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Thursday, June 7, 2001
Call him, unpredictable
By Jim Murray
Special to ESPN.com

This column originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times on July 26, 1970.

You have gone a long way toward understanding Ted Williams if you begin with the fact his all-time hero, the man he admires most, is -- Herbert Hoover.

You heard me. Not Lincoln, Washington, Alexander Graham Bell, Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Atilla the Hun. Not Jefferson, Wilson, Churchill. Not even FDR, but Herbert Hoover!

You got to figure from this that Ted's favorite city would be Des Moines, that his idea of a vacation spot would be Poland, his favorite author, Blasco - Ibanez, and his favorite food, rabbit, and his favorite actor, Lawrence Tierney.

The chemistry of Theodore Samuel Williams is about as mysterious as boardinghouse stew. He is about as predictable as a tornado.

His second choice is not exactly America's Sweetheart, either. Gen. Douglas MacArthur does not decorate too many chain lockets. Ted's other choices would be less confounding: Marine Col. Robert Shaw, Cardinal Cushing, and Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey.

No one ever accused Ted Williams of astigmaticism. "He can see grass grow," old umpire Ed Hurley used to say. He could tell the sex of an eagle from the floor of a valley, Jimmy Piersall used to say. He had such a reputation for hitting only strikes that when he ripped three out against the Yankee pitcher one afternoon, the pitcher came in the dugout complaining, "my curve must be hanging." But your control's improving, Casey Stengel told him.

A Curve Striker
Ted Williams was probably the best curve stiker of the baseball who ever lived. "He could read the writing on your fastball," Bob Lemon once complained. Once, as a ball whizzed past him, Ted was supposed to have asked the umpire to look at it. "Got a spot on it," Ted explained. The ump peered. "I can't see it," he said. "It's right under the stitches on the other side," Ted instructed him.

Still, I thought Ted had probably preserved his eyesight by not reading presidential election returns, particularly from 1932. So, I went to have lunch with Mr. Triple Crown.

"What have you got against Calvin Coolidge?" I asked him.

"Look it up!" roared Ted, who speaks in home runs, too. "Every cure for the Depression -- the RFC, the SEC, labor legislation -- was thought up by Hoover. Here is a man who is blamed for things that were not his fault, yet he never complained, and continued to help his country for the rest of his life. To me, that's a great man."

"Who are some of your other idols? Who did you like in sports?" I asked. "I like fights," said Ted, "I like fighters." "Who is your all-time fighter -- Tom Heeney?" I asked. "Ezzard Charles," said Ted.

"You see," he explained, "I like underrated people. You look into them, and you can see where they were more extraordinary than some of the heroes worshipped."

It was said of Ted Williams that he wore no man's collar -- or tie, for that matter. He was lured out of a fishing hole to come back into baseball last year. Characteristically, he chose Washington, 25 Herbert Hoovers if there ever were one. They lost by landslides, too. Only Congress was funnier.

The betting was, Ted was hired to distract the public from noticing the team. He would run them by phone, one prediction went.

A winner again!
Ted Williams ran them from the batting cage. It is an axiom in baseball that you cannot teach hitting, that if God can't make a hitter, Ted Williams can't. "Bullsmoke!" roared Williams, "if you can teach a man to throw a curveball, you can teach him to hit one."

The difference this time was that Williams proved it. Washington won more games than it lost for the first time in 18 years, and only about the eighth time in its history.

The baseball writers named Ted Williams Manager-Of-The-Year. The form on this is, you're meant to hand your head with it and bashfully murmur, "Aw, shucks!" But they had to find Ted Williams in Africa to tell him. He resented the interruption. "Shows how little you guys know!" roared Ted. "Earl Weaver should have got it!" And he hung up.

Theodore Samuel Williams, who won six batting titles, two Triple Crowns, two wars, now has to convince his players they're as great as he was -- or as Herbert Hoover. He might try reading them some of Hoover's greatest speeches. Or a list of his great triumphs -- Maine and Vermont.

I don't know where Herbert Hoover would set on my all-time list. But I have to say Teddy Triple Crown would be in the first five easily.

This column originally appeared in The Los Angeles Times. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Jim Murray, the longtime sports columnist for the Los Angeles Times, won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1990. He died Aug. 16, 1998.



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