Posted by Jason Diamond
Born in San Diego on this day in 1918, and named after President Theodore Roosevelt, Ted Williams would grow up to become arguably the greatest pure hitter the game of baseball has ever known. Equally loved and hated among the Boston Red Sox faithful, he would never help deliver a championship to the city, and his career would be interrupted by two separate tours of duty — forever leading baseball fans to ask, “what if?” Would he have broken hitting records, won championships, and maybe become a little bit more likeable? These questions are what makes Ted Williams one of the biggest questions marks in the long history of the great American pastime.
An easier conclusion to draw is that Ted Williams was obsessed with two things: perfection and fishing. The 1986 Esquire piece on him, “What Do You Think Of Ted Williams Now?,“ makes that picture crystal clear, and leads me to believe that he thought everything else could go and fuck itself. The opening sums it all up:
Few men try for best ever, and Ted Williams is one of those. There’s a story about him I think of now. This is not about baseball but fishing. He meant to be the best there, too. One day he says to a Boston writer: “Ain’t no one in heaven or earth ever knew more about fishing.”
“Sure there is,” says the scribe.
“Oh, yeah? Who?”
“Well, God made the fish.”
“Yeah, awright,” Ted says. “But you have to go pretty far back.”
The story of Ted Williams would make a good novel. His towering greatness as a hitter, juxtaposed with his failure to win the big games, topped off with his sour attitude, made him the all-American anti-Joe DiMaggio. Maybe that’s what made him so intriguing, and that’s what gave John Updike the inspiration to write a 1960 New Yorker piece on Williams last game that might be one of the greatest things ever written about baseball.