If baseball players go on strike this year — and kill their sport in the process — there will be one silver lining: Ted Williams won't have to watch.
A failing heart felled him Friday, but it didn't dim his star. Williams lived larger than most of us. As a baseball star, he was last player to post a batting average higher than .400. He hit 521 home runs, made 18 all-star teams, won six batting championships, two Most Valuable Player awards, retired with a career average of .344 — and did all this despite giving up five seasons in the prime of his career to serve as a pilot in World War II and the Korean War.
He had the dash of a war hero and the daring of a true sportsman.
He risked his .400 average by playing a doubleheader on the final day of the 1941 season. He went 6-for-8. He smacked a homer in the last at-bat of his career. By the same token, he was John Glenn's wingman in Korea, and once landed a burning jet on one wheel — at a speed of 225 miles per hour.
One sportswriter described Williams as the kind of guy John Wayne would have liked us to think he was. He wasn't cuddly. He had a temper. He hated sportswriters and stopped tipping his cap to fans after some Bostonians gave him the Bronx cheer.
But nobody was as smart or passionate on the field as Teddy Ballgame and in later years, he accomplished something that eludes most sports stars: He aged gracefully. Gone was the old rancor. He hurled himself into good causes and the sport he loved. He was embarrassed at times by the sight of grown men gawking at him. But then came the 1999 All-Star Game. He entered the field, doffing his cap, and promptly was swarmed by admiring superstars — who wanted only to hear and see the great man.
Ted Williams lived hard and proud. He thought his actions would do the talking for him. And he was right.