He was a skilled fisherman, a veteran of two wars and an accomplished hunter. Oh, and Ted Williams also played baseball.
Fans seeking to buy items once owned by the legendary Red Sox slugger traveled to Boston's Fenway Park on Wednesday for a preview of the first major auction of sports, military and personal memorabilia documenting Williams' life.
The preview runs through Friday at the world's oldest baseball park and home field of the only team that Williams played for during his 1939-1960 major league career. The auction will be Saturday and some of the proceeds will benefit The Jimmy Fund, a charity affiliated with Boston's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute for which the slugger helped raise money during his lifetime.
Williams, the last major league hitter to bat .400 — posting a .406 average in 1941 — enjoyed a diverse life, including as a U.S. Marine in World War II and the Korean War, a member of the fishing hall of fame and a skilled hunter. He flew 39 combat missions in Korea and took enemy fire three times, including during an encounter that forced him to land his stricken jet on its belly.
"There're not many elements of his life that did not exude the same excellence as he did on the baseball field," said David Hunt, whose company, Hunt Auctions Inc., is selling the memorabilia on behalf of Williams' daughter, Claudia Williams, of Hernando, Fla. "And that is really unique ... He's sort of like the John Wayne of baseball and sports of that time period and I think that's evidenced by all these artifacts that documents his life."
Among the nearly 800 items up for auction is a baseball in pristine condition that Babe Ruth autographed for Williams with the inscription "To my pal Ted Williams, From Babe Ruth." That unique ball is expected to go for between $100,000 and $200,000, Hunt said.
The ball, which was stolen from the family's Florida home in the 1970s and not recovered until 2005, had a special place in Ted Williams' heart, his daughter said.
"It influenced his personalizations to so many kids in the future, as he always loved the way Mr. Ruth signed the ball, 'Your pal,'" Claudia Williams wrote in an email to The Associated Press.
Others items include Williams' 1949 American League MVP award valued between $150,000 and $250,000, a silver bat for winning the AL batting championship in 1957 valued between $100,000 and $200,000, as well as bats and jerseys that the slugger used, Hunt said as workers unpacked the memorabilia for display at a luxury suite at Fenway Park.
"These objects really just chronicle this man's life and, I think, show how great he was, not just as a baseball player," Hunt said.
Baseball fans who viewed the memorabilia include Malcolm Merrill, 82, whose son arranged a surprise trip from Hopkinton, N.H., to Boston to check out the collection.
Merrill said the experience brought a flood of memories from the 1950s when he used to watch the slugger play or listen to the game on the radio. It was, however, memorabilia highlighting Williams' role as a U.S. Marine at war that made Merrill emotional.
"Just to see him in uniform and to see some of the photographs that were taken with Ted in the Marines almost brought tears to my eyes — to think that he would give up his career . to be in the service of our country ... made me emotionally, you know, surprised ..." Merrill said, trailing off as he struggled to control his emotions.
Carol Barton traveled from Lynnfield, north of Boston, to see the collection. She said she was thrilled to see Williams' household items, golf clubs, letters from presidents and even a wooden duck collection that revealed the personal side of the legendary hitter.
"Ted was a hero. He was a real ballplayer back when the real American pastime, I hate to say it, but not like these multimillion-dollar guys who only play half a game," Barton said. "To me, he was just Mr. Baseball, but seeing all the personal checks that, of course, were saved for his autograph, and his own belongings — I mean furniture from his home . his favorite books, and all the awards that he won — it's unbelievable, it's a thrill being here."
Claudia Williams says her dad's intent was always to auction the items for charity.
"I'm rather certain, in his last year with the Red Sox, he earned less than $100,000," she said. "So, my dad was always amazed at the sale prices garnered from sales of sports memorabilia."
Hunt said the auction caps a process that began nearly six years ago when his company did some appraisals for her.
Claudia Williams, Hunt said, had discussed selling some of the items with her father and brother, who both supported the idea. That occurred before Ted Williams died in 2002, followed by his son in 2004.
The 10-year anniversary of Williams' death at age 83 and Fenway Park's ongoing 100th anniversary celebrations provided an ideal timing for the auction, Hunt said.
"Claudia kept things that are important to her, donated things to museums ... Why not do this in celebration of his life, benefit the charity that he loved and make it a positive thing for everybody," Hunt said.
Claudia Williams said: "I am incredibly proud of my father. My father lived a wonderful life, and did all he could for his fans, his country, and his family."
Rodrique Ngowi can be reached at www.twitter.com/ngowi