HERNANDO, Fla. – In the last years of his life, Ted Williams grew to depend on his only son as strokes and heart disease took their toll on the mind and body of one of the greatest hitters in baseball history.
John Henry Williams took control. He made business decisions for his father and kept him on a steady schedule of signing baseball memorabilia, a practice those who knew the ailing star said was motivated by money.
The son also ultimately decided that his father's body should be sent to an Arizona lab to be frozen, a decision that has prompted a court fight with his half sister over what to do with the body of the last man to bat .400.
Bobby-Jo Williams Ferrell, 54, says her father wanted to be cremated and have his ashes sprinkled over the Florida Keys. She says her 33-year-old half brother intends to somehow make a profit by putting their father in the deep freeze.
Attorneys for Ted Williams' estate will ask a Florida court to decide the matter. A third sister, Claudia, is said to have sided with her brother.
John Henry Williams' relationship with his father was complex — at times loving, at other times tense, according to interviews with former Williams employees. It was a relationship that started with Ted Williams having little presence in his son's childhood and ended with his son being in almost total control of his father's life.
"He took over Ted's business affairs, his household affairs and he just became the boss," said Kay Munday, 68, who managed Williams' household from 1989 to 1995. "I would ask Ted something and he would say, `Let John Henry handle it,' and I would have to go through John Henry."
John Henry Williams saw little of his father after his parents divorced when he was 4. He grew up in Massachusetts and attended school in Maine.
He became part of Ted Williams' life in the early 1990s after the slugger's companion, Louise Kauffman, died.
"I think, maybe, when he grew up, and they got together, Ted was trying to make up for the lost years," Munday said. "Before that, Louise was kind of an intermediary between John Henry and Ted."
Once he was in control of his father's life, John Henry Williams kept Ted Williams busy autographing baseballs, bats and shirts, said Jack Gard, 59, who worked as a health aide to Ted Williams between 1998 and 2000.
"His son tried to be there every morning," Gard said. "He would call me and say, `Is Dad out of bed yet? We're going to do some signing. Get him ready."'
The signing of memorabilia was a constant activity, Munday said.
"Sign, sign, sign. They would do it for hours at a time until the man was so tired he couldn't write anymore," she said. "He pushed and pushed his dad to do all this stuff and of course it was for money. The ultimate thing was money."
There were times that Ted Williams got angry and refused to sign anything.
"John Henry would storm out of the house," said Gard, who was fired by John Henry after the son accused him of trying to sell Ted Williams memorabilia.
Gard said John Henry Williams installed video cameras inside the house to make sure employees didn't take memorabilia.
Four years ago, an employee reported John Henry Williams to the Department of Children & Families over the way he was treating his father, but investigators found nothing wrong.
Neither John Henry Williams nor his attorney returned calls seeking comment for this story.
At one point, John Henry Williams sued Claudia Williams for selling autographed bats Ted Williams had given her. Ferrell said her half brother cut her off from her father last year after she wouldn't go along with the cryonics plan.
Court records — and the actions of the younger Williams — show that he tried for years to make money on the legacy of his father.
His Internet company, Hitter Inc., filed for bankruptcy in 2000 after losing $65,300 in 1997, $858,630 in 1998 and $2.5 million in 1999, according to court records filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Orlando. A reorganization plan was approved last December.
Over the past several years, Hitter and another company, Green Diamond Sports Inc., have been subjected to liens from the IRS totaling $233,000.
Last year, a company sued John Henry Williams for failing to pay more than $122,500 for leased equipment. In addition, SunTrust Bank sued him this year for defaulting on a $570,000 loan for Hitter and failing to pay back more than $9,000 in credit card debt.
As collateral for the loan, Ted Williams had put up more than $500,000 from a bank account that SunTrust was forced to liquidate.
At the 1999 All-Star game at Fenway Park in Boston, John Henry Williams had his father wear a T-shirt and hat advertising his business during a nationally televised ceremony honoring baseball's greatest players.
John Henry Williams was a no-show at this week's All-Star game in Milwaukee, where Ted Williams' life was remembered by fans.
"Ted could never see anything wrong in what John Henry was doing," Munday said. "He always had faith in him for one reason or another."