World War II:
Williams served as a Naval Aviator during World War II and the Korean War. Unlike many other major league players, he did not spend all of his war time playing on service teams. Williams had been classified 3-A by Selective Service prior to the war, a dependency deferment because he was his mother's sole means of financial support. When his classification was changed to (1-A) following the American entry into World War II, Williams appealed to his local draft board. The draft board ruled that his draft status should not have been changed. He made a public statement that once he had built up his mother's trust fund, he intended to enlist. Even so, criticism in the media, including withdrawal of an endorsement contract by Quaker Oats, resulted in his enlistment in the U.S. Navy Reserve on May 22, 1942.
Williams did not opt for an easy assignment playing baseball for the Navy, but rather joined the V-5 program to become a Naval aviator. Williams was first sent to the Navy's Preliminary Ground School at Amherst College for six months of academic instruction in various subjects including math and navigation, where he achieved a 3.85 grade point average.
Williams was talented as a pilot, and so enjoyed it that he had to be ordered by the Navy to leave training to personally accept his American League 1942 Major League Baseball Triple Crown. Williams' Red Sox teammate, Johnny Pesky, who went into the same aviation training program, said this about Williams: "He mastered intricate problems in fifteen minutes which took the average cadet an hour, and half of the other cadets there were college grads." Pesky again described Williams' acumen in the advance training, for which Pesky personally did not qualify: "I heard Ted literally tore the sleeve target to shreds with his angle dives. He'd shoot from wingovers, zooms, and barrel rolls, and after a few passes the sleeve was ribbons. At any rate, I know he broke the all-time record for hits." Ted went to Jacksonville for a course in aerial gunnery, the combat pilot's payoff test, and broke all the records in reflexes, coordination, and visual-reaction time. "From what I heard. Ted could make a plane and its six 'pianos' (machine guns) play like a symphony orchestra", Pesky says. "From what they said, his reflexes, coordination, and visual reaction made him a built-in part of the machine."
Williams completed pre-flight training in Athens, Georgia, his primary training at NAS Bunker Hill, Indiana, and his advanced flight training at NAS Pensacola. He received his gold Naval Aviator wings and his commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps on May 2, 1944.
Williams served as a flight instructor at the Naval Air Station Pensacola teaching young pilots to fly the complicated F4U Corsair fighter plane. Williams was in Pearl Harbor awaiting orders to join the Fleet in the Western Pacific when the War in the Pacific ended. He finished the war in Hawaii, and then he was released from active duty on January 12, 1946, but he did remain in the Marine Corps Reserve.
On May 1, 1952, at the age of 33, Williams was recalled to active duty for service in the Korean War. He had not flown any aircraft for about eight years but he turned down all offers to sit out the war in comfort as a member of a service baseball team. Nevertheless, Williams was somewhat resentful of being called up, which he admitted years later, particularly regarding the Navy's odd policy of calling up Inactive Reservists rather than members of the Active Reserve.
After eight weeks of refresher flight training and qualification in the F9F Panther jet fighter at the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, Williams was assigned to VMF-311, Marine Aircraft Group 33 (MAG-33), based at the K-3 airfield in Pohang, South Korea.
On February 16, 1953, Williams was part of a 35-plane air raid against a tank and infantry training school just south of Pyongyang, North Korea. During the mission, a piece of flak knocked out his hydraulics and electrical systems, causing Williams to have to "limp" his plane back to K-13, a U.S. Air Force airfield close to the front lines. For his actions of this day, he was awarded the Air Medal.
Williams stayed on K-13 for several days while his plane was being repaired. Because he was so popular, GIs and airmen from all around the base came to see him and his plane. After it was repaired, Williams flew his plane back to his Marine Corps airfield.
In Korea, Williams flew 39 combat missions before being withdrawn from flight status in June 1953 after a hospitalization for pneumonia. This resulted in the discovery of an inner ear infection that disqualified him from flight status. During the Korean War, Williams also served in the same Marine Corps unit with John Glenn; the future astronaut described Williams as one of the best pilots he knew. In the last half of his missions, Williams was flying as Glenn's wingman.
Williams likely would have approached or exceeded Babe Ruth's home run record if he had not served in the military, and might have set the record for career RBIs as well, exceeding Hank Aaron's total. While the absences in the Marine Corps took almost five years out of his baseball career, he never publicly complained about the time devoted to service in the Marine Corps. His biographer Leigh Montville argued that Williams was not happy about being pressed into service in South Korea, but he did what he thought was his patriotic duty.
Ted Williams's number 9 was retired by the Boston Red Sox in 1984.
After retirement from play, Williams helped new left fielder Carl Yastrzemski in hitting. He then served as manager of the Washington Senators, from 1969-1971, then continued with the team when they became the Texas Rangers after the 1971 season. Williams' best season as a manager was 1969 when he led the expansion Senators to an 86-76 record in the team's only winning season in Washington. He was chosen "Manager of the Year" after that season. Like many great players, Williams became impatient with ordinary athletes' abilities and attitudes, particularly those of pitchers, whom he admitted he never respected. He occasionally appeared at Red Sox spring training as a guest hitting instructor. Williams would also go into a partnership with friend Al Cassidy to form the Ted Williams Baseball Camp in Lakeville, Massachusetts. It was not uncommon to find Williams fishing in the pond at the camp. The area now is owned by the town and a few of the buildings still stand. In the main lodge one can still see memorabilia from Williams' playing days.
On the subject of pitchers, in Ted's autobiography written with John Underwood, Ted opines regarding Bob Lemon (a sinker-ball specialist) pitching for Cleveland Indians around 1951: "I have to rate Lemon as one of the very best pitchers I ever faced. His ball was always moving, hard, sinking, fast-breaking. You could never really uhmmmph with Lemon."
Williams was much more successful in fishing. An avid and expert fly fisherman and deep-sea fisherman, he spent many summers after baseball fishing the Miramichi River, in Miramichi, New Brunswick, Canada. Williams was named to the International Game Fish Association Hall of Fame in 2000. Williams, Jim Brown, and Cal Hubbard are the only athletes to be inducted into the Halls of Fame of more than one professional sport. Shortly after Williams' death, conservative pundit Steve Sailer wrote:
The baseball slugger was possibly the most technically proficient American of the 20th Century, as his mastery of three highly different callings demonstrates... Can you think of anybody else who was #1 in America in his main career hitting a baseball, probably Top 10 in his retirement hobby fishing, and roughly Top 1000 in his weekend job fighter pilot? John Glenn springs to mind as military pilot, astronaut, and Senator, but each new career flowed from the previous one. The same is true for Jimmy Doolittle. Williams' three careers, in contrast, were uniquely disparate.
Williams reached an extensive deal with Sears, lending his name and talent toward marketing, developing, and endorsing a line of in-house sports equipment - such as the "Ted Williams" edition Gamefisher aluminum boat and 7.5hp "Ted Williams" edition motor, as well as fishing, hunting, and baseball equipment. Williams continued his involvement in the Jimmy Fund, later losing a brother to leukemia, and spending much of his spare time, effort, and money in support of the cancer organization.
In his later years, Williams became a fixture at autograph shows and card shows after his son (by his third wife), John Henry Williams, took control of his career, becoming his de facto manager. The younger Williams provided structure to his father's business affairs, exposed forgeries that were flooding the memorabilia market, and rationed his father's public appearances and memorabilia signings to maximize their earnings.
One of Ted Williams' final, and most memorable, public appearances was at the 1999 All-Star Game in Boston. Able to walk only a short distance, Williams was brought to the pitcher's mound in a golf cart. He proudly waved his cap to the crowd -- a gesture he had never done as a player. Fans responded with a standing ovation that lasted several minutes. At the pitcher's mound he was surrounded by players from both teams, including fellow Red Sox player Nomar Garciaparra. Later in the year, he was among the members of the Major League Baseball All-Century Team introduced to the crowd at Turner Field in Atlanta prior to Game two of the World Series.
On May 4, 1944, Williams married Doris Soule, daughter of his hunting guide. Their daughter, Barbara Joyce ("Bobbi Jo"), was born on January 28, 1948, while Williams was fishing in Florida. They divorced in 1954. Williams married the socialite model Lee Howard on September 10, 1961 and they were divorced in 1967.
Williams married Dolores Wettach, a former Miss Vermont and Vogue model, in 1968. Their son John-Henry was born on August 27, 1968, followed by daughter Claudia, on October 8, 1971. They were divorced in 1972.
Williams lived with Louise Kaufman for twenty years until her death in 1993. In his book, Cramer called her the love of Williams' life. After his death, her sons filed suit to recover her furniture from Williams' condominium as well as a half-interest in the condominium they claimed he gave her.
Williams had a strong respect for General Douglas MacArthur, referring to him as his "idol". For Williams' 40th birthday, MacArthur sent him an oil painting of himself with the inscription "To Ted Williams -- not only America's greatest baseball player, but a great American who served his country. Your friend, Douglas MacArthur. General U.S. Army."
William's son, John-Henry, and Williams' brother, Danny, both died of leukemia.
In his last years, Williams suffered from cardiomyopathy. He had a pacemaker implanted in November 2000 and he underwent open-heart surgery in January 2001. After suffering a series of strokes and congestive heart failure, he died of cardiac arrest at the age of 83 on July 5, 2002, at Citrus Memorial Hospital, Inverness, Florida, near his home in Citrus Hills, Florida.
Though his will stated his desire to be cremated and his ashes scattered in the Florida Keys, Williams' son John-Henry and youngest daughter Claudia chose to have his remains frozen cryonically.
Ted's eldest daughter, Bobby-Jo Ferrell, brought suit to have her father's wishes recognized. John-Henry's lawyer then produced an informal "family pact" signed by Ted, Claudia, and John-Henry, in which they agreed "to be put into biostasis after we die" to "be able to be together in the future, even if it is only a chance." Bobby-Jo and her attorney, Spike Fitzpatrick (former attorney of Ted Williams), contended that the family pact, which was scribbled on an ink-stained napkin, was forged by John-Henry and/or Claudia. Fitzpatrick and Ferrell believed that the signature was not obtained legally. Laboratory analysis proved that the signature was genuine. John-Henry said that his father was a believer in science and was willing to try cryonics if it held the possibility of reuniting the family.
Though the family pact upset some friends, family and fans, a public plea for financial support of the lawsuit by Ferrell produced little result. Citing financial difficulties, Ferrell dropped her lawsuit in exchange that a $645,000 trust fund left by Williams would immediately pay the sum out equally to the three children. Inquiries to cryonics organizations increased after the publicity from the case.
In Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero, author Leigh Montville claims that the family cryonics pact was a practice Ted Williams autograph on a plain piece of paper, around which the agreement had later been hand written. The pact document was signed "Ted Williams", the same as his autographs, whereas he would always sign his legal documents "Theodore Williams", according to Montville. However, Claudia testified to the authenticity of the document in a sworn affidavit. Ted's two 24-hour private caregivers who were with him the entire period the note was said to have been created also stated in sworn affidavits that John-Henry and Claudia were never present at any time for the note to be produced.
Following John-Henry's unexpected illness and death from acute myelogenous leukemia on March 6, 2004, John-Henry's body was also transported to Alcor, in fulfillment of the family agreement.
Awards and recognition:
In 1954, Williams was also inducted by the San Diego Hall of Champions into the Breitbard Hall of Fame honoring San Diego's finest athletes both on and off the playing surface.
Williams was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on July 25, 1966. In his induction speech, Williams included a statement calling for the recognition of the great Negro Leagues players: "I've been a very lucky guy to have worn a baseball uniform, and I hope some day the names of Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson in some way can be added as a symbol of the great Negro players who are not here only because they weren't given a chance."
Williams was referring to two of the most famous names in the Negro Leagues, who were not given the opportunity to play in the Major Leagues before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947. Gibson died early in 1947 and thus never played in the majors; and Paige's brief major league stint came long past his prime as a player. This powerful and unprecedented statement from the Hall of Fame podium was "a first crack in the door that ultimately would open and include Paige and Gibson and other Negro League stars in the shrine." Paige was the first inducted in 1971. Gibson and others followed, starting in 1972 and continuing off and on into the 21st Century.
On November 18, 1991, President George H. W. Bush presented Williams with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the US.
The Ted Williams Tunnel in Boston, Massachusetts, carrying 1.6 miles of the final 2.3 miles of Interstate 90 under Boston Harbor, opened in December 1995, and Ted Williams Parkway (California State Route 56) in San Diego County, California, opened in 1992, were named in his honor while he was still alive.
The Tampa Bay Rays home field, Tropicana Field, installed the Ted Williams Museum (formerly in Hernando, Florida, 1994-2006) behind the left field fence. From the Tampa Bay Rays website: "The Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame brings a special element to the Tropicana Field. Fans can view an array of different artifacts and pictures of the 'Greatest hitter that ever lived.' These memorable displays range from Ted Williams' days in the military through his professional playing career. This museum is dedicated to some of the greatest players to ever 'lace 'em up,' including Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris."
At the time of his retirement, Williams ranked third all-time in home runs (behind Babe Ruth and Jimmie Foxx), seventh in RBIs (after Ruth, Cap Anson, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb, Foxx, and Mel Ott; Stan Musial passed Williams in 1962), and seventh in batting average (behind Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Lefty O'Doul, Ed Delahanty and Tris Speaker). His career batting average is the highest of any player who played his entire career in the live-ball era following 1920.
Williams was also second to Ruth in career slugging percentage, where he remains today, and first in on-base percentage. He was also second to Ruth in career walks, but has since dropped to fourth place behind Barry Bonds and Rickey Henderson. Williams remains the career leader in walks per plate appearance.
Most modern statistical analyses place Williams, along with Ruth and Bonds, among the three most potent hitters to have played the game. Williams' baseball season of 1941 is often considered favorably with the greatest seasons of Ruth and Bonds in terms of various offensive statistical measures such as slugging, on-base and "offensive winning percentage." As a further indication, of the ten best seasons for OPS, short for On-Base Plus Slugging Percentage, a popular modern measure of offensive productivity, four each were achieved by Ruth and Bonds, and two by Williams.
Although Williams' career did not overlap with that of Ruth or Bonds, a direct comparison with another great hitter, Hank Aaron, is possible. From 1955 to 1960, Williams maintained an average OPS of 1.092, as compared with .950 for Aaron. Williams' age (37-42) was well past the prime of most hitters, but he still managed to hit .388 at the age of 39. Although Aaron (age 21-26) recorded only one of his five best seasons, their averages are not too far from the career averages of the two baseball players.
In 1999, Williams was ranked as number eight on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players, where he was the highest-ranking left fielder.
Military and civilian decorations and awards:
Williams received the following decorations and awards:
Naval Aviator insignia
Air Medal with two gold 5/16 inch stars
Navy Unit Commendation
Presidential Medal of Freedom
American Campaign Medal
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with service star
World War II Victory Medal
Navy Occupation Service Medal
National Defense Service Medal
Korean Service Medal with two service stars
Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation
United Nations Service Medal
Republic of Korea War Service Medal
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license