The U.S. Postal Service just issued a new Ted Williams stamp that closely lines up with the recent (July 5) 10th anniversary of the baseball slugger’s death. The commemoration of a death can be a sad affair, highlighted by still-lingering grief and “what ifs?” Pondering the death of San Diego native son and Red Sox legend Ted Williams is a lot like that.
Williams’ death is still tinged with a bit of mystery due to the controversial family decision to have the remains of “The Kid” cryo-preserved (read: frozen) instead of, say, brought back to his hometown of San Diego, or sprinkled on the Fenway Park warning track where so many of his home runs passed, meteoric-like, on a destination to their own unpredictable place.
Writer John Updike in his iconic essay printed more than 50 years ago in The New Yorker, described Ted’s last game with literary splendor and forever branded Fenway “a lyric little band box of a ballpark.” Like the “Splendid Splinter,” Updike has passed, but, akin to the Williams’ records, his prose and observations live on. None more noteworthy than this: In his last game on Sept. 28, 1960, even after hitting a home run in his final at-bat, Williams refused to tip his cap to the cheering crowd. “Gods,” said Updike, “do not answer letters.”
No one after that game, and the unceremonious refusal to take a curtain call, could have predicted how much Williams would be seared into our collective consciousness as the preeminent baseball hero. The lens of time can do that, bending, refracting and re-coloring the (high)lights.
The fact is Ted Williams was not as popular in his playing days as he is today. The U.S. Postal Service reported that advance sales of Major League Baseball All-Star Forever stamps of Williams were only beaten in the bottom of the ninth by sales of the Joe DiMaggio stamp after a big push in New York. The four-bagger of baseball stamp introductions also included likenesses of Willie Stargell and Larry Doby.
In the’40s and ’50s Williams was alternately magnanimous and moody, profound and profane. He had the potential to offer up affection and offense in the same sentence. He feuded with friends and fans, and was never embattled with anyone more than the media in a Boston teeming with 10 newspapers, clamoring for controversy and competing for readers’ attention. (Williams may have been the first celebrity to receive paparazzi-like treatment, as we know it today—and his response was positively Alec Baldwin-esque.)
Anger often drove Williams. But whatever his motivation, on the green grass of Fenway, and in American League ballparks all across the land, it worked.
Of course, Williams was a war hero as well, called away twice, perhaps giving up a chance to eclipse even the batting records of Babe Ruth, some speculate. His .406 batting average in 1941 didn’t produce an MVP award, given instead to DiMaggio for “the streak,” but now as the years progress without anyone coming close to the Williams’ record, Ted’s feat looks, arguably, more impressive.
Even in retirement, during his Hall of Fame induction speech, Williams surprised us by advocating for the Negro Leaguers to be inducted into the Hall and, partially erasing the segregation sins of the Red Sox’ past, he lived to see it happen. Moreover, let’s not forget the tireless Jimmy Fund work he did before and after it became the Red Sox’ official charity.
And so, the Williams’ flaws fade with time, and perhaps rightly so. But not so fast that they cannot be viewed in the same context as the records he set. Very few of us will ever reach his exalted status in the profession of our own choosing, but in his struggle to overcome (or ignore) those faults, he was like the rest of us. And, it is that authenticity that makes us admire him all the more 10 years after his death—especially his unique brand of independence.
Ted Williams was a genius, a virtuoso of hitting; and, often, a vortex of controversy. The greatness that goes hand and glove with a single-minded pursuit often comes with a price. Relationships, public and private, suffer. Those of us old enough to remember Williams, and the rest confined to historic accounts, have been the beneficiaries of the man’s extraordinary dedication.
In his essay, “Hub Fans bid Kid Adieu,” John Updike, using “Hub” as the local colloquialism to describe Boston, couldn’t have foreseen how rare it would become for one player to spend his entire career with one ball club like Williams, DiMaggio, et al.
For this and not a little nostalgia for the game the way it used to be played, despite Williams’ faults and, to a large measure, maybe because of them, today fans of the game happily bid The Kid “bonjour.” And, thanks to cryonics, perhaps one day they may be able to do it in person.
As for the Postal Service? That would not be a problem. It recently changed a long-standing rule that one does not have to be dead to appear (and, presumably, to stay) on a stamp.
Wow! What a couple of weeks. I am happy that Extra Innings has launched and it has been well received. It's been exhausting but very exciting. The week before the launch and the week of, we've seen coverage about the novel in more than 800 media outlets worldwide. We're big in Singapore -- who knew? Seriously, it's been a tremendous whirlwind and I am very grateful.We had a fantastic book launch party for friends and fans at the Bleacher Bar in Fenway Park during the 100th Anniversary weekend celebrations for the ancient ball yard. Thanks to everyone who attended. The Joey Fund and Cystic Fibrosis Foundation benefited from book sales. (Keep an eye out for a photo album that will pop up soon on Facebook.)The media attention for Extra Innings included everyone from the websites of local TV stations across the country, to sports bloggers, to business publications. The major hits included a feature in Sports Illustrated Magazine. The novel was also featured on the Thompson-Reuters 23-story electronic billboard in Times Square on launch day! And another giant sign on the Las Vegas strip featured the novel! (Okay, I'll stop using exclamation points.) There were also features in The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald and dozens of Massachusetts newspapers and Wicked Local websites.Needless to say, I am thrilled and it's only one week after the official launch. Broadcast interviews to come. Despite all of the hoopla, I want to tell everyone that my highest priority remains readers. Reader feedback has been good. Please contact me if you'd like me to speak to your book club and we'll get it on the schedule.Thanks for all of the buzzzzzz.
Humor is always good when you’re talking about something so speculative.
The media jumped on it in a flash, as in flash frozen. Many of them got it wrong by the way, calling the science “cryogenics.” That would be the science or preservation of genetic material or the branch of physics dealing with the production and effects of very low temperatures. The correct reference, cryonics, is whole-body or neural preservation through freezing in the hope that medical science, nanotechnology, and specialized tissue regeneration techniques would someday be able to re-create human life and memory. See clarification here
There are many people who look at King and others who have been stored in liquid nitrogen at -320 degrees Fahrenheit after they pass as wacky, but my personal belief is why not if you have the money and the desire? Who knows what future science will produce? Read more about my position here
Of course, I’m biased; otherwise I might not have been able to create my novel “Extra Innings.” featuring baseball legend Ted Williams returning to life through cryonics. At the very least cryonics is certainly good fodder for a novel.
I'm not a doctor or a scientist, but I have done extensive research on the subject to produce “Extra Innings
.” Perhaps more importantly, and certainly more interestingly, I've spent five years thinking about and exploring what one's life would be like when suddenly reanimated in the distant future.
The thoughts are intriguing: What bodily and mental functions might work, what might fail? Would you be happy if science could only reproduce you as your former 90-year-old self? How would science overcome this obstacle? Would you be lonely when loved ones are gone and literally another lifetime away? How would you support yourself? What would you do differently? Would you fall into old habits or create a new you? How would the world treat the first person in all of humanity to return from the dead and the only person on earth who knows the answer to the question: Does God, and an afterlife, exist?
And, in Ted Williams’ case, did he ask to be placed in cryostasis?
Interestingly, some of the medical advances and science terms I used in the novel were so, well, novel, they popped as a spell-check problem, unrecognizable to the Word software.
How did I answer the legion of questions above and many others as relates to cryonics? At the risk of sounding smug, you’ll have to read the novel to find out!
Talk show gabmeister Larry King created a media storm this week when he announced on a CNN TV special with dinner party guests that he wanted to be cryonically preserved when he dies. To his credit, he took a humorous tone in the discussion calling it, in his case, “suspendered” animation.