There has never been a major league ballplayer like Ted Williams. No one has ever, for so long, attracted so much adulation for his prowess while earning so much censure for his personal gestures and attitudes.
Here is a fair sampling of the newspaper rocks which have been hurled at him through the years, the biggest of which came after last week's now famous spitting episode when Ted so clearly expressed his feelings toward his old enemies, both writers and fans, at Boston's Fenway Park:
"One of the finest young hitters to come to the big leagues in a number of years is Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox. You couldn't call him a fresh young man, perhaps not cocky, either, but he wasn't shortchanged at the self-reliance counter."—JOE WILLIAMS, N.Y. WORLD-TELEGRAM, 10/23/40
"If his noodle swells another inch, Master Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox won't be able to get his hat on with a shoehorn. For when it comes to arrogant and ungrateful athletes, this one leads the league."—JACK MILEY, N.Y. POST, 8/19/40
"You've sat sullen and aloof in locker rooms and hotels. Often you've looked lazy and careless on fly balls. Occasionally you've snarled things back at the bleacherites. You've taken the attitude, sometimes, that you're bigger than the game."—DUKE LAKE, BOSTON AMERICAN, 8/18/40
"Williams' temperamental outbursts are nothing new. His displays of temperament on other occasions have caused his own followers in Boston to razz him."—LEONARD COHEN, N.Y. POST, 5/13/46
"To get a real line on Williams you have to see his face in the clubhouse after a game which the Red Sox have won and in which he's gone hitless. That tells the story."—JACK ORR, N.Y. COMPASS, 5/5/50
"Williams removed himself from the ranks of decent sportsmen. Yesterday he was a little man, and in his ungovernable rage, a dirty little man."—BOSTON AMERICAN, MAY 1950
"Anybody who saw him in the holiday double-header would say the Boston fans are justified in anything up to throwing him into the Charles River...his one long hit of the day was well belted, but he gave up and settled for a double."—JACK ORR, N.Y. COMPASS, 6/2/50
"Williams is a peculiar cuss, so tangled in his inner man that even a psychologist or psychiatrist would have trouble unraveling him. He is more hated than liked by those who know him best." ARTHUR DALEY, N.Y. TIMES, 1/11/52
"It wasn't until he became Williams the $80,000 and $100,000 salaried ballplayer that he began to indulge himself in such peccadilloes as grounding to the second baseman and walking to the bench without taking a token stride to first base."—JOHN DREBINGER, N.Y. TIMES, 8/9/56
"Williams...doesn't command the same dominance over the other players he used to enjoy.... Piersall was blunt about his criticism of Williams' fielding. 'I ought to get two salaries,' Piersall said. 'I'm covering both fields.' "—SHIRLEY POVICH, WASHINGTON POST, 8/9/56
"It was bush, of course. There is no other way to characterize Williams' moist expression of contempt for fans and press."—RED SMITH, N.Y. HERALD TRIBUNE, 8/10/56
"By suspending him [Frick] would make people aware that old Ganglelegs [Williams], by his actions, is really a bum."—DON WOLFE, TOLEDO BLADE, 8/9/56
"No grown man in full possession of his faculties would make the vile gestures that he made on one occasion."—DAVE EGAN, BOSTON DAILY RECORD, 8/9/56
"Ted Williams should do himself a favor. He should quit baseball before baseball quits on him."—HAROLD KAESE, BOSTON GLOBE, 8/8/56
"Ted Williams, great though he be, must learn that he is not more important than baseball, the Red Sox or the American League."—BILL LEE, HARTFORD COURANT, 8/8/56
That is what they have been saying about Ted Williams. What is Ted's unvarnished reaction? JOAN FLYNN DREYSPOOL, whose CONVERSATION PIECE with Williams (Aug. 1, 1955) pleased his many admirers, went back to him last week to get it. Here (only a few adjectives having been censored) is his uncompromising defense:
They're interviewing psychiatrists now on me.... I am the spitting cobra.... I never had any trouble in any other town, only Boston. I know that 90% are for me without question, but they have such an element of writers up there—and I'm not saying all of them, just four or five. They wish they could knock me down to where I was begging for mercy. Well, they'll never see that.
"The big thing is that the writers in any town educate the fans to their reactions pretty much. You can go and write about Andy Gump and praise him for a week, and before you know it the fans will be clapping for him; or you can write nasty things about him and the fans will boo him.
"The fans form their opinion to a great degree on how things are written about a player.
"This is something that's been going on for a long while with those writers. To hear them, you'd think I never got a hit and that I've been a detriment to the team ever since I've been up there, which isn't so.
"Here's the thing I want to bring out. In the first place, 90% of the fans are for me, but the 90% who are for me are not necessarily the type of fellow who's enthusiastic about his applause. Though he heckles very little, he doesn't cheer much either.
"But there's a 10% up there, the baboon type who's always got his lungs ready to explode. I make a bad play or do something, and right away they start to yell vile names at me and boo all out of proportion, and even though they're only 10% they sound like they were five times as many because they're so much more vigorous than those who applaud.
"When I do something wrong, there's no need of applause. I am not talking about spitting. I am talking about plays, so the baboons really drown out everybody else and they get me plenty mad.
"I do something that irritates nobody in particular, really; something that comes out that you just can't restrain. What's the difference if I spit towards the stand or I don't? I'd like to know what else I could do to display my disgust for the boos and the guys who are up there writing with such a venomous pen.
"If someone could tell what I could do to show my disgust without spitting or making a vulgar gesture—which I certainly am not going to do—I would be grateful.
"But there are four or five of those writers who are forever hounding, driving, digging. According to them, I haven't had a big hit since I've been up there and never got an important hit, never made anything. The average fan in the country doesn't realize what you got in Boston.
"They're always saying I don't hit in the clutches. They'll cite a lot of games when I don't hit. Well, there are a lot when I do. All they have to do is look at the record; compare the alltime batting averages. After all, the best you can do in your life is hit one in three. I get a hit every three times at bat and I hit a home run every 15 times, and those grand slam homers, those are the ones I really like, but how are you going to get 'em when they won't always pitch to you? That's why I don't like to get a walk when the bases are loaded.
"I know I'm not right, spitting, but gee, it's the only thing I can think of doing. I don't want to smile at them. I don't want to wave my hat at them. I don't want to give them a fist job. All I can do is let a big heave, take in a lot of air and go phooey!
"It's the best way I can relieve my tension, to spit at them, and I am only spitting at 10% of them. It's something that happens, and I'll probably do it again.
"When I first came up to Boston  I was a big immature kid—not that I'm not still immature in lots of ways, but then I was enthusiastic about everything.
"That first year I hit more home runs than any left-hander ever hit over the right field fence in Fenway Park, and every time I hit a home run I tipped my hat out to here. Nobody ever tipped their hat the way I did. They all cheered me then. But that winter when I went to Minneapolis to stay instead of going home to California, they began attacking me in the press.
"I was never very happy at home, and it was the first chance I had to stay away, so I took it.
"The next year they moved the right field fence back, and I didn't hit so many home runs. Then they started to boo me. The minute I wasn't delivering to their satisfaction. Who cared how I felt when I didn't hit? I'm the guy who's trying to do it, who wants to do it. So when I saw how they acted I stopped tipping my hat, and I haven't tipped it since.
"Every chance they got they jumped on me. Even when I came back from Korea, when the mayor proclaimed a Ted Williams Day, a sportswriter wrote, 'What do we want with a Ted Williams Day? What has he done to deserve any recognition?
"Two years ago I was going to quit. I was in the railroad station in Baltimore. A fellow came up to me. 'What's this I read about you wanting to quit?' he told me. 'You can't quit now. There are too many things you can do yet.' And he rattled off a whole list of records for me to shoot for—things I never even had thought of. A couple of days later he sent me a chart with everything figured out. So I changed my mind.
"I've had a reason for everything I've ever done in baseball.
"If I can finish out the season without expectorating again at those guys in the press box, I'll consider it the greatest accomplishment of my sports career."
So there is the argument between Ted and his critics. There can also be an argument about how much harm, if any, Williams has done to the game. Post-expectoral curiosity has attracted extra dollars into baseball's till. If the Fair Name of the national pastime has been besmirched, that could be costly indeed, but it was apparent that the immediate cash value of the spitting incident to the Red Sox was going to be much greater than the record-equaling $5,000 fine they are collecting from their great slugger. The next day, for a midweek game against the sixth-place Baltimore Orioles, the Red Sox played before a near-capacity 30,338, a large majority quite evidently there not to watch baseball but just to see if Ted would spit again. And at week's end, the fascination began to affect others. During a game at Yankee Stadium the public-address system was only too happy to remind all those present that coming in early this week were the Boston Red Sox—"and Ted Williams."
Two daring managerial gambles on the same night, both involving the dilemma: "to walk, or not to walk..." had totally different endings last week.
The intentional base on balls is used to bypass dangerous hitters or to set up possible force or double plays. Today with runners on second and third, and a Mantle, Williams, Kluszewski or Snider at the plate, an intentional walk is almost Holy Writ.
Last week at Ebbets Field, Manager Mayo Smith of Philadelphia gave the maneuver a reverse twist. With the Phils leading 3-2 in the last of the ninth, the Dodgers, with two out, pushed runners to second and third against Harvey Haddix. As Dodger Captain Pee Wee Reese made his way to the plate, Manager Smith made a risky but well-calculated decision. He ordered Reese, a .260 hitter, walked so that left-hander Haddix could pitch to left-handed batter Duke Snider, the National League's home run leader.
With two stikes on the Duke, the three runners leading away from their bases like hound dogs straining at the leash, and 16,000 fans pleading for a game-winning hit, Snider thrashed at a Haddix curve ball and missed, ending the game and making Mayo Smith a very clever manager. Explained Smith calmly: "Just a percentage play. A left-handed pitcher against a left-handed batter. Just percentage."
That same night in Yankee Stadium, Baltimore and New York were tied in the ninth, 4-4. With Martin on third, two out, and Mickey Mantle at bat, the Orioles' manager, Paul Richards, surprised many fans by letting his pitcher, Billy Loes, face the league's leading home run hitter. Again, percentages were responsible for the decision. "Loes had struck him out in the seventh," Richards said later, "and Mantle's record against Baltimore pitching was poor."
This time Mantle drove Loes' third pitch into the center-field seats on a hop for the ball game, making Paul Richards look considerably less clever than Mayo Smith.—W.B.