By Dick Flavin
Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate
and New York Times Best Selling Author
A CENTENNIAL YEAR
There is never a time when the name of Ted Williams is very far from the thoughts of any
baseball fan, but the attention has become even more intense than usual with the
approach of the one hundredth anniverary of his birth on August 30 th . It brings to mind a
story that Dom DiMaggio shared with me about him.
When he and Ted were both in their sixties they attended a small cookout and Ted,
feeling a little wistful, said to Dom, “I really admire what you’ve been able to accomplish
in your life. You’ve been a great success in business after your baseball career; you have
a beautiful wife who loves you, your children adore you, and you’re surrounded by
grandchildren who worship you.” Then Ted added, perhaps with his own three failed
marriages in mind, “I’ve made a mess of my own life.”
Dom’s reaction to his old friend surprised even him. He looked Ted in the eye and said
with some vehemence. “Don’t you ever let me hear you talk that way again. You’re a
great American hero and millions of people admire you for all that you’ve accomplished.
You’re one of the greatest ballplayers who ever lived. You served your country in two
wars and you did so with tremendous bravery and grace under pressure. You’ve made
yourself into one of the world’s best fishermen. There isn’t a CEO or anyone else in
America who doesn’t wish that he had accomplished half the things that you have. Don’t
you ever talk that way again.”
Then Dom stopped. He had just scolded the volatile Ted Williams and nobody talked to
him in that tone of voice. Ever. Dom braced himself for the explosion he was sure to
come. Then, after a pause, Ted said softly, “Okay.”
It marked a change in their relationship. They had been friends for years, ever since they
were young men, blessed with talent and brimming with ambition; but now Ted began
treating Dom with great deference. He leaned on Dom for advice, and when his own
health began to fail and he needed a quick pick-me-up, he’d pick up the phone and call
Dom. For his part, Dom would call Ted daily the during baseball season with a report on
how the Red Sox had done the night before.
Growing up, Dom had been close to his big brother Joe, after all they were the two
youngest siblings in the sprawling DiMaggio family. But now he became even closer to
Ted, and he remained so right up until Ted’s death sixteen years ago.
They really did love one another.
In 1990 Dom wrote a wonderful book about the 1941 baseball season, “Real Grass, Real
Heroes,” and the unique perspective he had on two records that were set that year and
that have stood the test of time for more than three quarters of a century; his close friend
and outfield mate at Fenway Park, Ted Williams, became the last man to hit .400 that
year and his brother Joe hit in fifty-six consecutive games.
Those accomplishments have forever linked the names of Ted and Joe, but they were
very different men. Ted was volatile, fun loving one minute and angry the next, always at
war with the press. Joe was much more taciturn and was coddled by the New York
media. If someone had asked me when I was a kid which of the two would be unhappy
and maladjusted as an senior citizen, I’d had guessed Ted because he seemed to have
such a hard time adjusting to the random ups and downs of daily life when he was
playing. But as he grew older he mellowed and began to appreciate the affection fans had
for him, and he returned it in kind. Joe, on the other hand, became more eccentric and
more suspicious of people as the years went by. For example when “Real Grass, Real
Heroes” came out its dust cover featured likenesses of both Ted and Joe. Joe complained
that he hadn’t been paid for the use of his picture even though it was for his own
brother’s book. Ted not only didn’t complain, but also he wrote the book’s introduction
and then showed up unannounced at its publishing party held at Tavern on the Green in
New York City’s Central Park.
This year is, in addition to being the centennial year of Ted’s birth, is Bobby Doerr’s, too
(April 7 th ); and on July 29 th one hundred years ago another Red Sox legend was born,
Sherm Feller. The long-time Fenway Park public address announcer (1967-1993) was
one of the great characters in the team’s history. His introduction, “Ladies and gentlemen,
boys and girls, welcome to Fenway Park,” and his distinct delivery, will never be
forgotten by anyone who ever heard him. Maybe it was because he reportedly took out
his dentures beforehand. He was a well-known radio personality and a prolific song
writer long before assuming his duties at Fenway Park. In addition, he seemed to know
just about every celebrity in America and had strories about all of them. The job of P.A.
announcer is different now than it was in Sherm’s day. Now pre-game ceremonies are
carefully scripted and synced to the activities on the field; everything, by necessity, is
carefully choreographed. Henry Mahegan, who handles most games on the P.A. these
days, is a real pro and he never makes a mistake. Sherm made his share of mistakes, but
his personality showed through. He and the late Bob Sheppard of Yankee Stadium are the
only two who come to mind who achieved lasting fame as baseball public address
announcers. Almost twenty-five years after Sherm’s death people still remember and talk
A Note: I have been reading a lot about Bill Veeck, the great baseball showman, lately.
I’ve seen his name in print hundreds of times in the last two weeks. And I still managed
to misspell it in last week’s Musing. It’s Veeck with a ‘c.’ Mea culpa.