May 1, 2014

What do we talk about when we talk about Ted Williams?

Ben Bradlee, Jr.’s Ted Williams: The Kid

What do we talk about when we talk about Ted Williams? Our friend Ben Bradlee Jr. has written 800 pages on the subject of baseball’s greatest hitter, and I’ve savored every word of it. But in this conversation we’ve dared each other to get the epic of Teddy Ballgame down to ten stories, pictures, memories, shivering emotions that do not fade. And still in the end the fascination feels unfathomable. Ted Williams’s hold on us is that of an artist more than an athlete — very nearly that of a god, an Apollonian figure of perfect form, order, light and beauty. John Updike seems now to have sensed the mystery well before his immortal appreciation of Ted’s last home run in “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu.” In one of his early New Yorker stories from the 1950s, Updike described a character much like himself, a young husband and father, whose name in the story was Lee. “Like many Americans,” as Updike put it gracefully, “he was spiritually dependent on Ted Williams.” And so, it seems, some of us still are.

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