Few people have their legacy endure and grow years after they no longer can do what made them famous, or are even alive. Ted Williams is such a man; one of the greatest players in baseball history, a pilot in two wars, a fisherman, and a salesman. Williams was more than just number 9 for the Boston Red Sox. In Leigh Montville‘s book Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero, he explores the man for good or for bad. Montville chronicles the ups and the downs of Williams’ life in a way that you can see the man, but his faults are not just glossed over. His determination and drive for perfection at the plate, in the air, or while fishing are what made him great. However, the same traits that led Williams to be great also meant he struggled in his personal life to find stability. His multiple marriages and his distant relationship with his children show the rough human side of Williams. Many baseball players, especially in the era in which Williams played had a clean cut public face. His fights with the sports columnist, the Knights of the Keyboard as Williams called them, are legendary, but they also tinted how the fans, especially those in Boston saw and felt about Williams. He did not necessarily have the perfect image like Joe DiMaggio, but Ted Williams was Ted Williams. Regardless of what you think of the man or the ball player, it is difficult to begrudge Williams on some level for being true to himself even when his actions and opinions were in the extreme minority.
The longer we continue to wait for the net player to hit .400, the more books like this are important because they allow us an inside view of what it is like to hit .400. The pressures to perform which the player places on himself are immense. The media scrutiny today would be infinitely larger than what Williams faced. Ted Williams laid the blue print for how to hit .400, and there are only a few players in each decade who can even hope to challenge for .400. The longer we wait for the next .400 hitter the less likely it seems we will see it again, much like someone challenging DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak.
Montville has done an excellent job of humanizing Ted Williams, especially for those of us who only have memories of Williams as an older man. The story of Williams’ life is almost like a radio broadcast as it is easy to listen to and it keeps you wanting just a little more. The book itself is an excellent read and is informative to those who are simply reading a book on an American original and to those who are diehard baseball fans. Striking this balance can be difficult, but Montville does it seamlessly. Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero by Leigh Montville is a must read for any baseball fan who wants to understand the man who continues to help definite the game.