[Congressional Record Volume 156, Number 132 (Tuesday, September 28, 2010)]
[Pages S7609-S7612]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]

                        REMEMBERING TED WILLIAMS

 Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, baseball celebrates ``walk off'' 
home runs, the four baggers that bring a game to an end. But 50 years 
ago today, the greatest hitter who ever lived, No. 9, Ted Williams, hit 
the ultimate ``walk off'' homer. After 21 seasons with our Red Sox, 
``The Kid'' homered deep into right field in his very last at bat. At 
42, despite the toll of nagging injuries, some of which dated back to 
his combat tours, Ted lofted the ball into the right field bleachers, 
not all that far from the spot where he hit the longest homerun in the 
history of Fenway Park at 502 feet. To this day the record stands and 
the seat in those bleachers is memorialized in red. This home run might 
not have been the longest but it was a fitting farewell to the game he 
loved so much--and excelled at like no other. He was bigger than life.
  We revered Ted Williams for many reasons--for what he did on the 
field, and off of it as well. It was not just his lifelong commitment 
to the Jimmy Fund, but the selfless way he twice walked away from 
baseball and served his country in uniform in World War II and in Korea 
where he was wingman to another icon, John Glenn. He was a two time 
American League Most Valuable Player, boasted a career batting average 
of .344, an on base percentage of .551, lead the league in batting six 
times, and hammered 521 home runs. Ted Williams was guts and grit 
personified--and all of Red Sox Nation was grateful for the special way 
he welcomed us into his hearts in his final years, at last tipping his 
cap to the fans of Boston, and letting us say goodbye to him one last 
time at the 1999 All Star Game in Boston when--on the Fenway mound--he 
was surrounded by the great players of the 20th century who were in awe 
of our own `Splendid Splinter.' It was one final moment of magic in a 
career--and life--seemingly ripped from a story-book.
  But it was that last home run that John Updike remembers in the 
extraordinary ``Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu,'' an essay that captures the 
greatness of Ted Williams far better than any of us could--and still 
today, 50 years later, speaks to the Red Sox faithful, and baseball 
fans across the country. I ask to have this essay printed in the 
Record, and I thank the Senate for taking time today to remember an 
American icon--Boston's own Ted Williams.

                         Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu

                            (By John Updike)

       Fenway Park, in Boston, is a lyric little bandbox of a 
     ballpark. Everything is painted green and seems in curiously 
     sharp focus, like the inside of an old-fashioned peeping-type 
     Easter egg. It was built in 1912 and rebuilt in 1934, and 
     offers, as do most Boston artifacts, a compromise between 
     Man's Euclidean determinations and Nature's beguiling 
     irregularities. Its right field is one of the deepest in the 
     American League, while its left field is the shortest; the 
     high left-field wall, three hundred and fifteen feet from 
     home plate along the foul line, virtually thrusts its surface 
     at right-handed hitters. On the afternoon of Wednesday, 
     September 28th, as I took a seat behind third base, a 
     uniformed groundkeeper was treading the top of this wall, 
     picking batting-practice home runs out of the screen, like a 
     mushroom gatherer seen in Wordsworthian perspective on the 
     verge of a cliff. The day was overcast, chill, and 
     uninspirational. The Boston team was the worst in twenty-
     seven seasons. A jangling medley of incompetent youth and 
     aging competence, the Red Sox were finishing in seventh place 
     only because the Kansas City Athletics had locked them out of 
     the cellar. They were scheduled to play the Baltimore 
     Orioles, a much nimbler blend of May and December, who had 
     been dumped from pennant contention a week before by the 
     insatiable Yankees. I, and 10,453 others, had shown up 
     primarily because this was the Red Sox's last home game of 
     the season, and therefore the last time in all eternity that 
     their regular left fielder, known to the headlines as TED, 
     KID, SPLINTER, THUMPER, TW, and, most cloyingly, MISTER 
     WONDERFUL, would play in Boston. ``WHAT WILL WE DO WITHOUT 
     TED? HUB FANS ASK'' ran the headline on a newspaper being 
     read by a bulb-nosed cigar smoker a few rows away. Williams' 
     retirement had been announced, doubted (he had been 
     threatening retirement for years), confirmed by Tom Yawkey, 
     the Red Sox owner, and at last widely accepted as the sad but 
     probable truth. He was forty-two and had redeemed his abysmal 
     season of 1959 with a--considering his advanced age--fine 
     one. He had been giving away his gloves and bats and had 
     grudgingly consented to a sentimental ceremony today. This 
     was not necessarily his last game; the Red Sox were scheduled 
     to travel to New York and wind up the season with three games 
       I arrived early. The Orioles were hitting fungos on the 
     field. The day before, they had spitefully smothered the Red 
     Sox, 17-4, and neither their faces nor their drab gray 
     visiting-team uniforms seemed very gracious. I

[[Page S7610]]

     wondered who had invited them to the party. Between our heads 
     and the lowering clouds a frenzied organ was thundering 
     through, with an appositeness perhaps accidental, ``You 
     maaaade me love you, I didn't wanna do it, I didn't wanna do 
     it . . .''
       The affair between Boston and Ted Williams has been no mere 
     summer romance; it has been a marriage, composed of spats, 
     mutual disappointments, and, toward the end, a mellowing 
     hoard of shared memories. It falls into three stages, which 
     may be termed Youth, Maturity, and Age; or Thesis, 
     Antithesis, and Synthesis; or Jason, Achilles, and Nestor.
       First, there was the by now legendary epoch when the young 
     bridegroom came out of the West, announced ``All I want out 
     of life is that when I walk down the street folks will say 
     `There goes the greatest hitter who ever lived.' '' The 
     dowagers of local journalism attempted to give elementary 
     deportment lessons to this child who spake as a god, and to 
     their horror were themselves rebuked. Thus began the long 
     exchange of backbiting, hat-flipping, booing, and spitting 
     that has distinguished Williams' public relations. The 
     spitting incidents of 1957 and 1958 and the similar dockside 
     courtesies that Williams has now and then extended to the 
     grandstand should be judged against this background: the 
     left-field stands at Fenway for twenty years have held a 
     large number of customers who have bought their way in 
     primarily for the privilege of showering abuse on Williams. 
     Greatness necessarily attracts debunkers, but in Williams' 
     case the hostility has been systematic and unappeasable. His 
     basic offense against the fans has been to wish that they 
     weren't there. Seeking a perfectionist's vacuum, he has 
     quixotically desired to sever the game from the ground of 
     paid spectatorship and publicity that supports it. Hence his 
     refusal to tip his cap to the crowd or turn the other cheek 
     to newsmen. It has been a costly theory--it has probably cost 
     him, among other evidences of good will, two Most Valuable 
     Player awards, which are voted by reporters--but he has held 
     to it from his rookie year on. While his critics, oral and 
     literary, remained beyond the reach of his discipline, the 
     opposing pitchers were accessible, and he spanked them to the 
     tune of .406 in 1941. He slumped to .356 in 1942 and went off 
     to war.
       In 1946, Williams returned from three years as a Marine 
     pilot to the second of his baseball avatars, that of 
     Achilles, the hero of incomparable prowess and beauty who 
     nevertheless was to be found sulking in his tent while the 
     Trojans (mostly Yankees) fought through to the ships. Yawkey, 
     a timber and mining maharajah, had surrounded his central 
     jewel with many gems of slightly lesser water, such as Bobby 
     Doerr, Dom DiMaggio, Rudy York, Birdie Tebbetts, and Johnny 
     Pesky. Throughout the late forties, the Red Sox were the best 
     paper team in baseball, yet they had little three-dimensional 
     to show for it, and if this was a tragedy, Williams was 
     Hamlet. A succinct review of the indictment--and a fair 
     sample of appreciative sports-page prose--appeared the very 
     day of Williams' valedictory, in a column by Huck Finnegan in 
     the Boston American (no sentimentalist, Huck):
       Williams' career, in contrast [to Babe Ruth's] has been a 
     series of failures except for his averages. He flopped in the 
     only World Series he ever played in (1946) when he batted 
     only .200. He flopped in the playoff game with Cleveland in 
     1948. He flopped in the final game of the 1949 season with 
     the pennant hinging on the outcome (Yanks 5, Sox 3). He 
     flopped in 1950 when he returned to the lineup after a two-
     month absence and ruined the morale of a club that seemed 
     pennant-bound under Steve O'Neill. It has always been 
     Williams' records first, the team second, and the Sox non-
     winning record is proof enough of that.
       There are answers to all this, of course. The fatal 
     weakness of the great Sox slugging teams was not-quite-good-
     enough pitching rather than Williams' failure to hit a home 
     run every time he came to bat. Again, Williams' depressing 
     effect on his teammates has never been proved. Despite ample 
     coaching to the contrary, most insisted that they liked him. 
     He has been generous with advice to any player who asked for 
     it. In an increasingly combative baseball atmosphere, he 
     continued to duck beanballs docilely. With umpires he was 
     gracious to a fault. This courtesy itself annoyed his 
     critics, whom there was no pleasing. And against the ten 
     crucial games (the seven World Series games with the St. 
     Louis Cardinals, the 1948 playoff with the Cleveland Indians, 
     and the two-game series with the Yankees at the end of the 
     1949 season, winning either one of which would have given the 
     Red Sox the pennant) that make up the Achilles' heel of 
     Williams' record, a mass of statistics can be set showing 
     that day in and day out he was no slouch in the clutch. The 
     correspondence columns of the Boston papers now and then 
     suffer a sharp flurry of arithmetic on this score; indeed, 
     for Williams to have distributed all his hits so they did 
     nobody else any good would constitute a feat of placement 
     unparalleled in the annals of selfishness.
       Whatever residue of truth remains of the Finnegan charge 
     those of us who love Williams must transmute as best we can, 
     in our own personal crucibles. My personal memories of 
     Williams begin when I was a boy in Pennsylvania, with two 
     last-place teams in Philadelphia to keep me company. For me, 
     ``W'ms, lf'' was a figment of the box scores who always 
     seemed to be going 3-for-5. He radiated, from afar, the hard 
     blue glow of high purpose. I remember listening over the 
     radio to the All-Star Game of 1946, in which Williams hit two 
     singles and two home runs, the second one off a Rip Sewell 
     ``blooper'' pitch; it was like hitting a balloon out of the 
     park. I remember watching one of his home runs from the 
     bleachers of Shibe Park; it went over the first baseman's 
     head and rose meticulously along a straight line and was 
     still rising when it cleared the fence. The trajectory seemed 
     qualitatively different from anything anyone else might hit. 
     For me, Williams is the classic ballplayer of the game on a 
     hot August weekday, before a small crowd, when the only thing 
     at stake is the tissue-thin difference between a thing done 
     well and a thing done ill. Baseball is a game of the long 
     season, of relentless and gradual averaging-out. 
     Irrelevance--since the reference point of most individual 
     games is remote and statistical--always threatens its 
     interest, which can be maintained not by the occasional 
     heroics that sportswriters feed upon but by players who 
     always care; who care, that is to say, about themselves and 
     their art. Insofar as the clutch hitter is not a 
     sportswriter's myth, he is a vulgarity, like a writer who 
     writes only for money. It may be that, compared to managers' 
     dreams such as Joe DiMaggio and the always helpful Stan 
     Musial, Williams is an icy star. But of all team sports, 
     baseball, with its graceful intermittences of action, its 
     immense and tranquil field sparsely settled with poised men 
     in white, its dispassionate mathematics, seems to me best 
     suited to accommodate, and be ornamented by, a loner. It is 
     an essentially lonely game. No other player visible to my 
     generation has concentrated within himself so much of the 
     sport's poignance, has so assiduously refined his natural 
     skills, has so constantly brought to the plate that intensity 
     of competence that crowds the throat with joy.
       By the time I went to college, near Boston, the lesser 
     stars Yawkey had assembled around Williams had faded, and his 
     craftsmanship, his rigorous pride, had become itself a kind 
     of heroism. This brittle and temperamental player developed 
     an unexpected quality of persistence. He was always coming 
     back--back from Korea, back from a broken collarbone, a 
     shattered elbow, a bruised heel, back from drastic bouts of 
     flu and ptomaine poisoning. Hardly a season went by without 
     some enfeebling mishap, yet he always came back, and always 
     looked like himself. The delicate mechanism of timing and 
     power seemed locked, shockproof, in some case outside his 
     body. In addition to injuries, there were a heavily 
     publicized divorce, and the usual storms with the press, and 
     the Williams Shift--the maneuver, custom-built by Lou 
     Boudreau, of the Cleveland Indians, whereby three infielders 
     were concentrated on the right side of the infield, where a 
     left-handed pull hitter like Williams generally hits the 
     ball. Williams could easily have learned to punch singles 
     through the vacancy on his left and fattened his average 
     hugely. This was what Ty Cobb, the Einstein of average, told 
     him to do. But the game had changed since Cobb; Williams 
     believed that his value to the club and to the game was as a 
     slugger, so he went on pulling the ball, trying to blast it 
     through three men, and paid the price of perhaps fifteen 
     points of lifetime average. Like Ruth before him, he bought 
     the occasional home run at the cost of many directed 
     singles--a calculated sacrifice certainly not, in the case of 
     a hitter as average-minded as Williams, entirely selfish.
       After a prime so harassed and hobbled, Williams was granted 
     by the relenting fates a golden twilight. He became at the 
     end of his career perhaps the best old hitter of the century. 
     The dividing line came between the 1956 and the 1957 seasons. 
     In September of the first year, he and Mickey Mantle were 
     contending for the batting championship. Both were hitting 
     around .350, and there was no one else near them. The season 
     ended with a three-game series between the Yankees and the 
     Sox, and, living in New York then, I went up to the Stadium. 
     Williams was slightly shy of the four hundred at-bats needed 
     to qualify; the fear was expressed that the Yankee pitchers 
     would walk him to protect Mantle. Instead, they pitched to 
     him--a wise decision. He looked terrible at the plate, tired 
     and discouraged and unconvincing. He never looked very good 
     to me in the Stadium. (Last week, in Life, Williams, a 
     sportswriter himself now, wrote gloomily of the Stadium, 
     ``There's the bigness of it. There are those high stands and 
     all those people smoking--and, of course, the shadows. . . . 
     It takes at least one series to get accustomed to the Stadium 
     and even then you're not sure.'') The final outcome in 
     1956 was Mantle .353, Williams .345.
       The next year, I moved from New York to New England, and it 
     made all the difference. For in September of 1957, in the 
     same situation, the story was reversed. Mantle finally hit 
     .365; it was the best season of his career. But Williams, 
     though sick and old, had run away from him. A bout of flu had 
     laid him low in September. He emerged from his cave in the 
     Hotel Somerset haggard but irresistible; he hit four 
     successive pinch-hit home runs. ``I feel terrible,'' he 
     confessed, ``but every time I take a swing at the ball it 
     goes out of the park.'' He ended the season with thirty-eight 
     home runs and an average of .388, the highest in either 
     league since his own .406, and, coming from a decrepit man of 
     thirty-nine, an even more supernal figure. With eight or so 
     of the ``leg hits'' that a younger man would have beaten out, 
     it would have been .400. And the next year, Williams, who in 
     1949 and 1953 had lost batting

[[Page S7611]]

     championships by decimal whiskers to George Kell and Mickey 
     Vernon, sneaked in behind his teammate Pete Runnels and 
     filched his sixth title, a bargain at .328.
       In 1959, it seemed all over. The dinosaur thrashed around 
     in the .200 swamp for the first half of the season, and was 
     even benched (``rested,'' Manager Mike Higgins tactfully 
     said). Old foes like the late Bill Cunningham began to offer 
     batting tips. Cunningham thought Williams was jiggling his 
     elbows; in truth, Williams' neck was so stiff he could hardly 
     turn his head to look at the pitcher. When he swung, it 
     looked like a Calder mobile with one thread cut; it reminded 
     you that since 1953 Williams' shoulders had been wired 
     together. A solicitous pall settled over the sports pages. In 
     the two decades since Williams had come to Boston, his status 
     had imperceptibly shifted from that of a naughty prodigy to 
     that of a municipal monument. As his shadow in the record 
     books lengthened, the Red Sox teams around him declined, and 
     the entire American League seemed to be losing life and color 
     to the National. The inconsistency of the new superstars--
     Mantle, Colavito, and Kaline--served to make Williams appear 
     all the more singular. And off the field, his private 
     philanthropy--in particular, his zealous chairmanship of the 
     Jimmy Fund, a charity for children with cancer--gave him a 
     civic presence somewhat like that of Richard Cardinal 
     Cushing. In religion, Williams appears to be a humanist, and 
     a selective one at that, but he and the Cardinal, when their 
     good works intersect and they appear in the public eye 
     together, make a handsome and heartening pair.
       Humiliated by his '59 season, Williams determined, once 
     more, to come back. I, as a specimen Williams partisan, was 
     both glad and fearful. All baseball fans believe in miracles; 
     the question is, how many do you believe in? He looked like a 
     ghost in spring training. Manager Jurges warned us ahead of 
     time that if Williams didn't come through he would be 
     benched, just like anybody else. As it turned out, it was 
     Jurges who was benched. Williams entered the 1960 season 
     needing eight home runs to have a lifetime total of 500; 
     after one time at bat in Washington, he needed seven. For a 
     stretch, he was hitting a home run every second game that he 
     played. He passed Lou Gehrig's lifetime total, then the 
     number 500, then Mel Ott's total, and finished with 521, 
     thirteen behind Jimmy Foxx, who alone stands between Williams 
     and Babe Ruth's unapproachable 714. The summer was a 
     statistician's picnic. His two-thousandth walk came and went, 
     his eighteen-hundredth run batted in, his sixteenth All-Star 
     Game. At one point, he hit a home run off a pitcher, Don Lee, 
     off whose father, Thornton Lee, he had hit a home run a 
     generation before. The only comparable season for a forty-
     two-year-old man was Ty Cobb's in 1928. Cobb batted .323 and 
     hit one homer. Williams batted .316 but hit twenty-nine 
       In sum, though generally conceded to be the greatest hitter 
     of his era, he did not establish himself as ``the greatest 
     hitter who ever lived.'' Cobb, for average, and Ruth, for 
     power, remain supreme. Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, Joe Jackson, and 
     Lefty O'Doul, among players since 1900, have higher lifetime 
     averages than Williams' .344. Unlike Foxx, Gehrig, Hack 
     Wilson, Hank Greenberg, and Ralph Kiner, Williams never came 
     close to matching Babe Ruth's season home-run total of sixty. 
     In the list of major-league batting records, not one is held 
     by Williams. He is second in walks drawn, third in home runs, 
     fifth in lifetime averages, sixth in runs batted in, eighth 
     in runs scored and in total bases, fourteenth in doubles, and 
     thirtieth in hits. But if we allow him merely average seasons 
     for the four-plus seasons he lost to two wars, and add 
     another season for the months he lost to injuries, we get a 
     man who in all the power totals would be second, and not a 
     very distant second, to Ruth. And if we further allow that 
     these years would have been not merely average but prime 
     years, if we allow for all the months when Williams was 
     playing in sub-par condition, if we permit his early and 
     later years in baseball to be some sort of index of what the 
     middle years could have been, if we give him a right-field 
     fence that is not, like Fenway's, one of the most distant in 
     the league, and if--the least excusable ``if''--we imagine 
     him condescending to outsmart the Williams Shift, we can 
     defensibly assemble, like a colossus induced from the sizable 
     fragments that do remain, a statistical figure not 
     incommensurate with his grandiose ambition. From the 
     statistics that are on the books, a good case can be made 
     that in the combination of power and average Williams is 
     first; nobody else ranks so high in both categories. Finally, 
     there is the witness of the eyes; men whose memories go back 
     to Shoeless Joe Jackson--another unlucky natural--rank him 
     and Williams together as the best-looking hitters they have 
     seen. It was for our last look that ten thousand of us had 
       Two girls, one of them with pert buckteeth and eyes as 
     black as vest buttons, the other with white skin and flesh-
     colored hair, like an underdeveloped photograph of a redhead, 
     came and sat on my right. On my other side was one of those 
     frowning, chestless young-old men who can frequently be seen, 
     often wearing sailor hats, attending ball games alone. He did 
     not once open his program but instead tapped it, rolled up, 
     on his knee as he gave the game his disconsolate attention. A 
     young lady, with freckles and a depressed, dainty nose that 
     by an optical illusion seemed to thrust her lips forward for 
     a kiss, sauntered down into the box seats and with striking 
     aplomb took a seat right behind the roof of the Oriole 
     dugout. She wore a blue coat with a Northeastern University 
     emblem sewed to it. The girls beside me took it into their 
     heads that this was Williams' daughter. She looked too old to 
     me, and why would she be sitting behind the visitors' dugout? 
     On the other hand, from the way she sat there, staring at the 
     sky and French-inhaling, she clearly was somebody. Other fans 
     came and eclipsed her from view. The crowd looked less like a 
     weekday ballpark crowd than like the folks you might find in 
     Yellowstone National Park, or emerging from automobiles at 
     the top of scenic Mount Mansfield. There were a lot of 
     competitively well-dressed couples of tourist age, and not a 
     few babes in arms. A row of five seats in front of me was 
     abruptly filled with a woman and four children, the youngest 
     of them two years old, if that. Someday, presumably, he could 
     tell his grandchildren that he saw Williams play. Along with 
     these tots and second-honeymooners, there were Harvard 
     freshmen, giving off that peculiar nervous glow created when 
     a quantity of insouciance is saturated with insecurity; 
     thick-necked Army officers with brass on their shoulders and 
     lead in their voices; pepperings of priests; perfumed 
     bouquets of Roxbury Fabian fans; shiny salesmen from 
     Albany and Fall River; and those gray, hoarse men--
     taxidrivers, slaughterers, and bartenders who will 
     continue to click through the turnstiles long after 
     everyone else has deserted to television and tramporamas. 
     Behind me, two young male voices blossomed, cracking a 
     joke about God's five proofs that Thomas Aquinas exists--
     typical Boston College levity.
       The batting cage was trundled away. The Orioles fluttered 
     to the sidelines. Diagonally across the field, by the Red Sox 
     dugout, a cluster of men in overcoats were festering like 
     maggots. I could see a splinter of white uniform, and 
     Williams' head, held at a self-deprecating and evasive tilt. 
     Williams' conversational stance is that of a six-foot-three-
     inch man under a six-foot ceiling. He moved away to the 
     patter of flash bulbs, and began playing catch with a young 
     Negro outfielder named Willie Tasby. His arm, never very 
     powerful, had grown lax with the years, and his throwing 
     motion was a kind of muscular drawl. To catch the ball, he 
     flicked his glove hand onto his left shoulder (he batted left 
     but threw right, as every schoolboy ought to know) and let 
     the ball plop into it comically. This catch session with 
     Tasby was the only time all afternoon I saw him grin.
       A tight little flock of human sparrows who, from the 
     lambent and pampered pink of their faces, could only have 
     been Boston politicians moved toward the plate. The 
     loudspeakers mammothly coughed as someone huffed on the 
     microphone. The ceremonies began. Curt Gowdy, the Red Sox 
     radio and television announcer, who sounds like everybody's 
     brother-in-law, delivered a brief sermon, taking the two 
     words ``pride'' and ``champion'' as his text. It began, 
     ``Twenty-one years ago, a skinny kid from San Diego, 
     California . . .'' and ended, ``I don't think we'll ever see 
     another like him.'' Robert Tibolt, chairman of the board of 
     the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, presented Williams 
     with a big Paul Revere silver bowl. Harry Carlson, a member 
     of the sports committee of the Boston Chamber, gave him a 
     plaque, whose inscription he did not read in its entirety, 
     out of deference to Williams' distaste for this sort of fuss. 
     Mayor Collins presented the Jimmy Fund with a thousand-dollar 
       Then the occasion himself stooped to the microphone, and 
     his voice sounded, after the others, very Californian; it 
     seemed to be coming, excellently amplified, from a great 
     distance, adolescently young and as smooth as a butternut. 
     His thanks for the gifts had not died from our ears before he 
     glided, as if helplessly, into ``In spite of all the terrible 
     things that have been said about me by the maestros of the 
     keyboard up there . . .'' He glanced up at the press rows 
     suspended above home plate. (All the Boston reporters, 
     incidentally, reported the phrase as ``knights of the 
     keyboard,'' but I heard it as ``maestros'' and prefer it that 
     way.) The crowd tittered, appalled. A frightful vision 
     flashed upon me, of the press gallery pelting Williams with 
     erasers, of Williams clambering up the foul screen to slug 
     journalists, of a riot, of Mayor Collins being crushed. ``. . 
     . And they were terrible things,'' Williams insisted, with 
     level melancholy, into the mike. ``I'd like to forget them, 
     but I can't.'' He paused, swallowed his memories, and went 
     on, ``I want to say that my years in Boston have been the 
     greatest thing in my life.'' The crowd, like an immense sail 
     going limp in a change of wind, sighed with relief. Taking 
     all the parts himself, Williams then acted out a vivacious 
     little morality drama in which an imaginary tempter came to 
     him at the beginning of his career and said, ``Ted, you can 
     play anywhere you like.'' Leaping nimbly into the role of his 
     younger self (who in biographical actuality had yearned to be 
     a Yankee), Williams gallantly chose Boston over all the other 
     cities, and told us that Tom Yawkey was the greatest owner in 
     baseball and we were the greatest fans. We applauded 
     ourselves heartily. The umpire came out and dusted the plate. 
     The voice of doom announced over the loudspeakers that after 
     Williams' retirement his uniform number, 9, would be 
     permanently retired--the first time the Red Sox had so 
     honored a player. We cheered. The national anthem was played. 
     We cheered. The game began.

[[Page S7612]]

       Williams was third in the batting order, so he came up in 
     the bottom of the first inning, and Steve Barber, a young 
     pitcher who was not yet born when Williams began playing for 
     the Red Sox, offered him four pitches, at all of which he 
     disdained to swing, since none of them were within the strike 
     zone. This demonstrated simultaneously that Williams' eyes 
     were razor-sharp and that Barber's control wasn't. Shortly, 
     the bases were full, with Williams on second. ``Oh, I hope he 
     gets held up at third! That would be wonderful,'' the girl 
     beside me moaned, and, sure enough, the man at bat walked and 
     Williams was delivered into our foreground. He struck the 
     pose of Donatello's David, the third-base bag being Goliath's 
     head. Fiddling with his cap, swapping small talk with the 
     Oriole third baseman (who seemed delighted to have him drop 
     in), swinging his arms with a sort of prancing nervousness, 
     he looked fine--flexible, hard, and not unbecomingly 
     substantial through the middle. The long neck, the small 
     head, the knickers whose cuffs were worn down near his 
     ankles--all these points, often observed by caricaturists, 
     were visible in the flesh.
       One of the collegiate voices behind me said, ``He looks 
     old, doesn't he, old; big deep wrinkles in his face . . .''
       ``Yeah,'' the other voice said, ``but he looks like an old 
     hawk, doesn't he?''
       With each pitch, Williams danced down the baseline, waving 
     his arms and stirring dust, ponderous but menacing, like an 
     attacking goose. It occurred to about a dozen humorists at 
     once to shout ``Steal home! Go, go!'' Williams' speed afoot 
     was never legendary. Lou Clinton, a young Sox outfielder, hit 
     a fairly deep fly to center field. Williams tagged up and ran 
     home. As he slid across the plate, the ball, thrown with 
     unusual heft by Jackie Brandt, the Oriole center fielder, hit 
     him on the back.
       ``Boy, he was really loafing, wasn't he?'' one of the boys 
     behind me said.
       ``It's cold,'' the other explained. ``He doesn't play well 
     when it's cold. He likes heat. He's a hedonist.''
       The run that Williams scored was the second and last of the 
     inning. Gus Triandos, of the Orioles, quickly evened the 
     score by plunking a home run over the handy left-field wall. 
     Williams, who had had this wall at his back for twenty years, 
     played the ball flawlessly. He didn't budge. He just stood 
     there, in the center of the little patch of grass that his 
     patient footsteps had worn brown, and, limp with lack of 
     interest, watched the ball pass overhead. It was not a very 
     interesting game. Mike Higgins, the Red Sox manager, with 
     nothing to lose, had restricted his major-league players to 
     the left-field line--along with Williams, Frank Malzone, a 
     first-rate third baseman, played the game--and had peopled 
     the rest of the terrain with unpredictable youngsters fresh, 
     or not so fresh, off the farms. Other than Williams' 
     recurrent appearances at the plate, the maladresse of the Sox 
     infield was the sole focus of suspense; the second baseman 
     turned every grounder into a juggling act, while the 
     shortstop did a breathtaking impersonation of an open 
     window. With this sort of assistance, the Orioles wheedled 
     their way into a 4-2 lead. They had early replaced Barber 
     with another young pitcher, Jack Fisher. Fortunately (as 
     it turned out), Fisher is no cutie; he is willing to burn 
     the ball through the strike zone, and inning after inning 
     this tactic punctured Higgins' string of test balloons.
       Whenever Williams appeared at the plate--pounding the dirt 
     from his cleats, gouging a pit in the batter's box with his 
     left foot, wringing resin out of the bat handle with his 
     vehement grip, switching the stick at the pitcher with an 
     electric ferocity--it was like having a familiar Leonardo 
     appear in a shuffle of Saturday Evening Post covers. This 
     man, you realized--and here, perhaps, was the difference, 
     greater than the difference in gifts--really intended to hit 
     the ball. In the third inning, he hoisted a high fly to deep 
     center. In the fifth, we thought he had it; he smacked the 
     ball hard and high into the heart of his power zone, but the 
     deep right field in Fenway and the heavy air and a casual 
     east wind defeated him. The ball died. Al Pilarcik leaned his 
     back against the big ``380'' painted on the right-field wall 
     and caught it. On another day, in another park, it would have 
     been gone. (After the game, Williams said, ``I didn't think I 
     could hit one any harder than that. The conditions weren't 
       The afternoon grew so glowering that in the sixth inning 
     the arc lights were turned on--always a wan sight in the 
     daytime, like the burning headlights of a funeral procession. 
     Aided by the gloom, Fisher was slicing through the Sox 
     rookies, and Williams did not come to bat in the seventh. He 
     was second up in the eighth. This was almost certainly his 
     last time to come to the plate in Fenway Park, and instead of 
     merely cheering, as we had at his three previous appearances, 
     we stood, all of us--stood and applauded. Have you ever heard 
     applause in a ballpark? Just applause--no calling, no 
     whistling, just an ocean of handclaps, minute after minute, 
     burst after burst, crowding and running together in 
     continuous succession like the pushes of surf at the edge of 
     the sand. It was a sombre and considered tumult. There was 
     not a boo in it. It seemed to renew itself out of a shifting 
     set of memories as the kid, the Marine, the veteran of feuds 
     and failures and injuries, the friend of children, and the 
     enduring old pro evolved down the bright tunnel of twenty-one 
     summers toward this moment. At last, the umpire signalled for 
     Fisher to pitch; with the other players, he had been frozen 
     in position. Only Williams had moved during the ovation, 
     switching his hat impatiently, ignoring everything except his 
     cherished task. Fisher wound up, and the applause sank into a 
       Understand that we were a crowd of rational people. We knew 
     that a home run cannot be produced at will; the right pitch 
     must be perfectly met and luck must ride with the ball. Three 
     innings before, we had seen a brave effort fail. The air was 
     soggy; the season was exhausted. Nevertheless, there will 
     always lurk, around a corner in a pocket of our knowledge of 
     the odds, an indefensible hope, and this was one of the 
     times, which you now and then find in sports, when a density 
     of expectation hangs in the air and plucks an event out of 
     the future.
       Fisher, after his unsettling wait, was wide with the first 
     pitch. He put the second one over, and Williams swung 
     mightily and missed. The crowd grunted, seeing that classic 
     swing, so long and smooth and quick, exposed, naked in its 
     failure. Fisher threw the third time, Williams swung again, 
     and there it was. The ball climbed on a diagonal line into 
     the vast volume of air over center field. From my angle, 
     behind third base, the ball seemed less an object in flight 
     than the tip of a towering, motionless construct, like the 
     Eiffel Tower or the Tappan Zee Bridge. It was in the books 
     while it was still in the sky. Brandt ran back to the deepest 
     corner of the outfield grass; the ball descended beyond his 
     reach and struck in the crotch where the bullpen met the 
     wall, bounced chunkily, and, as far as I could see, vanished.
       Like a feather caught in a vortex, Williams ran around the 
     square of bases at the center of our beseeching screaming. He 
     ran as he always ran out home runs--hurriedly, unsmiling, 
     head down, as if our praise were a storm of rain to get out 
     of. He didn't tip his cap. Though we thumped, wept, and 
     chanted ``We want Ted'' for minutes after he hid in the 
     dugout, he did not come back. Our noise for some seconds 
     passed beyond excitement into a kind of immense open anguish, 
     a wailing, a cry to be saved. But immortality is 
     nontransferable. The papers said that the other players, and 
     even the umpires on the field, begged him to come out and 
     acknowledge us in some way, but he never had and did not now. 
     Gods do not answer letters.
       Every true story has an anticlimax. The men on the field 
     refused to disappear, as would have seemed decent, in the 
     smoke of Williams' miracle. Fisher continued to pitch, and 
     escaped further harm. At the end of the inning, Higgins sent 
     Williams out to his leftfield position, then instantly 
     replaced him with Carrol Hardy, so we had a long last look at 
     Williams as he ran out there and then back, his uniform 
     jogging, his eyes steadfast on the ground. It was nice, and 
     we were grateful, but it left a funny taste.
       One of the scholasticists behind me said, ``Let's go. We've 
     seen everything. I don't want to spoil it.'' This seemed a 
     sound aesthetic decision. Williams' last word had been so 
     exquisitely chosen, such a perfect fusion of expectation, 
     intention, and execution, that already it felt a little 
     unreal in my head, and I wanted to get out before the castle 
     collapsed. But the game, though played by clumsy midgets 
     under the feeble glow of the arc lights, began to tug at my 
     attention, and I loitered in the runway until it was over. 
     Williams' homer had, quite incidentally, made the score 4-3. 
     In the bottom of the ninth inning, with one out, Marlin 
     Coughtry, the second-base juggler, singled. Vic Wertz, 
     pinchhitting, doubled off the left-field wall, Coughtry 
     advancing to third. Pumpsie Green walked, to load the bases. 
     Willie Tasby hit a double-play ball to the third baseman, but 
     in making the pivot throw Billy Klaus, an ex-Red Sox 
     infielder, reverted to form and threw the ball past the first 
     baseman and into the Red Sox dugout. The Sox won, 5-4. On the 
     car radio as I drove home I heard that Williams had decided 
     not to accompany the team to New York. So he knew how to do 
     even that, the hardest thing. Quit.