Richard Ben Cramer and Ted Williams
This is really off-topic, but it’s a pretty slow news day, and I wanted to draw attention to this story.
American author Richard Ben Cramer died last night at the age of 62. Here’s a link to his New York Times obit, and the inimitable Charlie Pierce wrote an excellent tribute to him today. For whatever reason, his Wikipedia page is seriously inadequate (how can it not mention the work that he may be best known for, 1992’s What It Takes: The Way to the White House?), and I may take it upon myself to update it late today. Anyway, he really was an enormous figure in American journalism, and he wrote what is probably one of my favorite pieces of all time, 1986’s “What Do You Think of Ted Williams Now?”
If you like the Red Sox, baseball, Ted Williams*, or just enjoy really awesome writing, you should read it. Right now. Here’s an excerpt:
Few men try for best ever, and Ted Williams is one of those. There’s a story about him I think of now. This is not about baseball but fishing. He meant to be the best there, too. One day he says to a Boston writer: “Ain’t no one in heaven or earth ever knew more about fishing.”
“Sure there is,” says the scribe.
“Oh, yeah? Who?”
“Well, God made the fish.”
“Yeah, awright,” Ted says. “But you have to go pretty far back.”
*Ted Williams was 100% unadulterated awesome. Seemingly not the best father or husband, I’ll grant you, but still. He’s in both the baseball and fishing halls of fame. He’s the last man to hit over .400, and he almost did it a second time – when he was 38. He hit 521 career home runs, with a career slash line of 344/.482/.634! He did this while missing nearly five years to the military. He was John Glenn’s wingman. He famously landed a burning plane because he thought ejecting would have caused him to break his knees and end his baseball career. As Ira Berkow noted in the New York Times: “It was said that he was of the stature, and his voice sounded like, John Wayne. No, John Wayne sounded like Ted Williams.”
Since I’m rambling about Ted Williams, I’ll share what is probably my favorite Ted Williams anecdote ever. It’s from a book called “Fenway” by Peter Golenbock. The set up is that a sportswriter is asking Ted Williams about another player having a bad year, and that Ted Williams had a long-running battle with the Boston sportswriters, whom he referred to as “the knights of the keyboard.”
Williams growled, “Who are you asking, fella?”
I said, “I’m asking you.”
He said, “You’re asking me about a bad year?” He said, “Mister, I can see that you don’t know very much about baseball if you’re asking me about a bad year, because old T.S.W., he don’t have bad years.” He looked out. He said, “You see those guys?” There were the Boston writers standing in a picket line. He said, “They would give their left nut to see me have a bad year. But it doesn’t happen, because old T.S.W. doesn’t have bad years.”
And with the exception of one year, when he was 40
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