Hitter: The Life and Turmoils of Ted Williams

By Ed Linn

New York: Harcourt Brace & Company 1993

Ed Linn is a well known sportswriter who has co-authored entertaining books with Bill Veeck (Veeck as in Wreck) and Leo Durocher (Nice Guys Finish Last). Hitter is a biography from the viewpoint of a hardened sportswriter who followed Teddy Ballgame’s career with a mixture of awe and revulsion. Ed Linn wrote Williams profiles in Sport magazine for a decade. Glenn Stout, in TW: A Portrait in Words and Pictures, writes “While Williams disliked the magazine, and no appreciation for Linn’s psychological interpretations, perhaps no other writer held Williams in such esteem.”

In the Introduction to another Williams book (Cramer’s TW: Seasons of the Kid), Daniel Okrent writes:

The most famous piece ever written about Ted Williams is certainly John Updike’s “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu”… A less well known (but equally compelling) Williams piece was written about the same event, by the journalist Ed Linn for Sport magazine… What Updike saw from his seat in the stands was a proud warrior; what Linn saw, in the clubhouse before and after the game, was a bitter, vindictive man beset by unspeakable demons.

The chapter on Ted’s farewell game is included here, where he tells Linn, “I felt nothing. Nothing, nothing, nothing.” Williams always felt a particular distaste for Sport, going back to 1948 when the magazine printed an interview with Ted’s mother. So it’s not surprising that Williams did not discuss warm and fuzzy feelings with Sport’s Ed Linn in 1960.

Linn details some of Ted’s battles with the Boston press. Harold Kaese of the Boston Transcript wrote in 1940 that Ted was killing the team in the field, that he was jealous of Jimmie Foxx, and condemned him for “extreme selfishness, egoism, and lack of courage… Whatever it is, it probably traces to his upbringing. Can you imagine a kid, a nice kid, with a nimble brain not visiting his father and mother all of last winter.”

Other papers jumped on the story. Linn writes, “It was on that day that the carnivorous Boston sports press was born.” Williams was sensitive about his family. He’d grown up poor, his parents’ marriage had broken up, and his brother was stealing things he’d bought for his mother. Ted was furious at journalists delving into his private life, and never forgave them. Later in the 1940 season he told Austen Lake of the American that he wanted to be traded. “I don’t like the town. I don’t like the people, and the newspapermen have been on my back all year.”

Ted is quoted as listing the Big Five bad apples of the Boston press, “Bill Cunningham (Herald), Austen Lake, Dave Egan (Record), Harold Kaese, Joe Cashman (Record). No, take Cashman out of there.” For those keeping score, Kaese moved to the Globe from the fading Transcript, and Egan worked for the Globe before the Record. Not mentioned in this tirade was Hy Hurwitz, another Globe scribe, who earned Ted’s enmity over a 1957 story in which Ted, thinking he was off the record, was critical of the Marines, various politicians, and the IRS. Then there was Mel Webb of the Globe, a “grouchy old bastard” who reportedly cost Ted the MVP award in 1947 by leaving him completely off the ballot. Linn says that Webb even bragged about it to other writers, saying “I don’t like the sonofabitch, and I’ll never vote for him.”[But according to Glenn Stout, Webb didn’t have an MVP vote that year, and it was a Midwestern writer who left Ted off the ballot.]

Williams wasn’t a smoker or a drinker, but this book leaves the strong impression he was surrounded by drunks. (Besides the sportswriters, I mean) Joe Cronin couldn’t discipline Jimmie Foxx because Foxx had been out drinking with owner Tom Yawkey. Tom would send heavy drinkers a bottle of Old Forester as a reward for an especially good performance. Manager Joe McCarthy “would disappear for days on end and be found in some seedy hotel lying in his own bodily wastes.” McCarthy was replaced by Steve O’Neill, who was GM Cronin’s drinking buddy. Bucky Harris, who followed Cronin as GM, was Yawkey’s drinking buddy, “a falling down drunk”. There is a comical story of Harris trying to fire manager Mike Higgins, both of them drunk in a Washington bar. Clubhouse man Johnny Orlando, Ted’s protector and closest friend on the club, was fired for drunken misdeeds before Ted’s final season.

Linn’s book ends on a “hopeful” note: Ted Williams Day, May 12, 1991. This was when Ted’s son John Henry came back into his life. John Henry, a senior at UMaine majoring in merchandising, formed a partnership with Brian Interland, called Grand Slam Marketing Inc. Linn quotes John Henry: “I want to take good care of Dad. I’m going to be watching him, making sure he’s protected. He’s too easy, too nice to everybody. I’m a buffer zone for him.” The words sound eerie now. In the last phase of his life, Ted Williams became, to the outside world, more and more of a product, owned and aggressively marketed by his son.

Reviewed by David Nevard (2002)