their mother to come home.

Flavin: And Danny, of course, drifted into smalltime crime.

Thorn: In Ted's case, he went to the North Street playground, which was a block and a half away, and became his second home.

[ Suspenseful music plays ] Claudia: It's a great metaphor. Think about it.

I mean, here comes that ball and everything you've ever been mad at, he's gonna crush it.

Bradlee: He had boiling anger.

Flavin: Ted could always fly off the handle.

Bradlee: He was able to use his anger constructively on the baseball field because he always said that he hit better mad.

Claudia: He took it and used it as fuel.

Montville: 'The world hates me.

Everybody's against me and I'm gonna show them.'

Costas: A famous quote of yours is, 'All I ever wanted out of life was for, when I walked down the street, people will say, 'There goes the best damn hitter that ever lived.'' Williams: Well, you know, that, that's not fiction.

I mean, that's really what starts in my mind.

Costas: Were you obsessed?

Williams: Ooh, boy, was I.

All I wanted to do is play and then I heard one of the older players at the playground say, when I was about 14, and he said, 'Boy, that kid has quick wrists.'

I made up my mind right then, 'If he thinks I have quick wrists now, [laughing] wait 'til the next time he sees me.'

Angell: At spring training in the '70s, Ted comes and sits beside me and he said, 'You can't write this!

I'm watching the young players here, and they're all batting around .240.'

He said, 'You know why?' And I said, 'No.'

And he said, 'They're having sex all the time.'

[ Whimsical tune plays ] It's not the phrase he used.

'And that's what they're thinkin' about all the time.'

He said, 'Roger, I didn't get laid for the first time until the All-Star break of my second year in the major leagues.

I was thinking about hitting!'

[ Whimsical outro plays ] [ Laughing ] Costas: What does it feel like when you hit a baseball perfectly?

Williams: Well, I could compare it with a couple of things, [ Audience laughter ] but it's one of the greatest things that ever happens.

It's a lot of fun. [laughing] Costas: He found something that he loved and something that he excelled at and that was the way he could define himself, rather than being defined by whatever the circumstances of his family life were.

♪♪ Narrator: By age 17, Ted's obsession with the national pastime began to pay off.

Bradlee: He signed with the Triple-A San Diego Padres in the Pacific Coast League.

Venzor: His mother, my aunt May, did not want him to go because they drank, they cussed, and they smoked.

But he went, anyway.

Narrator: It wasn't long before he was noticed by the major leagues.

Montville: There was a scout on the West Coast for the Red Sox.

Ted's father came back for this short period of time.

Bradlee: He wanted to make sure that he got some of the bonus.

Montville: His parents engineered the whole deal.

Thorn: Ted Williams's parents never saw him play a single game of Major League Baseball.

The indifference of his father and mother, both, to anything except the contract, it was harmful, but it drove him to performance.

Bradlee: Williams reported to spring training in 1938, but he was late, and Johnny Orlando, the clubhouse boy, as they called it, said, 'Where you been, kid?'

Montville: That's why he was called 'The Kid.'

Bradlee: He had many nicknames.

-Claudia: 'The Thumper.' -Montville: 'Teddy Ballgame.'

Costas: 'The Splendid Splinter.'

Bradlee: But 'The Kid' was his favorite.

Angell: Never anybody who looked younger or more eager to play.

Bradlee: He was so immature. He had the raw talent, but he would pop off, call the manager by his first name, call him 'Sport.'

You know, a fly ball would come his way and he'd chase it and say, 'Hi-ho, Silver!'

He wasn't ready for primetime, so they sent him down to the Triple-A affiliate.

Thorn: So all he did was go to Minneapolis and tear up the league.

Narrator: That winter, Ted returned to San Diego.

Bradlee: And he comes into the San Diego train station.

Venzor: So all the relatives ran down there to go greet him.

Bradlee: Ted took one look at the motley crew of Mexicans, hightailed it in the other direction.

Venzor: [Laughing] He ran away from them.

Emily: He lived separately.

He was not a socializer and I think he was shy about his Mexican background.

He had an inferiority complex.

I think it was there all the time.

Narrator: Finally, in 1939, 20-year-old Ted Williams reached Boston for the first time.

Bradlee: His rookie year was a sensation.

He was so colorful.

He was unfiltered.

He was a great interview.

There were nine newspapers in Boston and, if Williams practically belched, it would be on the front page.

He didn't make any effort to conceal his excitement.

You know, he later became famous for not tipping his cap, but in his rookie year, he didn't just tip his cap, he would take his cap by the little button on top and doff it.

Narrator: Ted had one of the best rookie seasons in baseball history, a .327 batting average, 31 home runs, and a league-leading 145 runs batted in.

Bradlee: The fans just loved him.

But things changed in his second year.

[ Foreboding music plays ] His second season, he gets off to a bad start [ Booing ] and the odd fan would get on him and there would be boos at Fenway.

Not a whole lot, but just scattered boos.

Claudia: 99% of the people might've cheered, but if he heard one boo, he was mad.

Flavin: When people criticized him, he lashed out at them, like a young kid would do, you know, a really young kid, a 2-year-old.

Bradlee: And then he started getting into scraps with the writers.

Baseball writer Harold Kaese saw fit to end one story noting that Ted hadn't gone home to San Diego in the offseason to visit his parents.

Montville: Ted was not happy with that.

Bradlee: And he began what became a lifelong feud with reporters.

Claudia: He hated them [chuckling] 'til the day he died.

He said, 'As long as I live, I'll make them eat crow, every chance I get.'

Williams: There was a couple of real sour apples up there that made it disagreeable, more than it should've been.

Bradlee: He started to think that they were against him.

Costas: There was one writer who, in one of Ted's Triple Crown seasons, did not put Ted in any of the 10 slots on his MVP ballot, and that cost Ted Williams the MVP award.

Williams: I won two Triple Crowns and never got [laughing] the Most Valuable Player in either year!

So, I mean, there was a little unfairness there, someplace.

Narrator: Ted soon made a decision that he would stick to for the rest of his career.

Bradlee: He said that he was gonna forego the time-honored baseball tradition of tipping his cap.

Williams: Fans, they read what the writers write, so I was gettin' more boos than I thought I should be getting.

so I vowed right then, 'I'm never gonna tip my hat again' and never did.

[ Bat cracks ] Narrator: Ted was ready for the greatest baseball year of his life.

1941 -- a year that would forever link him with another baseball icon.

Montville: 1941 was the start of a dance that went between Joe DiMaggio and Williams for their entire careers, where you measured one against the other.

Flavin: In '41, they both went on these tears that have never been equaled since.

Bradlee: Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak, a record that has still never been broken; and Ted hitting .406.

Angell: I can't think of two people so closely allied who were so absolutely different.

Bradlee: Tom Boswell, of The Washington Post, wrote, 'Joe was regal. Ted was real.'

Enberg: Joe was elegant.

Emily: Meticulously groomed.

He ironed his underwear.

Costas: Joe was the curator of his own image.

Claudia: Very calculated.

Bradlee: Williams wore his emotions on his sleeve.

Claudia: Went with his gut.

Bradlee: Outgoing. Very loud.

Kaat: Kind of one of the boys, irascible, profane.

Montville: He liked to swear.

Claudia: Fantastic swearer.

Underwood: It was almost artistic.

Enberg: He could put together eight swear words and never repeat one, when he got really mad.

Sutton: Son of a bitch!

Venzor: Son of a bitch! -Bradlee: ...this.

Claudia: Goddamn it.

Montville: I don't give a...about that!

Emily: Joe wouldn't give anybody the satisfaction of letting him know how he felt.

Very silent person.

[ Whimsical jazz tune plays ] Bradlee: They were very competitive with each other, even after their playing careers ended.

Costas: In 1969, the 100th anniversary of professional baseball, at that All-Star Game, they named DiMaggio as the greatest living player, and, in his later years, he insisted that he always be introduced as the greatest living ballplayer.

Announcer: And the greatest living ballplayer, Joltin' Joe DiMaggio.

[ Cheering ] ♪♪ Narrator: On July 9, 1941, it was time for that year's All-Star Game.

Montville: The All-Star Game was a huge thing, at that time, far bigger than it is today.

Narrator: In the ninth inning with the American League trailing by two runs and a chance to be the hero, Joe DiMaggio stepped to the plate.

He hit a weak ground ball to shortstop.

One run came in, but now, there were two outs, and it would be up to Ted Williams.

Commentator: Passeau pitches. Williams swings.

There's a high fly going deep, deep.

It is a home run!

Bradlee: He pranced around those bases, [clap] clapping his hands.

Claudia: He's so happy and he's clapping; he's skipping.

Costas: He's clapping his hands and skipping around the bases like a kid in a sandlot. [ Cheering and applause ] Commentator: A tremendous home run that brought in three runs.

Williams: Yes, hittin' that home run in the All-Star Game, in the 9th inning, was certainly a big thrill that I'll never forget, the rest of my life.

Man: Say, Ted, got any base hits in that bat of yours?

Williams: Oh, I think I'm gonna do all right.

Bradlee: He defined the game, rather one-dimensionally, as hitting only.

It revolved around the individual battle between hitter and pitcher.

Boggs: One-on-one.

It's you against the guy on the mound.

Votto: You get a ball at your head, 95, 100 miles an hour, and you're like, 'Oh, my God. This is real.'

But you have to -- If you wanna hit, you've gotta be all-in.

McCovey: You gotta be able to concentrate on just that pitcher.

Bradlee: Later, as a manager, his one-dimensional orientation came out.

They were practicing their rundowns once, and a disagreement developed between two of the coaches who were running the drill and Ted came over and said, 'What the hell's goin' on here?'

And they explained to him what was happening and Ted didn't have the first idea whose technique was correct and he said, 'I don't Let's hit.' [laughs] He said, many times, that hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports.

He had this extraordinary eyesight that took on mythical proportions, but when he enlisted in the service, it was reported as 20/15.

Votto: It was like he was carved out of stone for hitting, specifically.

He was made like David, like just for this particular endeavor.

Bradlee: He resented being known as purely a natural hitter.

He attributed his success to simply hard work and practice.

Claudia: He hit and hit and hit, and then studied the hitting.

Bradlee: And he did some odd things, like he heated his bats, to wring the moisture out of it.

He had post-office scales.

He'd always weigh the bat.

He was one of the pioneers of using a lighter bat.

The big power hitters would take a heavy bat, but Williams said, 'The real power is the speed of your swing.'

Venzor: Whssh! Whssh!

You know, he'd want that bat to whoosh!

Bradlee: And he'd always study opposition pitchers very carefully.

Williams: How is that pitcher getting out?

What kind of pitcher is he?

What did he do last time?

Bradlee: He could remember at bats going back years.

Flavin: Dom DiMaggio and Johnny Pesky, they'd come back to the dugout after being at bat.

Ted would quiz them, 'What's he throwing?' and all that.

Half the time, they'd be disgusted with themselves 'cause they'd grounded out or something and they would say, 'I don't know, for crying out loud,' and, of course, Ted would erupt.

Bradlee: 'What do you mean, you can't, you don't?

It just happened! How can you not know?'

Kaat: And he intimidated pitchers.

They knew that any close pitch, they were not gonna get the call 'cause the umpires respected his eyesight, so they would say, 'Well, if Ted took it, [chuckle] it must be a ball.'

Narrator: 1941 cemented Ted Williams' reputation as the greatest hitter alive.

Costas: We know that .300 is kind of a marker of excellence.

McCovey: Nobody hits .400.

Montville: 4 hits out of 10 times at bat is a hard, hard thing.

Narrator: As the season drew to a close, Ted Williams' chase for the mythical .400 went down to the wire.

Bradlee: He went into the last day, which was to be a doubleheader, hitting .3995, which, on the books, would've been rounded up to .400.

So, everyone wanted to know was he gonna play or sit it out and take the rounded .400?

Joe Cronin, his manager, thought he would bench Williams.

Costas: Joe Cronin, the manager, says, 'You can sit, if you want.'

Williams: Well, I never gave it a thought about not playing.

I knew I was gonna play, and there was no doubt about it.

Enberg: He was going to earn it.

He wasn't gonna let some statistician round off a number to make it .400.

Williams: Well, as I got up to home plate, the first time up during the day, Bill McGowan, one of the truly great umpires that ever been in this game, he called time and he turned his back towards the stands and he started brushing home plate and he said, 'In order to hit .400,' he says, 'you gotta be loose.

You gotta be loose.'

And he wiped the plate off and went back.

And the catcher said, 'Mr. Mack says not to give you anything, but he told us to pitch to you today.'

♪♪ Bradlee: And he went 6-for-8 on the day.

Costas: And raised the batting average to .406.

That's a man's-man thing to do.

Narrator: In the locker room after the game, Ted turned to the clubhouse boy, Johnny Orlando.

'You know,' he said, 'I'm a pretty good hitter.'

Thorn: He was a young colt.

He was a green pea.

Ted's future could not have looked brighter.

[ Outro plays ] [ Rotors buzzing ] [ Fanfare plays ] Kennedy: Simultaneous air assaults have been reported.

The American naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii was the target for the fiercest raids.

Bradlee: After Pearl Harbor, this was one of the most patriotic times in America, where men were rushing to enlist, but rushing into war wasn't computing for Ted.

Ted wanted to play.

Montville: He had a 3A deferment because he was the support of his mother.

Bradlee: He went ahead and began the season, but as that summer wore on, he came under increasing criticism and he would get mail from fans, including at least one letter that was simply a yellow piece of paper, meaning the color of cowardice.

So, he made a deal with the Navy, to enlist, if they would let him finish out the 1942 baseball season.

There was a lot of speculation: How would he do, taking orders?

But he took to it immediately, accepted the discipline, wanted to be treated just as a regular guy, and, even though he was only a high school graduate, he picked up the mechanics and the aeronautics of flying.

He became an expert Marine fighter pilot.

He was so good, they chose him to be an instructor, but, by the time he got his orders for the Pacific, the war ended.

Narrator: By the end of the war, Ted was a married man.

He'd gotten married in May 1944.

Bradlee: His first wife was Doris Soule.

Montville: His first wife was like his first girlfriend, really.

He met her in Minnesota when he was in the minor leagues.

I think he was just a tough guy to live with, day after day.

Flavin: There's a lot of compromising done in marriage.

Ted wasn't a compromiser.

Bradlee: He was obsessed with himself and his career.

Flavin: He also had moments of uncontrollable rage.

Claudia: Dad actually would get mad when someone was upset.

He was the kind of person that would go, [sarcastically] 'Oh, I'm sorry.

C'mere. I'll give ya a hug.

Well, goddamn it, why are you mad?! Why are you upset? What happened?!' You know?

Montville: He didn't have like a family background to really help him out and tell him, 'This is the way you should be with your wife and your kids.'

♪♪ Bradlee: Spring training in 1946, there was a great sense of joy and optimism and renewal.

All the stars coming back.

Ted, individually, had a great year; he won the MVP.

Montville: All the pieces seemed to fit, and they had a magical year.

Thorn: He took the Boston Red Sox to a very easy American League pennant.

Bradlee: They were waiting to see who their opponent in the World Series would be, but as they were waiting, the Red Sox played some exhibition games.

Montville: And, in the first of the three games, Ted got hit in the elbow with a pitch.

Bradlee: It was very painful and it blew up.

Front pages were going crazy.

Was Ted gonna miss the Series?

He sucked it up and played, but I think it bothered him.

To his credit, he never alibied, but he went on to have a dismal World Series, personally.

He hit only .200.

Thorn: It went seven games and Williams was not really a factor in any of 'em.

Bradlee: He came up in some clutch situations and didn't come through.

Montville: When the Red Sox lost, it was all laid at Ted's feet.

Bradlee: Which was partly unfair.

Montville: The great debate was always whether Ted Williams cared about hitting and his own accomplishments, or if he cared about winning.

Flavin: I think wining mattered to him an awful lot.

Williams: I remember I went into my berth, my little compartment, and, yeah, I got in and I just broke down and started cryin'. Votto: It is really difficult to be [sigh] the queen on the chessboard.

Championship teams, they've got an arsenal, so nobody feels like they've gotta carry the load.

Ted clearly didn't have that.

Montville: But the thinkin' was, 'He's a young guy.

There'll be a lot of World Series to come,' and there were no more World Series to come.

Enberg: The 1946 World Series haunted him.

Underwood: He said it many times, 'That was the only chance I got.'

[ Tranquil tune plays ] Apte: When I first met Ted, it was 1948, and I was a freshman at the University of Miami.

I would cut botany lab, and I'd go fishing.

This one day, I see this big dude out there, casting a fly.

Looked like he was throwing a tremendously good line.

'Excuse me, sir. Are you having any luck?'

He didn't acknowledge. Didn't even hear me.

And I say it again, louder.

Still, no response, and I really say it louder, 'Are you catching any snook?!' Well, snook was the word that lit him up.

He turned to me and he said, 'Hey, what do you know about snook, bush?'

I said, 'Well, I know enough that I've caught three of 'em this morning, that were over 15 pounds, on fly.'

Well, that got his attention immediately.

Next morning, I'm sleeping in the backseat of my '41 DeSoto, and I hear a knock on my window.

[ Knocking ] I said, 'What time is it?'

He said, 'It's 5:30, bush.'

He was calling me bush.

I didn't know what that meant.

Later, I found out it meant bush league.

Well, he's drinking a cup of coffee in a go cup.

Would've been nice if he brought me one, but he didn't.

[chuckle] We got to know each other.

We were really great buddies for around 50 years of fishing together.

Williams: From the beginning of it all, I loved to fish.

I like to be on the lake.

I like to be in the outdoors.

I like the anticipation.

I guess that was it, the anticipation of what might happen.

Boggs: The one thing that fishing gives you is patience.

♪♪ Guys that swing at the first pitch a lot, I'll bet they don't fish.

Montville: He loved fly-fishing.

He loved the whole idea of makin' the flies.

Claudia: One of the first times I ever go fishing with my dad, we come back and he looks at the contents of the fish's stomach to see what the fish were eating.

Why? So that he could go downstairs into the cellar of his cabin and create a fly that looked like what the fish was eating.

And then we found his fishing logs and he would write date, time, what was the weather like, what was the fly that he used, what was the fish, how big was it?

Bradlee: He would go all over the world.

He's in two fishing halls of fame for freshwater and saltwater.

Apte: Any sport, anything, really, whether it be tying a fly, he wanted to be the best.

Flavin: It was difficult for anyone else to go fishing with him.

He would be so critical.

Emily: Bobby Doerr, oh!

What a saint he was.

He'd go fishing with Ted.

Ted would scream and yell at him and swear like a banshee at him and Bobby would just take it.

Apte: Ted had a fishing lodge on the Miramichi River and, back in the '50s, he invited me to go up there with him.

At that time, I had never fished for Atlantic salmon, and I told him, I said, 'Nah, I'm not going to go fish for one of those piddly fish.'

Some years later, I had gone to Europe and Iceland, Atlantic salmon-fishing and thought they were a great fish.

He was talkin' about going back up on the Miramichi and I said, 'Hey, Ted. You've never invited me back up there.'

He said, 'You had your effin' chance, bush, and it's all over.'

♪♪ Angell: I think he was lonely.

I think he had a difficulty making attachments.

♪♪ Bradlee: There were certain teammates that he was close to, but he seemed to be more comfortable with regular guys: cops, firemen, clubhouse boys.

Maybe, in any relationship like that, he would be the dominant figure and, maybe, therefore, more comfortable.

When his first child arrived, Ted was off fishing in Florida.

Montville: And when sports writers talked to him about it, he was not happy to talk about it.

Bradlee: He said he'd planned to be there, but the baby came two or three weeks early and he said he couldn't get a flight back, [laughing] which was probably -- [snort] which was probably baloney.

He took a lotta heat for that, but he was Ted Williams.

He was gonna do things his way.

Montville: It was sort of symbolic of Ted's domestic relations that that happened.

Bradlee: Ted was -- [laughs] Certainly couldn't have been easy to be married to him.

He was this great star, and he took full advantage of the privilege of being a star.

Ted and his first wife had a messy divorce, in which Williams tried to lower the alimony.

Threatened to retire from baseball.

He missed the first few months of the season and then, as soon as he reached a settlement with his wife, unretired [laughing] and came back.

And, again, his anger caused him great problems.

Apte: One Thanksgiving at his house -- I forgot the name of this wife.

He was getting on her pretty bad.

She started crying and stormed out of there and I said, 'Ted, come on.

Be nice. This is Thanksgiving.'

Claudia: [snaps fingers] Bang, something would trigger something and, a lot of times, if not all the time, it was something he had absolutely no control over.

[ Sinister music plays ] Communist troops have invaded Southern Korea.

In swift response, President Truman has ordered United States Sea and Air Forces to -- Bradlee: When he got out of the Marine Corps, in 1945, he stayed in the reserves.

You could earn extra money, and there was no heavy lifting.

But then comes Korea, and they needed pilots.

He couldn't believe it when he was recalled.

He hired a lawyer, and he fought it.

He approached some politicians, even a young John Kennedy.

These efforts failed and so he went back in, so this really embittered Ted.

He felt that he was being treated unfairly, that he had done his time.

Narrator: Before he left, in the seventh inning of a tied game, in his final at bat, Ted clouded a prodigious home run off Detroit's Dizzy Trout.

Ted rounded the bases with his head down.

Despite the cheers of the crowd, he refused to tip his cap.

Flavin: He was stubborn.

Ted was a stubborn guy.

Williams: I was a little hardheaded about it; just wasn't gonna do it.

Narrator: The next day, he left for Korea Bradlee: And, this time, he did see combat.

He flew scores of missions and had this one harrowing experience.

Williams: I got down too low and I got hit with small ground fire and I started a little fire going.

Bradlee: The plane was on fire.

I mean, you cannot imagine a more dangerous situation.

If he were gonna follow the strict protocol, he should've bailed out.

Montville: But he didn't wanna do that.

Bradlee: He was afraid that, if he ejected, he would cap his knees and never be able to play again, so he determined that he was gonna land this thing.

Montville: But he was headin' the wrong way.

Bradlee: Luckily, one of the guys on the mission flew up right alongside of him, could tell that he was out of radio, and so they were doing hand signals.

Williams: Without him, I'm not so sure I'd have got back into K-13 or -14, wherever the hell I landed.

Bradlee: And, making it even worse, the landing gear was stuck.

The wheels wouldn't come down.

Williams: I was scared. Certainly, I was scared, and I was mad! If I get scared, I'm mad.

Claudia: He gets mad and he looks to the sky.

Williams: I said, 'Well, if there's a goddamn... this is the time old Teddy Ballgame needs ya.'

Claudia: 'If you're up there, now would be a good time to help me.'

Williams: I don't think I had 10 seconds more in the air before things flew apart.

Montville: And he skids and fire is coming out.

Bradlee: Skidded to a stop, finally, at the very end of the runway, jumped out of the plane, [ Siren wailing ] and the thing burst into flames.

It was unbelievable.

Williams: And a guy named Woody Woodbury watches all this and he sees the colonel come up to Ted Williams and the colonel gives Ted a piece of paper and Ted signs it and gives it back to the colonel and they all go off and Woody Woodbury says to Ted, 'That was unbelievable.'

Ted said, 'You know,' he said, 'I go up there and I get my ass shot off, and that son of a bitch comes out and asks me for my autograph.'

[ Jaunty march plays ] ♪♪ Having completed serving his country for the second time in the Marine Air Corps, Ted Williams once again prepares to return to play baseball.

[ Melancholy tune plays ] Bradlee: You know, I talked to some players and some bat boys.

They said that Ted would regale them with stories about Korea and how he got screwed and everyone was out to get 'im.

Williams: I try not to bitch about it and I ain't gonna bitch about it, but I don't think that that had to be.

Flavin: When he came back, at the end of the '53 season, he hit over .400 in that short time.

He picked right up where he had left off.

Sutton: We didn't have pro football.

We didn't have TV.

The Celtics, you could buy a ticket [scoff] the day of the playoff game and get the best seat in the house.

There was the Red Sox.

That was it. Ted was my idol.

Bradlee: He was the reason that people came to the park.

The Red Sox teams of the '50s were terrible and he was the straw stirrin' the drink.

Thorn: He was a man who appeared to be playing his own game.

Kaat: 1959, I'm 20 years old and I remember turning around to my second baseman and I said, 'You believe I'm facin' Ted Williams?'

It was such a surreal experience.

Claudia: He was so larger-than-life.

Enberg: Ted was magical.

Woman: Would you describe yourself as a performer?

Williams: Yes.

Woman: You have a very nice voice. Do you sing?

[ Laughter ] Williams: No.

Man: Have you ever served a hitch in the Marines?

[ Cheer and applause ] Williams: Yeah.

Man: It's a great honor, I think, to be on the same show with Ted Williams.

Daly: Ted Williams is right!

Costas: When he walked in the room, even if you didn't know one thing about baseball, you'd say, 'That's somebody. Who's that?'

Bradlee: He was the real John Wayne.

John Wayne never went in the military.

Costas: The first time I interviewed Ted Williams, I said, 'You really are the guy that John Wayne played in all those movies.

You are John Wayne,' and he goes, 'Yeah. I know it.'

Montville: You said to yourself, 'Well, I could grow up and be one of these other players: Jimmy Piersall or Jackie Jensen or Sammy White or somebody like that, but Ted Williams...' McCovey: Even the good players on other teams, they came out and watched him take batting practice.

Everybody wanted to see Ted Williams swing the bat.

When he was 39 years old, he hit .388.

That was amazin'. Enberg: Ted Williams, in his entire major-league career, when you count hits and walks, was on base more than any other player in baseball history.

Votto: I'll look at his career numbers.

He's just so clearly better than everybody, save Babe Ruth.

There's Babe and there's Ted, like neck-and-neck, and then everybody is so far.

It's not even close.

Boggs: He is the greatest hitter that ever lived.

It's not even an argument.

Flavin: He was something that you didn't really identify with.

It was almost that he was too good.

His personality was, uh, so different.

Angell: What was the moment when he spat and then what was that famous spit, he spat at a fan?

Bradlee: During a Yankees series, he dropped a fly ball and the crowd just erupted, booing.

[ Booing ] Williams: I just was so disgusted with what was goin' on and everything about it that that was the final gesture I could make, and I let 'er fly.

Flavin: Not a good spitter, either. I mean, the spitting, it wasn't one of those major-league spits.

It was a sort of curving, little-kid spit.

Bradlee: As popular as he was, there was a minority of fans who, once they saw they could get under his skin, would taunt him.

Claudia: But then again, he'd come out the next day and he'd be like grinding his teeth down a few more millimeters and say, 'I'll show you.'

[ Fanfare plays ] Ted Williams of the Red Sox, a baseball enigma.

At times, gay, friendly, and affable; at others, grim and sullen, at war with the fans and sports writers.

But always at peace with the kids.

Bradlee: He had a good heart, Ted.

Claudia: One of the things that he always used to tell my brother and me was that we have an obligation to make something better, if you know that you can.

Bradlee: He got very involved in the Jimmy Fund, a charity in Boston that dealt with kids who had cancer.

He would say to the doctors or nurses, 'Here's my private phone number and, if you think that I can lift any kid's spirits, give me a call and I'll be there.'

Enberg: On one visit, he was with this very sick child and the boy grabs Ted's finger and won't let go and Ted motions for the nurse to move a cot over, next to the boy.

He lays down with the boy.

The boy falls asleep and Ted, with the boy still holding his finger, rests at his side.

Now, how great is that?

Bradlee: And he would insist that there be no press.

Enberg: He made it clear to everyone, and especially the press, that, 'If you write about it or take a picture of me in the hospital, then I'm just not gonna do it anymore.'

Claudia: If Dad couldn't control it, if Dad didn't understand it, couldn't fix it, it made him angry, and, every time we'd come out of that hospital, he would curse the skies because he couldn't stand it to see these young kids, who've done nothing wrong in their lives, suffer.

Bradlee: He raised millions of dollars for the Jimmy Fund and then he would also help others, like retired ballplayers who would run out of money, and he would call them up and say that he was raising money for the Jimmy Fund and the guy would say, 'Jesus, Ted, you know, I'm tapped out. I can't give you any money. Sorry.'

And he'd say, 'Goddamn it. This is Ted Williams,' you know, 'Write me a check for $10.'

So the fella would send the check and Ted would take the account number on the check and put $1,000 in the guy's account.

Costas: There was something very genuine about Ted Williams, flaws and all.

[ Lively march plays ] He played on past the age of 40, but it was ever more laborious now.

He was visibly slowing up.

[ Suspenseful music plays ] Bradlee: In 1959, he had a pinched nerve in his neck and so, for the first time in his career, his average dipped below .300.

Thorn: .254 in 1959.

Everyone said, 'He's through. He's washed up.'

Bradlee: Yawkey wanted him to retire and Ted said, 'No. I'm not goin' out that way.

I'm comin' back for a final year.'

Underwood: And he went in to see the general manager.

Enberg: Same contract, one more year, $125,000.

Bradlee: He said, 'No. I can't take the same salary as last year 'cause I had a terrible year. I'm gonna take a pay cut.'

Williams: I said, 'I'll take a $35,000 cut,' which meant I was gonna make $90,000.

Costas: And he didn't do that to make any statement.

That aligned with his view of the world: 'I don't want anything that I didn't earn, and I didn't earn that.'

Bradlee: So he came back with a chip on his shoulder, with a lot to prove.

He had a great year, capped by one of the all-time great exits in sports.

Montville: September 28, 1960, the last day at Fenway Park.

Bradlee: Wednesday afternoon, otherwise meaningless game, and Jack Fisher was the pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles.

Fisher: That day, goin' to the ballpark, it was cold, dreary.

It was terrible. It was not a good day for baseball.

Costas: Ted walks in one of his at bats and he gets two very long fly balls, but the ball wasn't carrying well that day.

Williams: They were caught out there by the fence and I hit 'em both good.

It was a dull, damp day in Boston.

Fisher: The wind was really blowing in from right field, so I really didn't think that, against that wind, he had a chance to hit it out.

Bradlee: It's the eighth inning, and he knew this was his last time at the plate.

Flavin: People realized they were suddenly seeing Ted Williams for the last time as a player.

Bradlee: There was not that big a crowd that day, only about 10,000, but they were all standing, and you knew what they wanted, and can you deliver in that situation?

[ Suspenseful music plays ] How hard is that to do?

Fisher: The first pitch was a ball.

The second pitch was a fastball and it was pretty much right down the middle of the plate and he swung and missed it.

Williams: I missed it and I, to this day, don't know how I missed that ball.

Costas: And he said, 'I can see it going through his mind: 'The old man can't get around on the fastball,' so, sure as I'm standin' here, I know that fastball's comin' again.'

Williams: I knew I was gonna get another one because he couldn't wait to say, 'Well, I'll throw this one by him.'

Bradlee: Fisher throws the ball.

[ Suspenseful music climbs ] [ Bat cracks ] [ Suspenseful music plays ] [ Cheering and applause ] [ Cheering intensifies ] [ Whistling ] ♪♪ And if there was ever gonna be a time when he would go back on his pledge of not wanting to tip his cap, that would've been it, and he said later that, as he rounded second, the thought crossed his mind.

Williams: I thought about it. I thought about it.

But, just something I couldn't quite do.

Bradlee: He just kept the head down and kept churning and went right into the dugout.

[ Cheering, whistling, and applause ] [ Melancholy tune plays ] Fisher: Of course, people were still cheerin' and asking for a curtain call and this, that, and the other, and so, I kind of fumbled around on the mound, went back, grabbed the rosin bag, took my time, giving him a chance.

Bradlee: And the umpires and his teammates and the manager, Mike Higgins, wavin' him out, 'Ted, come out.'

Fisher: I look in the dugout there and he waved to me, 'Go ahead and pitch.

I'm not goin' back out.'

Boggs: 'I'm gone.'

Angell: 'Goodbye.'

[chuckling] Over.

Bradlee: And then, Higgins had one final ploy.

It was the top of the ninth inning and Higgins yells over to Ted, 'Get out to left.'

Ted said, 'Are I just hit a home run.

You're gonna send me out on the field?'

He says, 'Yeah. Go out there.'

He was tryin' to give Williams a final curtain call.

As soon as he gets out there, they send in a substitute, so that Ted has to run all the way back.

Fans are goin' crazy again and this is his one last chance to tip his hat and he sees what's goin' on, and he runs past Pumpsie Green at shortstop and says to Pumpsie, 'Can you believe this...' [ Melancholy outro plays ] [ Poignant tune plays ] Angell: This is how a lot of American boys learn about mortality, by watching a sports figure.

You see him come up as a baby, as a rookie, becoming a young man in the game and then aging, having to work at what came naturally, and then physically failing and not being as good and fading away and retiring, all in the space of 20 years, and you say, 'Life is short.' [laughing] William Eckert: There are many who insist that Ted Williams ranks with Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb as the greatest hitters who ever lived.

[ Cheering, whistling, and applause ] Claudia: He was inducted as soon as he was eligible.

Before he went out, they had someone read his speech and, when they saw that he actually talked about the Negro League players, they were like, 'Oh, Ted, we'd rather you not mention this.'

Well, you don't tell Ted Williams what he can and cannot do.

Narrator: 'Baseball,' Ted Williams told the crowd that day, 'gives every American boy a chance to excel, not just to be as good as someone else, but to be better than someone else.'

Williams: And I hope that, someday, the names of Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson can be added as a symbol of the great Negro players that are not here only because they were not given a chance.

Flavin: You talk politics with Ted Williams, I mean, he was to the right of Attila the Hun.

Except on civil rights issues, because he saw how Mexicans were treated in San Diego.

McCovey: Soon after that speech, [laughs] they got inducted.

He had a lot to do with it.

Well, he had everything to do with them being inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Flavin: Because it was Ted Williams who said it, that's what they did.

Boggs: Beginning of my senior year, I was struggling and my father checked out 'The Science of Hitting' by Ted Williams.

Friday night, said, 'Read it.

Let me know what you think on Monday.'

Read it cover to cover, and, on Monday, he said, 'What'd you get out of it?' I said, 'Patience and discipline.'

And, from then on, I went on to hit .485 my senior year and got drafted by the Boston Red Sox.

Votto: The thing that glows, for me, out of this book and out of him is just the level of intensity and passion.

Underwood: He could tell you -- and he did, in 'The Science of Hitting' -- where your elbow should be, where your nose should be pointing.

Williams: Your hips start moving and, as your hips start opening up, your hands follow through.

Angell: He produced an amazing chart of the strike zone, giving the percentage you would get from each pitch.

Votto: Of course, I could strike a ball here.

Of course, I can strike a ball off the ground, but, really, if you think about it, the best is this rough zone.

Boggs: Work the count. Get a good pitch to hit.

When you do, keep the bat on an upward plane.

Montville: That's still the best book for a young hitter to get.

Costas: He was so far ahead. He was generations ahead.

Votto: You walk to the altar of Ted Williams, [tapping] once you really wanna invest yourself in hitting.

Williams: It's in the book.

Look at it.

[ Romantic jazz tune plays ] Bradlee: His third wife was a model named Dolores Wettach.

They met on the plane coming back from New Zealand.

Ted had gone there on some fishing excursion and she was coming back from a modeling shoot.

He fired a spitball at her.

Claudia: He writes a little note and it says, 'Who are you?'

and he crumples it up and he tosses it over to Mom.

Bradlee: She thought this was, you know, kind of fresh, but she played along. -Claudia: She writes, 'Who are you?' and just tosses it back over her head.

It was fireworks.

Bradlee: She got pregnant with their son, John-Henry, and they got married.

That was a very stormy relationship.

Claudia: My mom was the first woman with whom my dad had somewhat of an equal.

Bradlee: She never was willing to take too much of Ted's BS.

They divorced when the kids were very young.

He said to friends, 'As a husband and a father, I struck out.'

He just didn't know how to do it.

Angell: At spring training, I watched him coaching, and I've never done this before because this is something that media never does.

You never ask for an autograph.

But I picked up a ball and I said, 'Ted, I'm sorry.

I've got a 9-year-old son at home and would you...?' And he looks at me like this and he goes -- Takes the ball and he says, '[gruffly] What's his name?'

And I said, 'John Henry' and he said, 'You have a son named John Henry?' and I said, 'Yes.'

He said, 'I have a son named John-Henry.'

I didn't know this.

He wrote all over the ball.

Bradlee: Ted was doing the best he could, later in life, to make up for lost time and be the best father that he could, and he overcompensated and gave the keys to his kingdom to John-Henry, let him take over the whole memorabilia business.

Emily: And the son capitalized, which Ted wanted him to, on autographing stuff, [whispering] and I think he used him.

Bradlee: He exploited his father, yes, but he also loved his father.

Underwood: John-Henry was there to do things for him, take care of him.

Claudia: After Dad passed away, John-Henry also got very sick and ended up passing away at a very young age.

But they had a very, very tight bond.

Dad's relationships hadn't been the best with women, so when he gets his first and only son, it's like, 'This is a little boy. He's gonna undstand me.

He's my little pal.'

[ Laconic blues tune plays ] Sutton: Ted did not want to come to Boston for the All-Star Game in 1999.

He refused.

Flavin: He had had two strokes.

He couldn't get around on his own.

Sutton: Couldn't get Ted to go, so, finally, I said to Ted, 'You know, somebody just called and, if you wore their logo at the All-Star Game, they would pay you over six figures,' and he said, 'Would it help my son's business if I wore his logo?'

And I said, 'Yeah, that'd be great!'

'I'll go for my son.'

Announcer: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the greatest hitter that ever lived, number 9, Hall of Famer, baseball legend, Ted Williams!

[ Whistling and applause ] Claudia: Ted is who he is, plus, that end-of-the-century All-Star Game and they're naming the All-Century Team, and all the living members of it are on hand.

It's at Fenway Park, so, it's a virtual coronation for Ted.

Bradlee: What was most striking was that all the players crowded around him, wanted to just soak up his presence.

Angell: To get near Ted and shake his hand and tell him what he'd meant to them when they were growing up and what they thought of him as the greatest living ballplayer.

Thorn: Earlier in 1999, the man who had been the greatest living player in the prior ballot of 1969, Joe DiMaggio, died.

Ted Williams had the field to himself.

Announcer: And all the players are on the field.

Bradlee: The PA announcer was appealing to the players to please go back to your dugouts.

They wouldn't leave.

Angell: The most powerful flow of emotion between players in public I'd ever seen.

Bradlee: Ted, you could see, he was in hog heaven.

Williams: Where is he? -Tony Gwynn: He's right there.

Williams: Oh.

[ Poignant tune plays ] [ Cheering, whistling, and applause ] ♪♪ How are ya?

Bradlee: That was his crowning moment.

[ Melancholy tune plays ] Claudia: When we started caring for our dad in his later years, he learned to trust his children, that we weren't gonna let him down and we weren't gonna run from him when he got angry and threw things and pounded his fists and swore.

It didn't bother us. We understood it.

And that gave him a sense of peace, for him to allow himself to be vulnerable with us.

It was what made us feel like [crying] the greatest love we could've felt in that moment.

Narrator: On July 5, 2002, Ted Williams died in Inverness, Florida.

Montville: When I give talks about my book, I say, 'This is probably the only biography, outside of the Bible, where the character, at the end, dies, and you're not sure what happens next, you know?'

Reporter: Somewhere in this Scottsdale, Arizona, cryonics laboratory are the remains of baseball's greatest hitter.

Angell: Weirdest thing I've ever heard of.

It's kind of shocking, still.

Bradlee: Whatever precisely happened here, this was a family affair.

Sutton: They believed in it.

John-Henry Williams believed in it.

Claudia: We approached our father with this idea.

He laughed at it. He thought, 'No. That's never gonna happen.

Christ, I don't wanna hear about it.'

But, as we went on with time and he saw what his mortality was doing to his children, he needed and wanted to give us something to hold onto.

He also wanted something to hold on to.

We don't have the comforts of religion to help us through this painful time.

That whole thought process is what allowed us to get to the point where we believed, perhaps, cryonics would give us a chance, a chance, small chance, that, perhaps, one day, we might see him again.

Man: Here he is: Ted Williams.

[ Cheering, whistling, and applause ] ♪♪ Williams: I'm especially happy, though, [echoing] happy, though, to have a chance, chance so they can never write, ever again, ever again, that I was hardheaded hardheaded and never write again write again that I never tipped my hat to the crowd, crowd.

[ Laughing ] [ Cheering, whistling, and applause ] Because, today, today I tip my hat, hat to all the people in New England.

[ Cheering intensifies ] Angell: You can't bring Ted Williams back, and I don't want Ted Williams back alive.

I mean, he's alive in our conversation.

We're still talking intensely and with pleasure about Ted Williams, so, that's good enough.

Costas: He was the embodiment of the pursuit of perfection.

Votto: He represents perfection, greatness, setting out to do something and achieving it.

Thorn: He had determination; he had drive; he had intensity, and he had focus.

Bradlee: He had a pregame routine in the clubhouse.

He would strip down to his skivvies and go up to a floor-length mirror and just start limbering up, swingin' the bat, take a few swings and say, 'I'm Ted...Williams, and I'm the greatest... hitter who ever lived.'

[ Laughing ] [ Suspenseful music climbs ] ♪♪ -'Ted Williams: The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived' is available on DVD.

To order, visit or call 1-800-PLAY-PBS.

This program is also available for download on iTunes.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ [ Toy squeaks ] ♪♪ -I can't believe it.

♪♪ [ Bat cracks ] [ Indistinct talking ] [ Bat cracks ] [ Crowd cheering ]