Ted Williams is an American icon. As the mainstay of the Boston Red Sox from 1939-1960 he was one of baseball’s all-time greats, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and perhaps the greatest hitter the sport has ever known. He was admired for his devotion to the game, his service to his country, and his support for children with cancer. But there was an ugly side to him too. Williams’ life was a set of contradictions where his talent and humanity were offset by fits of rage and cold-heartedness.
The word that might best describe Williams is “intense.” He was not only a great hitter with tremendous eyesight (20/15), but he worked on his hitting all the time. He would simulate his swing in front of a mirror, study pitchers endlessly, and talk hitting with anyone who would listen. He would take the same approach to his lifelong love of fishing where he became one of the best fly fishermen in the country.
It’s not surprising that Williams is baseball’s last .400 hitter, batting .406 in 1941. In 1957, at the age of 39, he led the majors with a .388 average. His lifetime average of .344 ranks fourth all-time and he hit 521 home runs. He was coveted with such nicknames as “the Kid,” “Teddy Ballgame” and “the Splendid Splinter.”
Williams is also remembered for his charitable acts towards children with cancer. He would make countless visits to hospitals to visit sick kids without any publicity whatsoever. In fact, he threatened any journalist that he would stop going if it was publicized. He was clearly a man with a warm heart.
On the other hand, he also had a dark side. Williams had a temper that was over the top. He would offend friends, family and innocent bystanders for no good reason. He once punched out his beloved dalmatian. A psychologist referred to him as a “swinging door, bipolar personality.” For all his good works they were more than offset by his abuse of people (and one dog).