Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sport Life assailed Willams as vulgar, unstable

Besides assailing Williams with words,
the editors of Sport Life chose a
particularly unflattering photo to open the
five-page article in the May, 1951, issue.

This presentation continues Boston sports (and baseball card) writer Austen Lake's first-hand assessment of Ted Williams, as presented in the May, 1951, issue of Sport Life magazine.  The first installment appeared on June 24.

by Austen Lake
Ted is an All-American pop-off whose emotional cackles--sometimes amusing, sometimes disgusting--date back to August 10, 1940, when he threw his first public tantrum by demanding he be traded by the Red Sox. That was the day he blew his top to this writer in a mouthful of profane fire-crackers--words that any parent of an adolescent lad would have washed out with laundry soap.

After listening to a quarter-hour of his lava, fire and brimstone I asked, "Is this off the record, Ted?" He vaulted over the grandstand piperails at Fenway Park, snarling as he went, "No! You can print the whole $%&(*@# mess, just like I said it."

That was the beginning. He was twenty-two then! Ten years haven't changed him!

In the intervening years, he has thrown countless wing-dings, latest of which came early in December when, before submerging in Florida's Everglades, he blew off a final gust of verbal halitosis to Miami's newsmen. He would write his own training ticket at Sarasota next March, as his mood of the moment dictated. He didn't owe the baseball public anything! Sure, baseball had been good to him, but he'd been just as good to baseball. The benefits of both sides had cancelled out. Sports writers were a lot of buzzards who feed on other people's flesh.

It was a typical explosion. For Ted is good for at least half a dozen frenzies a year--tantrums which range from charcoal black to churlish brown to tolerant gray to tractable white to amiable rose. He's what newspaper folk call "good ink." Not that he plans it that way! He's just Ted Williams, the reincarnation of Julius Caesar, Napoleon and Kubla Khan all rolled into one.

Question most often asked is, "How long will baseball tolerate Ted's crudities?"

The answer: "Just as long as Ted can field and hit at top major league standard." A fair money value for the tempestuous bat-genius might be $500,000, of which $200,000 is for playing skills and the rest for his eccentric muscle jerks, wind-blown moods, and the mental rubbish he fished up from his cranial frog-pond. That's called "turnstile magnetism."

Example: Several winters ago Boston ball writers, in a curious spasm of quixotic charity, voted to give Ted a token of their affection. They bought him a $350, hand-forged shotgun, a magnificent example of gumsmithery. Then they wired Ted, who was sojourning in the alligator lagoons and tangled wildwood of the Everglades, to be their featured guest at the annual mid-winter food folderol.

Did Ted graciously accept? He did not! He replied tersely that he was too busy potting and hooking the feathered and furry creatures of the jungle. Period! Blackout! So Joe Cronin, the Sox' affable G-M, accepted the expensive gift on Ted's behalf and, the following June, presented it to him in a homeplate ceremony at Fenway Park.

Ted accepted the gun with a churlish bob of his curly head and the incident appeared closed.

But it wasn't! Only a few weeks ago this writer learned the curious denouement to the incident.

Ted, after a bad day at bat, took the gun and jumped into his big convertible auto to keep a dinner engagement at a Dorchester friend's house. He arrived in a deep-purple mood. Brandishing the leather-encased gun he gave a loud baritone description of the @#$%^&+ writers and their {*&^%$# gift. At the top of his foaming, the friend's 13-year-old daughter walked in. Ted pushed the gun at the child and said, "Here! It's yours!" The girl said she didn't want any shotgun. Ted said he didn't want that one either. And there the $350 gun stayed when Ted left.

Typical? Yes! Just as typical as the scores of times he has visited some crippled kid in uncounted hospitals, always making the price of his appearance--anonymity. "Yeh" he agrees, "I'll come. But don't tell those @#$%^& writers. I don't to give 'em any cheap copy." Crippled or sick kids are Williams' weakness. Healthy kids--n'agh! Figure for yourself whether his internal miasma traces to something in his own curdled kidhood.

Here's an incident that makes a carbon copy of Ted's many waspish actions during a season--any season! Last September, during the Sox' last, collapsible tour of the west, a group of Boston news attaches were standing behind the Detroit batting screens while Ted, convalescing from his elbow injury of the All-Star Game, was taking some practice swings to test the newly-healed arm.

He watched a few pitches drift by. "Great day, ain't it, Ted?" chirped the Sox practice catcher. Ted swivelled his goose-neck around and saw the ball-boswells with the tail of an eye. Instantly his cheery grin melted. "Yeh" he snapped, "great day if those @#$%^&+ writers didn't stink it up." He's full of such gratuitous insults.

Again, after the final game of 1949, several of the Boston writers visited the Sox clubhouse to gather final color. "Anything to say Ted," asked a junior reporter. "Yeh" rasped Ted, inhaling a full lungful of air. "I want to say what a no-good *&^(%$#@ bunch of (deletion) you writers are," he said, furling back his tusks like an angry boar.

From adjoining lockers several of the Sox shook their heads ruefully, but stayed tactfully silent. For, though Ted's clubhouse unpopularity is based on his cold amber-eyed glares, his fountains of profanity, his hogging of the limelight, he is still an important personality whom the Sox players treat as a patient spouse might deal with a hysterical helpmeet. For his owner Tom Yawkey's private pet and along Tom's own temperamental kidney.

Article author Austen Lake is a name
familiar to veteran card collectors as
having written the backs of the 1934-1936
Diamond Stars. 

Tom gets a secret kick out of Ted's thumb-to-nose finger-twiddles at Boston fans, his bicarbonated burps at the press, and his crown-prince posturings. So, apparently, does a large portion of Boston's ball public, from the tone of their mail. A multitude of people pay between $1.60 and $3.30 on the trust, if fortune is kind, Williams will fire one of his copyrighted fits before the afternoon is over.

Not that Ted means to sell the stuff. It's just a natural oozing of his internal venom.

Like that day last June when Ted struck out at Fenway Park and was greeted with a locust noise of many tongues bubbling against fat lips--a noise generally identified as the "Bronx cheer." Ted's rabbit ears went crimson with irritation. Impulsively he extended his fingers fanwise, till the tip of a thumb touched his nose. Then he waggled the hand suggestively in an indelicate gesture of backlot-boyhood which is known as an anatomical invitation."

He also made moose-antlers with his hands and twiddled them at his ears. There was a lot more which delicacy forbids to mention lest the postal authorities fine this magazine for sullying the mails.

The unvarnished assault on Ted Williams by Sport Life magazine in its May, 1951, issue, will conclude in this venue on June 28.

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