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I wanted to be the greatest hitter who ever lived. A man has to have goals--for a day, for a lifetime--and that was mine, to have people say, "There goes Ted Williams, the greatest hitter who ever lived."
    -Ted William, My Turn at Bat (as told to John Underwood)

It was like there was a star on top of his head, pulling everyone toward him like a beacon, and letting everyone around him know that he was different and that he was special in some marvelous way and that we were that much more special because we had played with him.
    -Johnny Pesky


Some years ago, on The Fishin' Hole, one of the ESPN Outdoors shows, the host, Jerry McKinnis, took two famous guests along on a salmon fishing trip to Russia: Ted Williams and Bobby Knight. If you know anything about the legendary competitiveness, combativeness, and foul mouths of both men, you can well imagine what it was like watching them fish with--no, make that against--each other. One was surprised that the sheer volume of testosterone in the water didn't bring the fish to the surface like a hand grenade would have. It struck me then that this might be the last unabashedly masculine moment in television history, if not the history of the republic.

Please note, by masculinity I don't mean chauvinism, sexism, boorishness or any of the other objectifications of women that, as David Brooks has recently written, have become staples of the current television line-up. Get two sports heroes out on the water now and they'd be accompanied by siliconed Bambis--that's what passes for a manly show nowadays. No, this kind of masculinity is far more old-fashioned, from a time when there were numerous spheres of life that women were excluded from altogether, when men could be profane and abusive towards one another in certain all-male venues without worrying about being discourteous before the fairer sex.

At any rate, Ted Williams left us a few years ago and Bobby Knight, predictably, was fired for being ungentle with his players at Indiana (he was later hired by some school so far in the hinterlands that he's safely hidden from public view). Their era has ended and they're gone.

Except that now David Halberstam has brought memories of Ted Williams back to us in this terrific new book. Here's an excerpt with the basic set-up and some sense of the themes to follow:
Ted was dying, and the idea for the final trip, driving down to Florida to see him one last time, was Dominic's. It was in early October 2001, and Dominic was not eager to get aboard a plane and fly to Florida so soon after the September 11 terrorist attack, and his wife, Emily, most decidedly did not like the idea of him driving there all by himself. "I just don't want you driving to Florida alone," she told him. "It's much too far." They had been having dinner at a restaurant in Marion, Massachusetts, with their friend Dick Flavin, a local television personality and humorist. Flavin's boyhood hero, a mere 55 years earlier, had been this same Dominic DiMaggio, then the centerfielder for the Red Sox. Half to herself Emily had added, "Can you imagine? An eighty-four-year-old man driving all the way to Florida by himself." It was said in a way that precluded any argument. "How about this?" Flavin suggested to Dom. "I'll go with you and share the driving." Dominic jumped at the offer and immediately signed on. That gained Emily DiMaggio's approval, something not lightly done. "I know what else, I'll call John," Dominic added, "and see if he'll come with us" John was Johnny Pesky, his and Ted's teammate for all those years, for whom trips to Florida were significantly harder to make.

Pesky loved the idea and he too quickly signed on, and in the way that these things are decided without being formally decided, it was agreed that Dominic and Dick would share the driving and John, 82, would sit in the backseat. As a kind of penance, Pesky agreed not to smoke his requisite two cigars a day. Bobby Doerr, the fourth teammate who had remained so close with the others, would not be able to make the trip. He lived injunction City, Oregon, and though he made occasional trips back East, usually to the annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Cooperstown, New York, his ability to travel had been severely limited after Monica, his wife of 63 years, had suffered two strokes in 1999.

They had, the four of them -- Ted Williams, Dom DiMaggio, Bobby Doerr, and Johnny Pesky -- played together on the Red Sox teams of the 1940s; Williams and Doerr went back even further: They were teenagers together on the San Diego Padres, a minor league team in the mid-'30s, and played with Boston in the late '30s. All four were men of a certain generation, born right at the end of World War One within 31 months of each other -- DiMaggio in 1917, Doerr and Williams in 1918, and Pesky in 1919. Doerr's middle name, in fact, was Pershing, after John "Black Jack" Pershing, the American general who had led the American troops in Europe in the Great War. On occasion, Doerr had been called Pershing by his teammates in the old days.

They were all four from the West Coast, and three of them, Doerr, DiMaggio, and Williams, started out in the Pacific Coast League, then a top minor league. The other three had encountered Pesky first not as a peer, an up-and-coming young short-stop with uncommon bat control who could hit to all fields, but instead as the boyish clubhouse attendant who worked in the locker room for the Portland Beavers in the PCL. It had been Johnny's job to wash the athletic clothing and shine the shoes of the visiting players, and the players tipped him 25 or 50 cents a game for the service. When Pesky was about to join the big club in Boston in 1942, after leading the American Association in hits in Louisville, the other three, all big leaguers by then, had joked about him: Yes, it was the same Johnny Pesky, you know the little guy who shined our shoes and washed our jocks back in Portland. Needle Nose, they eventually nicknamed him, because of his prominent nose. No one had liked using the name more than Ted, who seemed to think it made Pesky into the younger brother he had always wanted (instead of the younger brother he actually did have, Danny Williams, who was constantly in trouble with the law and thus a reminder to Ted of the fragility of his own hard-won position in life). Pesky's nose was indeed rather long and sharp, especially in relation to his body, which was rather small. The nickname might not have lasted a lifetime, had it not been for Ted, who used it so much that on occasion, when John called the others, he would identify himself simply by saying, "This is Needle."

They were all special men -- smart, purposeful, hardworking -- and they had seized on baseball as their one chance to get ahead in America. They had done exceptionally well in their chosen field. Williams and Doerr were in the Hall of Fame. Many of the players from that era were puzzled that DiMaggio and Pesky had not been eventually inducted by the old-timer's committee, which took a belated second look at who had made the Hall and who had not. That was particularly true in the case of Dominic DiMaggio, who had been an All Star seven times; Williams himself believed that it was a travesty that Dominic was not in the Hall. None of the four, most assuredly, had gotten rich off the game, not in the era they played in and not in the material sense, for the richness they had taken from the game was more subtle and complicated.
So Mr. Halberstam wasn't along for the ride, but when he heard about it he set out to reconstruct some of the reminiscences they shared--they never turned on the radio in the car--and then he added many more--stories about Ted Williams, of course, but about these teammates too, about their ballplaying days, but even more so about the kind of men and friends they were and are.

For a die hard fan many of the tales are familiar; indeed, some are repeated from Mr. Halberstam's prior book, Summer of '49, during the writing of which he had become acquanted with the teammates. And, of course, we know how the story ends, that Ted Williams dies, the star finally flaring out. Worse, we know the posthumous indignities visited upon him by his son. But somehow these things only add to the pleasures of the book. The telling of the stories about and among a group of men seems a fit memorial and the certain knowledge of what awaits at the end of the road lends an even greater elegaiac quality to what was always going to be a twilight tale. A few years from now kids who don't know the stories, and may not even be too familiar with the men, will pick up the book and be able to travel to a time and a place in America they'll likely find hard to believe ever existed. They'll find in these pages, as we find, a friendship that is deeply moving and marvelous to behold and that is something for each of us to aspire to, though few of us are likely to find a friend with quite the gravitational pull of Ted Williams.


(Reviewed:)

Grade: (A)

  

Websites:

See also:

David Halberstam (2 books reviewed)
Sports (Baseball)
David Halberstam Links:

    -BOOK SITE: The Teammates by David Halberstam (Hyperion)
    -BOOKNOTES: The Fifties by David Halberstam (C-SPAN, July 11, 1993 )
    -AMERICAN WRITERS: Halberstam & Sheehan (C-SPAN)
    -ESSAY ARCHIVES: David Halberstam (ESPN.com)
    -ESSAY: One Splendid day (David Halberstam, ESPN.com)
    -ESSAY: In admiration of Iverson (David Halberstam, ESPN.com)
    -ESSAY: HOW HE GOT UP THERE  His near perfection proves the value of apprenticeship for even the most talented (DAVID HALBERSTAM, TIME)
    -ESSAY: NBA AT 50  Basketball's Golden Era: The Era of Michael  (David Halberstam, nba.com)
    -ESSAY : The Education of a Journalist (David Halberstam, November/December 1994, Columbia Journalism Review)
    -ESSAY : Richard Nixon's Last Campaign (David Halberstam, July/August 1994, Columbia Journalism Review)
    -REVIEW: of Red Smith on Baseball: The Game's Greatest Writer on the Game's Greatest Years (David Halberstam, NY Times Book Review)
    -CHAT: 'The Teammates': With David Halberstam (May 20, 2003, Washington Post)
    -INTERVIEW: Q & A: David Halberstam: Coming back to foreign policy (Jonathan Curiel, 9/23/01, SF Chronicle)
    -INTERVIEW: THE CHILDREN May 22, 1998 (The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer Transcript, PBS)
    -INTERVIEW: Salon Books | THE SALON INTERVIEW: David Halberstam (Geoff Edgers, Salon)
    -INTERVIEW: Interview by James Buckley Jr. (Book Page)
    -INTERVIEW: One on One (nba.com)
    -PROFILE: The children's crusade In his new nonfiction epic, David Halberstam tells the story of the unsung heroes of the civil rights movement (Jonathan Karp, at random magazine)
    -REVIEW : of The Best and the Brightest (VICTOR S. NAVASKY, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: David Halberstam. October 1964 (Leverett T. Smith, The Bibliography Committee of the Society for American Baseball Research)
    -REVIEW: of Summer of '49   David Halberstam (David Martinez, HomerunWeb)
    -REVIEW: of THE CHILDREN By David Halberstam (CHRISTOPHER LEHMANN-HAUPT, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of THE CHILDREN By David Halberstam (David M. Oshinsky, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Children by David Halberstam (Sanford D. Horwitt , SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: Halberstam, David. The Children (ALA Booklist, starred review)
    -REVIEW:  David Halberstam's  'Children' (Curt Schleier, george jr)
    -REVIEW: of The Children (YVONNE CRITTENDEN -- Toronto Sun)
    -REVIEW: The Children Shall Lead David Halberstam credits the youth in the civil rights movement (Will Campbell, Sojourners Magazine)
    -REVIEW : of The Fifties by David Halberstam (Hilton Kramer, New Criterion)
    -REVIEW: of PLAYING FOR KEEPS Michael Jordan and the World He Made. By David Halberstam (Ira Berkow, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Playing for Keeps (MICHIKO KAKUTANI , NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Michael Jordan and the World He Made By David Halberstam (Steve Ketteman, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW : of War in a Time of Peace by David Halberstam (Jane Perlez, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of War in a Time of Peace (Richard Bernstein, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of War in a Time of Peace: Bush, Clinton, and the Generals by David Halberstam  (Mark Bowden, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW : of War in a Time of Peace: Bush, Clinton, and the Generals by David Halberstam (Louis Freedberg, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of Firehouse by David Halberstam (James Traub, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Firehouse By David Halberstam (Peter Lewis, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of The Teammates by David Halberstam (Charles McGrath, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Teammates (Steven Martinovich, Enter Stage Right)
    -REVIEW: of Teammates (Jonathan Mahler, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of Teammates (Mike Barnicle, May 18, 2003, NY Daily News)

Book-related and General Links:

    -ESSAY: Talkin’ Ted Wiiliams Forum: Banquet Keynote Tribute (SABR.com)

TED WILLIAMS (Born August 30, 1918 in San Diego, CA):
    -EXCERPTS: from My Turn at Bat: The Story of My Life by Ted Williams with John Underwood (Baseball Library)
    -EXCERPTS: from My Turn at Bat: The Story of My Life by Ted Williams with John Underwood (Baseball Library)
    -ESSAY: Upstream And Out Of Mind: The feds abandon protection for our headwater streams (TED WILLIAMS, Fly Rod & Reel)
    -ESSAY: 'Hub fans bid Kid Adieu' (John Updike, Oct. 22, 1960, The New Yorker)
    -INTERVIEW: Ted Williams (interview by Jim Smith, 24 September 1989, Journal of San Diego History)
    -OBIT: Ted Williams: 1918-2002: 'The greatest hitter who ever lived' : The 'Splendid Splinter' leaves a complex legacy: a love for the game, military heroics, a gruff personality - and a sweet, sweet swing (John Shea, 7/06/02, SF Chronicle)
    -OBIT: Baseball great Ted Williams dies (Rod Beaton, 7/22/02, USA TODAY)
    -TRIBUTE: Baseball Legend Ted Williams Dies: Hall of Famer was the Last Man to Bat .400 (NPR)
    -Official Ted Williams Website
    -Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame
    -CNN/SI - Baseball - Ted Williams
    -Baseball Almanac - Ted Williams
    -Ted Williams: A Life Remembered (Boston Globe)
    -Ted Williams : A Career Retrospective (Boston Herald)
    -Ted Williams: A Celebration of an American Hero (MLB.com)
    -A Tribute to Ted Williams (MLB.com)
    -Baseball-Reference.com > Players > Ted Williams
    -Ted Williams (The Baseball Page)
    -TeddyBallgame.net
    -Ted Williams (BASEBALL IMMORTALS)
    -Ted Williams Page (Baseball Library)
    -BRILLIANT CAREERS: Ted Williams: Almost 60 years ago, the greatest hitter who ever lived hit over .400 and no one has done it since. (Mark Miller, Oct. 24, 2000, Salon)
    -ESSAY: Easily, he was the brightest light (Dan Shaughnessy, 7/5/02, Boston Globe)
    -ESSAY: Ancient rivalry: Williams vs. DiMaggio (Seth Gitell, 7/12/02, Jewish World Review)
    -ESSAY: Pure Hitter: Ted Williams (David Whitley, ESPN Sports Century)
    -ESSAY: Our last honest man (Brian Murphy, ESPN.com)
    -CARTOON: So long, Teddy Ballgame (Kurt Snibbe, ESPN.com)
    -CARTOON: It's been splendid (Larry Johnson, ESPN.com)
    -ESSAY: John Henry Williams: A son with a heart of cold (Jim Caple, ESPN.com)
    -ARCHIVES: "ted williams" (Find Articles)
    -REVIEW: of Ted Williams: The Seasons of the Kid By Richard Ben Cramer (Journal of San Diego History)
    -REVIEW: of What Do You Think of Ted Williams Now? By Richard Ben Cramer (Adam Mertz, Capital Times)
    -REVIEW: of The Best American Sports Writing of the Century Edited by David Halberstam and Glenn Stout (Scott Dickensheets, Ironminds)

DOM DIMAGGIO (Born February 12, 1917 in San Francisco, CA)
    -Dom DiMaggio Statistics(Baseball-Reference.com)
    -Dom DiMaggio (BaseballLibrary.com)
    -Dom DiMaggio Baseball Statistics (Baseball Almanac)
    -ESPN Classic - All Time Stats - Dom Dimaggio
    -CNN/SI - Baseball - Dom DiMaggio

JOHNNY PESKY (Born September 27, 1919 in Portland, OR):
    -ESSAY: SLAUGHTER, PESKY, AND THE POWER OF MYTH (John B Holway, Baseball Guru)
    -ESSAY: Pesky decides not to trade in his fungo (Gordon Edes, 5/31/2003, Boston Globe)
    -Johnny Pesky Statistics - Baseball-Reference.com
   
-Johnny Pesky Baseball Statistics (Baseball Almanac)
    -Johnny Pesky (BaseballLibrary.com)
    -CNN/SI - Baseball - Johnny Pesky

BOBBY DOERR (Born April 7, 1918 in Los Angeles, CA):
    -INTERVIEW: with Bobby Doerr (OBC Interview)
    -Bobby Doerr Statistics (Baseball-Reference.com)
    -Bobby Doerr (BaseballLibrary.com)
    -Bobby Doerr Baseball Statistics (Baseball Almanac)
    -Bobby Doerr (The Baseball Page)
    -CNN/SI - Baseball - Bobby Doerr
    -ESPN Classic - All Time Stats - Bobby Doerr

GENERAL:
    -AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: Joe DiMaggio: The Hero's Life (PBS)

Comments: