Fenway Friends The lives of four old Red Sox, and a tribute to the dying Ted Williams, produce a literary home run

August 10, 2003

THE TEAMMATES
David Halberstam
218 pages (Hyperion, $22.95)

A man who gazes up from his deathbed and sees the teammates who
were closest to him still at his side after six decades is not
merely lucky; he must have done something to deserve it. Ted
Williams was such a man, and that is why this remarkable little
book, so unsentimental in its portrayal of the deeply flawed
Williams, is nonetheless as fine an epitaph as a hero could wish
for.

It was just after Sept. 11, 2001, that Williams's Boston Red Sox
teammates realized that the Splendid Splinter, who had been ill
with heart disease, was dying. Shortstop Johnny Pesky, second
baseman Bobby Doerr and centerfielder Dom DiMaggio--whose life
stories Halberstam also movingly details--wanted to visit him one
last time at his Florida home, but flying seemed dicey so soon
after the terrorist attacks. So Pesky and DiMaggio made the
three-day trip from Boston by car, along with humorist Dick
Flavin, a lifelong Sox fan. (Doerr remained at home in Oregon to
care for his ailing wife.) For three days the stories came out in
streams. "They never turned the radio on," writes Halberstam,
author of Summer of '49, which chronicled the epic Red
Sox-Yankees pennant race of that season, and many distinguished
non-sports books. They recalled how Bobby's level swing drove Ted
crazy (Ted was certain that the perfect swing had a slight upward
arc); but then Ted was such a perfectionist, it drove him equally
crazy when Doerr served grapefruit without cutting it into little
sections.

"Growing old in America, the country of the young, is never
easy," writes Halberstam. Nor is it easy to read his description
of the teammates' first glimpse of the declining Williams: "Here
was their old friend, a man once supremely powerful, shrunken
now, down to perhaps 130 pounds, head down on his chest." The
visit could have been depressing, but DiMaggio began to sing.
First he crooned an Italian love song, then Me and My Shadow,
never more appropriate. "Dommy," Williams croaked when the song
was done, "Dommy, you did really well." They all did well. They
couldn't have done it without their teammates.

COLOR PHOTO: HYPERION

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