For the last forty-two years, I never saw Ted Williams as an aging ex-baseball star. I saw pictures and read stories about the guy who was "the greatest hitter to ever play the game". I saw 'Teddy Ballgame'.
I never watched Ted
Williams play baseball. I was born the year after he retired. But I viewed
the newsreels. And I watched the documentaries. And I saw the photographs
of a man in uniform. He was young, he was robust, and he was larger than
The 'Splendid Splinter' hit .406 in 1941 – nobody has cracked .400 since. And he gave up the best baseball years of his life to serve his country.
'The Thumper' never hit less than .317 (1950) until the year he considered retiring when he hit 10 home runs and batted .254. Not satisfied with ending his career on such a down note, he decided to play one more year. In 1960 he batted .319 and hit 29 home runs (his last came at Fenway Park in his final at bat).
'The Kid' retired with a career batting average of .344 and 521 home runs.
Before he died, many 'experts' considered Williams to be baseball's 'greatest living player'. No disrespect to Mays, Aaron or Musial intended.
But with his passing, he's now up against the likes of Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio et. al. for the title of 'all-time greatest player'. With his numbers, you can certainly make an argument for Williams – it's just not as cut and dry.
You can throw out the stats. Forget about home runs and batting average and World Series titles. I think the ultimate barometer of a ball player's greatness is the number of nicknames he acquires during his career.
Babe Ruth had two – 'The Bambino' and 'The Sultan of Swat' (o.k., three if you want to count referring to George Herman as 'Babe'.)
DiMaggio was known as 'The Yankee Clipper' or 'Joltin' Joe' – that's two. And Gehrig was simply 'The Iron Horse'. (Though I did find a reference that also listed 'Biscuit Pants' as a nickname – I'd love to find out how that one originated).
The next time you see him, 'Say Hey' Willie Mays. In St. Louis, Stan Musial is still 'The Man'. And I guess when you're the all-time home run king, you – Henry Aaron – deserve three nicknames ('The Hammer', 'Hammerin' Hank', and 'Bad Henry').
But I haven't found a single man with the supporting credentials to be named baseball's greatest player that can boast four nicknames – except Ted Williams. If you've been paying attention, I used all four in the opening five paragraphs.
Four nicknames. That, to me, makes Teddy Ballgame, a.k.a. The Splendid Splinter, a.k.a. The Thumper, a.k.a. The Kid, a.k.a. Ted Williams baseball's greatest player.
And if his body remains frozen at a cryonics lab in Arizona, he may be the first player ever to have a nickname or two bestowed upon him posthumously. Off hand I can think of two: Iceman and Mr. Freeze.
The way I figure it, there's really only one reason to freeze Ted Williams. And that is to preserve his DNA. And I can't think of any reason to do that unless someone plans to sell it.
I guess if, in twenty or thirty years, there are a growing number of .400 hitters in the majors, we'll know what happened to Ted William' DNA. Forget about the steroids issue, baseball will be dealing with the cloning issue.
On the bright side, maybe there will be an overwhelming desire on the part of players – with their best days still ahead of them - to enlist in the armed forces if the U.S.A. happens to be at war.
You know, I have no problem with scientists trying to clone a sheep. The more veal I get to put on my plate the better. But there's something seriously wrong with trying to create another 'Splendid Splinter'.
Of course, even if they are able to match his DNA, I doubt they'll ever be able to duplicate his work ethic, his persistence and his passion – for baseball and his country.
I have a 1959 SPORT magazine with a picture of Ted Williams on the cover. I plan on whipping it out the first time my grandson confuses a future clone for the real thing.
I'll point to that picture and tell him: 'this is the one and only Teddy Ballgame'.
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