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Editorial: The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived

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    FILE - In this May 23, 1941 file photo, outfielder for the Boston Red Sox Ted Williams poses at Yankee Stadium in New York City. A new film explores the life of baseball legend Williams who struggled with his Mexican-American heritage and his volatile relationship with his family and the press. The upcoming PBS "American Masters" documentary on the former Boston Red Sox slugger uses rare footage and family interviews to paint a picture of a complicated figure that hid his past but later spoke out and defended black players. (AP Photo/File)

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    FILE - In this April 18, 1960, file photo, Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox knocks the ball out of the park for a home run in the second inning against the Washington Senators. The Washington catcher is Earl Battey. A new film explores the life of baseball legend Williams who struggled with his Mexican-American heritage and his volatile relationship with his family and the press. The upcoming PBS "American Masters" documentary on the former Boston Red Sox slugger uses rare footage and family interviews to paint a picture of a complicated figure that hid his past but later spoke out and defended black players. (AP Photo/File)

Published: 7/27/2018 10:10:01 PM
Modified: 7/27/2018 10:10:11 PM

A .300 batting average is the gold standard for professional baseball players. As we write this, the great Mookie Betts of the Boston Red Sox is hitting .351, and Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros is a distant second at .328. Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels, arguably the best player in the game right now, is hitting .305.

In 1941, Boston’s Ted Williams batted .406; no Major League Baseball player has put up a .400 average since. There are elite hitters, past and present, and then there is Williams — The Thumper, Teddy Ballgame, The Splendid Splinter, The Kid — standing above them all, alone.

That’s not the whole story — not even close. In fact, it’s impossible to adequately convey the greatness and complexity of the man in a few hundred words, or a few thousand for that matter. Thankfully, we don’t have to. If you have an hour to spare, just watch Ted Williams: The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived, an American Masters documentary airing on PBS stations and streaming on PBS.org (where you can also purchase a DVD of the program). It is a truly wonderful piece of storytelling that celebrates the methods and milestones of a preternatural hitter — the eye-popping rookie year, the 1946 All-Star Game, the career-ending home run — without being seduced by the mythology.

But the film’s greatest strength is the way it tracks the path of the person: neglected child, angry young man, thin-skinned celebrity, mean husband, loving father, wiser — if not wise — old man.

As we watch this year’s Red Sox team march toward October glory, we will think often of The Kid — the flawed man with the flawless swing who was born 100 years ago this summer. We will think about .406 and ’46, about that final at-bat and the statistics that were stolen by his service in two American wars. We will remember him as a baseball god, a man so good at hitting a baseball that he seemed a creation of fiction.

We will remember him, too, as the kind of person he really was — great at a few things, tragically poor at others. Fans and sports writers of Williams’ day were tormented by that dichotomy, but the American Masters documentary has created a unifying narrative: The same qualities that made him hard to love also made him the greatest hitter who ever lived.

It’s difficult to imagine a more human story.

Concord Monitor




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