Ted Williams was more than a great baseball player; he was a great American
CHARLOTTE, N.C., June 29, 2015 – The legendary conservative American radio pioneer Paul Harvey used to do a segment during his broadcasts called “The Rest of the Story.” It was hugely popular because of the O’Henry-type twists at the end of each piece that “fleshed out” a familiar story with an unusual finish.
In tribute to Harvey’s signature style, here’s another real-life tale with all the twists and turns of a compelling novel.
Immortal Boston Red Sox slugger Ted Williams was known for his hitting prowess. He was the last man to bat over .400 in a regular major league baseball season, and he homered on his final at bat, the last of his career total of 521 round trippers.
It is common knowledge that Williams, known as “The Splendid Splinter” and “The Thumper,” served five years as a Marine fighter pilot during World War II and Korea while at the height of his major league baseball career. But here, as Paul Harvey would say, “is the rest of the story.”
Williams never flew in combat during World War II because his piloting skills were of such high standards that he was needed more as an instructor in Pensacola, Fla. So adept was he at flying that Williams could accurately shred sleeve targets while shooting out of wing-overs, zooms and barrel rolls. In doing so he broke the all time record for “hits” at the school.
Korea was different. “Teddy Ballgame” flew 39 combat missions during his tour of duty in 1952 and 1953.
According to Ben Bradlee Jr., the squadron commander at his North Carolina training station, Williams was “a spoiled-brat type. He had too much money and had too many people rooting for him.”
Despite that, another commander selected Williams to be his wingman because of his proficiency as a pilot. That person was astronaut and Sen. John Glenn, who paints the opposite picture of the Red Sox star.
Writing about his first meeting with Williams, Glenn said, “I had just joined the squadron and was sitting in the pilots’ ready room one day when he walked in and came over and introduced himself, I had been a baseball fan since I was a boy, and meeting Ted was a thrill.”
Later, while flying an air strike on an encampment near Kyomipo, Williams’ plane was struck by hostile ground fire.
“The funny thing was I didn’t feel anything,” said Williams. “I knew I was hit when the stick started shaking like mad in my hands. Then everything went out, my radio, my landing gear, everything. The red warning lights were on all over the plane.”
It was typical for the tail of an F-9 Panther to blow off the plane when it was hit. Because of that, the standing order was for a pilot to eject when the rear of the aircraft caught fire.
Williams’ plane was indeed in flames, but he could not see them and was unable to respond to radio messages from Glenn and other pilots because his own radio was out.
Unaware of the condition of his plane, Williams continued to fly until pilot Larry Hawkins flew alongside the crippled Panther and led him to the nearest friendly airfield.
Struggling to keep his plane in the air and hold it together, Ted crash-landed at more than 200 mph. With no landing gear, the Panther skidded down the runway more than 3,000 feet before coming to a stop.
Miraculously Williams somehow managed to flee his plane mere moments before it was completely engulfed in flames on the tarmac.
Williams ended his major league baseball career in September 1960. Not only was he a top-notch hitter and fighter pilot, he was also a world-class fisherman.
In 1941, just before entering World War II, manager Joe Cronin asked Williams if he would like to sit out the final game of the season with his average at .39955, which would have rounded up to .400.
The slugger declined the offer and replied, “If I’m going to be a .400 hitter. I want more than my toenails on the line.”
Williams went 6 for 8 on the day and finished the season at .406. He was the last hitter ever to accomplish the feat.
Williams never won a World Series, going to his grave without a coveted ring. But because of his remarkable baseball history, a reporter asked him later in life to name the greatest team he was ever on.
Williams simply answered, “The United States Marines.”
And THAT is the rest of the story.
Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award-winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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