Red Sox Hall of Famer Ted Williams was larger than life and possessed the stuff of legend. He was both a baseball hero and a war hero, serving as a naval aviator (USMC pilot) during WWII (1942-46) and the Korean War (1952-53).
He was the last baseball player to hit .400 during the regular season while having enough at-bats to qualify for a batting title (.406 in 1941).
He was famous for having a sometimes acerbic personality as well as his battles with the press and the sometimes-unappreciative Boston baseball fans, and he was renowned for being an avid and skilled fisherman.
Legend has it Williams once told a friend, “All I want out of life is that when I walk down the street, folks will say, ‘There goes the greatest hitter that ever lived.’” That tale was woven into the fabric of the movie, “The Natural,” based on Bernard Malamud’s novel of the same name.
There are many baseball aficionados, pundits and ballplayers who truly believe that Williams was, in fact, the greatest hitter who has ever lived. Williams’ contemporary and equal, New York Yankees center fielder Joe DiMaggio, once said, “He was absolutely the best hitter I ever saw.”
He was (and still is) the subject of a great cornucopia of art and photography and literature of all sorts, from books to an assortment of magazine articles and short stories.
The most famous and revered prose of which he was the subject undoubtedly was John Updike’s essay, “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu," which was published in the New Yorker magazine in October 1960, approximately one month after he played his last game in a Red Sox uniform.
“Hub Fans” recounts Williams’ last game for the Red Sox, played on Sept. 28. In the article, the Pulitzer Prize winner famously coined the term, “lyric little bandbox” to describe Fenway Park. Of Williams, he wrote:
No other player visible to my generation has concentrated within himself so much of the sport’s poignance, has so assiduously refined his natural skills, has so constantly brought to the place the intensity of competence that crowds the throat with joy.
It was that single-mindedness that made Williams such an extraordinary hitter and has led many to wonder what kind of numbers he ultimately would have compiled if he had not missed more than five years (in his prime) to the cause of war.
It was that greatness that led the baseball world to bestow a variety of nicknames on him: “The Splendid Splinter,” “Teddy Ballgame,” “The Thumper” and, simply, “The Kid.”
“Hub Fans” was drenched with romanticism and sentimentality. It recounted Williams’ last home run.
Updike wrote that Red Sox fans and coaches (and even the umpires) pleaded with No. 9 to come out of the dugout and tip his cap to the adoring masses (actually, there were only 10,454 on hand that day) after the home run, but Williams, embittered by what he perceived to be an excess of criticism over the years, refused.
The author eschewed the temptation to dip into the well of negativity…with respect to Williams' refusal, he noted, “Gods do not answer letters.”
Maybe not, but they ARE oft-times honored by society on a continuing basis and in a variety of ways. Updike’s story has been must-read fodder for baseball fans for more than a half-century…it has helped to keep his memory alive for his generation and will paint an indelible image of his epic persona for all succeeding generations of baseball fans.
And now we learn that The Kid will be honored by the United States Postal Service in its upcoming “Major League Baseball All-Stars” collection, which will be sold at post offices next year.
According to multiple sources, including Boston.com, Williams is the fourth and final all-star to be included in the set (Joe DiMaggio, Larry Doby and Willie Stargell were previously confirmed as subjects in the four-stamp series).
It is art of a different milieu; stamps are widely considered the most available and easily afforded form of art available.
The illustration depicts Williams in his bright white Red Sox uniform with red piping. He has just finished a picture-perfect swing. His left shoulder has been jerked under his chin in the process of following through.
His left forearm ripples, clearly demonstrating the strain and force of the swing. His piercing stare follows the flight path of the newly-struck baseball as it rips through the summer air.
You assume the strike has produced a line drive, as Williams’ stare is not drawn upwards towards a soaring fly ball but rather seems fixed on a line drive towards right-center field—you assume he is following one of the 1,537 singles he struck throughout his career.
With just a little imagination, his keen batting eye and refined swing mechanics are on display, and they will be displayed on the upper-right-hand corner of envelopes and packages mailed in the United States for the next few years.
It is an honor that the cantankerous 40-year-old slugger would have scoffed at and the mellowed 80-year-old retiree would have embraced…who’d have thunk it back in the day?