“A man has to have goals – for a day, for a lifetime – and that was mine, to have people say, ‘There goes Ted Williams, the greatest hitter who ever lived.’ “
Once again, I managed to miss the joyous celebration of The Pink Flamingo’s blogging anniversary. Next year, on October 4, 2015, I will have been doing this blasted blog for ten long, miserable years. I wish someone would explain why. I suspect it has something to do with insanity. When I first began, I was obsessed with numbers, links, and status. Now, though, I don’t give a damn.
A true sign of greatness is to know when it is time to retire, and announce, in advance that you are retiring. Beverly Sills and Leontyne Price did it opera. My man, Johnny Bench did it. Derek Jeter just went out with class, solidifying the fact that, five years from now, he will become immortal.
The greats know how to bow out in style.
The very greatest of them all went out in a blaze of glory, hitting one into the Red Sox bullpen. That’s how it’s done, when one is a hero like Ted Williams. Then again, I’m prejudice. Oh, he was the greatest there ever was, at bat, and in the game, but his true greatness is in what he gave up – what he did for his country. He was so good at what he did, in the air, that he was wingman for one John H. Glenn. There were those who considered him a better pilot than Glenn, who is also the greatest of them all.
“..Williams, a 33-year-old married father with a bum elbow, was unconcerned about being called back to active service while he recuperated. As the Korean War heated up, however, the Marines desperately needed pilots-and Williams was one of the best. He returned to active duty six games into the 1952 season. After hitting a home run in his last at bat, he hung up his spikes to don flying boots to patrol the skies of Korea instead of Fenway Park’s outfield. Although initially bitter at being called up, Williams later remarked, “The guys I met in the Marine Corps were the greatest … guys I ever met. ” Like them, he reluctantly accepted that going to Korea was the right thing to do.
He attended flight-refresher training at Willow Grove (Pa.) Naval Air Station and then went to Cherry Point, N.C., for ground school before transitioning into jets. Williams liked the rugged Grumman F9F-5 Panther, a subsonic, straight-wing, single-seat, single-jet engine, carrier– borne day fighter often used for ground attack in Korea. He remarked that flying jets was “easier than props because they had no torque, less noise, tricycle landing gear [and] wonderful flight characteristics.” He “marveled at how good the [Panther] was and how much better [he] had it than those guys that flew in the South Pacific.”
Over the years Theodore S. Williams accumulated a number of nicknames: The Kid, The Splendid Splinter and Teddy Baseball among others, but his squadron mates in Marine Fighter Squadron 311 gave him a new one. They called him Bush (as in “bush league”)-an appellation meant to “get his goat,” according to his operations officer, frequent wingman and future astronaut and U.S. senator, Major John H. Glenn Jr. Although it may have rankled him at first, Williams eventually accepted his new moniker.
Williams joined the “Willing Lovers” (a nom de guerre taken from the squadron’s “WU tail letters) of VMF-311 at Pohang on Korea’s eastern coast in early 1953. Captain Williams flew 39 combat missions, his plane was hit by enemy gunfire on at least three occasions, and he was awarded three Air Medals before being sent home with a severe ear infection and recurring viruses in June. Williams was formally discharged from active duty on 28 July 1953, the day after a cease-fire in Korea went into effect.
Once again he picked up where he left off. He returned to the playing field in August 1953, hitting a home run on his second at bat. He wound up the year hitting .407 in 37 games. He played six more seasons, had the highest batting average twice (1957 and 1958) and played in seven All-Star games after returning from Korea despite impaired hearing as a result of his Korean service.
After leaving baseball, Williams became a well-known outdoorsman and was often seen duck hunting or fishing with his good friend Curt Gowdy on the popular television show “American Sportsman.” The Splendid Splinter succumbed to cardiac arrest at Crystal River, Fla., on 5 July 2002. He was 83 years old. Ted Williams may or may not have become the “greatest hitter in the history of baseball” and his unauthorized title of the “greatest fly fisherman in the world” was jocularly self-proclaimed, but there is one title that even his critics all agree he certainly earned: “U.S. Marine.”…”
That’s why he’s the Greatest of Them All.