Friday, July 5, 2002

Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu

Tonight, to remember Ted Williams, the famed Boston Red Sox hitter who died today, I reread "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu".

This is a famous 1960 article about the great hitter written by John Updike for The New Yorker. It recounts Teddy Ballgame's history (in footnotes), and his famous last at-bat. I had actually underlined and made marks next to sentences, so wonderful is the writing. Its famous first sentence: "Fenway Park, in Boston, is a lyric little bandbox of a ballpark."

Of course, I never saw Ted Williams play. But I have gone to Fenway Park, and pondered his retired number 9, and I have driven through the tunnel that bears his name. When I was learning Red Sox lore, Ted Williams towered in my studies.

The Updike article is a glorious fan's perspective on the self-described Kid at his final scene. In the days before ESPN and 7-by-24 baseball coverage, Updike, as a youngster, followed Ted Williams through box scores: "He radiated, from afar, the blue glow of high purpose." When Updike visited Fenway on that blustery September day in 1960, Williams was the old man (42) among young talent. Updike describes the crowd (10,454), the game (a come-from-behind Red Sox victory, 5-4, over the Orioles), and his at-bat: "The crowd grunted, seeing that classic swing, so long and smooth and quick, exposed." Williams stroked a home run ("there it was"), and was gone after running the bases.

As his obituary streams across America tonight, it will be noted that he was noncommital to his fans; that even after this final home run in his final home at-bat (he would quit before the last away games with the Yankees), he didn't come out to tip his cap. "Gods do not answer letters." But Updike writes movingly that Ted Williams addressed the crowd before the game began, and said "I want to say that my years in Boston have been the greatest thing in my life."

He is the last man to hit above .400 (he hit .406, going 6-for-8 in the final double-header of the season). He did this in 1941, the same year that Joe DiMaggio hit safely in 56 straight games. These are immortal records.

Today, Ted Williams died. It's now time for us to tip our caps to him.

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