Now on Netflix:
Ted Williams: The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived
By Max Abrams
Barry bonds and David Ortiz were both first class lefty power hitters. Bonds has a better regular season resume; Ortiz is remembered for his playoff heroics.
Both men are assumed to have used Performance Enhancing Drugs during their careers.
So why is David Ortiz going be a first ballot Hall of Famer while home run champion Barry Bonds can’t get the votes? You know why: popularity. Big Poppy is lovable and gregarious with the media; Barry Bonds is aloof and prickly.
Sports writers make baseball history almost as much as players. Do not cross them. Ted Williams crossed them.
During his sophomore season with the Red Sox in 1940, Ted Williams started to get some bad press and he didn’t care for it one bit. He started jawing at reporters during post-game interviews.
When one local scribe criticized Williams for failing to visit his family during the off-season, the young slugger decided that the media was his enemy for life.
According to the informative documentary “Ted Williams: The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived,” he was right to be furious.
Ted Williams had every reason to shun his parents. His father was a traveling pickle salesmen and a drunk who rarely saw his kids. Ted’s pious Mexican mom was an active member of the Salvation Army; but she spent more time saving souls than parenting.
Ted Williams grew up an angry, lonely atheist. His only solace was how much he loved hitting.
After Pearl Harbor, rising superstar Ted Williams wanted to stay in Boston and mash home runs. But the patriotic public – egged on by the media – shamed Williams into enlisting mid-season. In an interview late in life, elderly Williams was still frustrated when he imagined how many records he would have broken if he hadn’t spent so much time in the military.
When Williams returned home from his service, he continued his baseball dominance. He wasn’t just the most skilled, he was the most cerebral hitter in the game, decades ahead of time.
During an era where sluggers were still using mighty Ruthian bats, Williams was swinging light lumber because he perceived that bat speed is the key to more power. Predating the age of analytics, Williams created a strike zone heat map so he knew exactly where to focus his upper cut swing for maximum results.
The documentarians do everything they can to get the audience to sympathize with cantankerous old Ted.
Ted Williams was a sincere advocate for equality in baseball. Even though he wasn’t close with his mom, he was always troubled by the prejudice that he saw his mother endure. Williams used his Hall of Fame induction speech to urge the old white guys in Cooperstown to give black stars their due. Jackie Robinson became the first black Hall of Famer the following year and they inducted several Negro League legends soon after.
Ted Williams was easily the greatest ball player to wear Boston red since Babe Ruth and his reputation grew through the decades. But because of all the bad press, the city remained strangely ambivalent toward its superstar during his career.
The documentary shows video of his final game, where a mere 10,000 fans bothered to show up to watch Williams hit a HR in his final AB.
Can you imagine? Fenway Park less than half full during a legend’s final game. If Dustin Pedroia announced that his last game was against Tampa Bay this Sunday, the nosebleed seats would be selling for $150 on Stubhub.
“Ted Williams: The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived” is an enjoyable and unusually substantive documentary. It reminds us that an athlete can achieve amazing things on the ballfield but still be disliked if he won’t play ball with the media. Just ask Barry Bonds.