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TED WILLIAMS by Leigh Montville

TED WILLIAMS

The Biography of an American Hero

By Leigh Montville

Pub Date: April 13th, 2004
ISBN: 0-385-50748-8
Publisher: Doubleday

Snazzy biography of The Kid that manages to be subtly characterful and thorough at the same time.

This portrait of baseball legend Theodore Samuel Williams (1918–2002) is sweeping and sweet, the images coming at the reader like jump-cuts to catch a moment or a tone. As he deserves, Williams gets double-barreled treatment. He was, Montville (At the Altar of Speed: The Fast Life and Tragic Death of Dale Earnhardt, 2001, etc.) makes plain, a self-centered, willful motor-mouth with a penchant for rococo, profane poetry whose temper and un-sportsmanlike antics kept him at loggerheads with Red Sox fans. He also could swing a bat like no other and gave his spark to the comfort and pleasure of kids. The author’s Beantown background (he was formerly sports columnist at the Globe) gives him access to all manner of Boston characters, from mayors, university presidents, and Harvard’s athletic director to broadcasters, coaches, batboys, and Williams’s brother’s son, for starters. Their reminiscences almost always lift Williams out of one morass or another he has gotten himself into with his penchant to shoot from the hip. Most beguiling is Montville’s delineation of Williams’s incandescent relationship with the Boston press corps, particularly the likes of Dave Egan, Austen Lake, and Huck Finnegan, reminding us that words, in the paper and on the radio, were how people related to sports in the age before TV. The text also covers three marriages, lasting unmarried love with Louise Kaufman, and his children. Williams’s military service in WWII and Korea seems simple in comparison. It all ends with a bump and a thud and a lot of ice when Williams’s son John-Henry has his father’s remains frozen, the coup de grâce in a long string of opportunistic acts.

Despite the tawdry ending, Montville clearly had fun creating a playful buzz of words to raise the ghost of The Splendid Splinter.