No, the players haven't officially gone on strike (yet), and no, Bud Selig hasn't decided to contract all 30 teams either. Ted Williams, the greatest player who ever lived, died this morning, thus closing the book forever on baseball's Golden Years.
The last link to baseball's true legends is gone. Sports' last real hero has left us.
The last man to bat over .400 in a season (.406 in 1941) never got the kind of attention and respect he deserved as a baseball player, mostly because he refused to let the press dictate how he played the game or led his life.
In fact, Teddy Ballgame lost out on what would have been his fourth MVP award because one local Boston sportswriter schmuck who didn't get along with Ted didn't put him on his 10-man ballot that year. Even if he had just written him at No. 10, Williams would have tied with Joe DiMaggio for the award. But the self-important, no-talent hack from Beantown had his own agenda and because of his arrogance the greatest player that ever lived got shortchanged.
Even with the press against him for most of his career, Williams was perhaps the most beloved athlete in New England's history. He was the Jimmy Fund's biggest supporter (not just financially but administratively as well) and because of Ted's influence, he helped raise millions upon millions of dollars in the fight against cancer. He didn't have to do that and most athletes would have done it for a few months or a year and then disappeared into celebrity while taking credit for past contributions. Not Ted. He was involved for over SIXTY (60) years.
During World War II and in the Korean War, Ted Williams sacrificed what would have been five seasons in his prime to fight for his country in the Marine Corps. He flew F-9 fighter jets and was considered the best pilot in the Corps during his time away from the game.
In today's modern era, little kids have grown up calling guys like Derek Jeter, Sammy Sosa and Mike Piazza "heroes". Think any of them would give up their five best years to fight for their country? Me neither.
Imagine if Ted Williams had been allowed to play over that span of time instead of going to war. His already-incredible lifetime totals would have been flat out Ruthian. He finished with 521 home runs for his career but if he had the additional 600-700 games, he would probably hold the all-time record instead of Hank Aaron. At the very least, he would have been close.
People talk today about Barry Bonds being the greatest leftfielder of all-time. Yes, Bonds is a better fielder and yes, he's a better base stealer. But as far as an overall hitter, it's not even close. Ted Williams has no peer and never will. Bonds would have to get a hit in his next 2,000 at-bats to equal Ted's .344 lifetime average. Okay, maybe not 2,000 but you get my point.
Baseball also lost its biggest fan today. No one liked to sit around and talk about the game or about hitting more than Ted did. He didn't care if he was discussing the intricacies of taking a cut fastball the other way with Tony Gwynn or if he was teaching a six-year-old newcomer to the game how to keep his eye on the ball. Williams was (and still is) the most intelligent hitter that has ever played. It was because he was an advanced thinker that he was so successful. And not just in baseball.
As a fisherman, Williams is widely considered to be one of the greatest of all-time in that sport as well. I remember reading his autobiography, "Hitter", and his favorite thing to tell stories about were his fishing trips. Over the years, he went on outings with Bobby Knight, George Bush and numerous other big names in the field of sports and politics. Each of his fishing buddies called Ted the best fisherman they'd ever seen. Funny, but that seems to be a recurring theme in whatever Ted was involved with in his life.
When Ted Williams died today, so did America's connection to the glory days of baseball. From Ruth to Gehrig to DiMaggio and to Williams, the lineage has now reached its end. Mickey Mantle and Stan Musial did their bests but weren't quite in the mythological mold with the rest of the Big Four. How big is Ted Williams's death? This is the real life Roy Hobbs passing away. They wrote the movie "The Natural" because someone watched Ted Williams play baseball. And all of the hyperbolic achievements in that movie that seemed so unrealistic actually happened from 1939-1960. Ted Williams did those things with regularity.
There's a line in "The Natural" where Hobbs describes what he wants people to remember when he's done with baseball. His response, while classic in a cinematic sense, was borrowed from Ted Williams. Robert Redford, playing Hobbs, had this to say:
"When I walk down the street I want people to say, ‘there goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was'."
Ted Williams said the exact same thing. The difference is that Ted got to hear people actually say that after his career ended. All of the time until the very end, he heard those words.
Ted is gone now but at no point in the immediate or distant future will he be forgotten. If baseball wants to do itself a favor, it will forever retire the number nine in Williams' memory. There is not one person in the game today worthy of wearing that number. If Jackie Robinson's number is retired, so should Ted Williams's be. They both did as much as anyone ever has for baseball, and, more importantly, for this nation.
The Babe, Gehrig, Joe D, Mickey and the rest of Heaven's ultimate All-Star team now have their cleanup hitter. And when Ted walked into the clubhouse up there this morning, you can bet that even those guys, the very best of the very best, said the same thing: "The best there ever was is finally here."
Yep, Heaven made a roster move this morning. It seems Mickey's been in a slump and Management decided they couldn't wait until September to call up the Organization's top prospect.