Friday, June 24, 2011

Ted Williams was Sport Life's target

The May, 1951, issue of Sport Life magazine not
only included a lengthy feature article critical of
Ted Williams, but also took a slap at him on
the editorial page.

I recently bought a small group of early 1950s magazines with baseball covers . . . three Sport and a Sport Life. Besides using the covers and inside photos/art for some of my custom card creations. These old mags made great bathroom reading.

The issue of Sport Life that I bought is dated May, 1951. I'm sure I'd encountered other issues of the magazine in the past. My impression is that it was something of a poor man's Sport. Similar content without the full-page color photos.

I was surprised to find out how virulent "The Big Sports Magazine" was, at least in its May, 1951 issue, in its condemnation of Ted Williams. The magazine was published in New York. The publisher listed on the mast head was Martin Goodman; editor was Brice Jacobs.

Besides, as ballyhooed on the cover, a feature article on Williams, there was an even more vitriolic condemnation on the Sports Fan Fare page up front.

Credited to "the editors of Sport Life," the front piece read, in its entirety:

In these times it is sheer fatuousness to give Ted Williams' utterances, invariably composed with the skill of a television potboiler, and making as much sense, equal billing with the remarks of a Trygve Lie or a George Marshall. (Editor's note: Trygve Lie was the first secretary-general of the United Nations. George Marshall was the founder of the Washington Redskins.)

For a mature man, in years anyway, to fill the air with such inanities about the game that has been so kind and so generous to him since he joined San Diego in 1936, marks Theodore Samuel as an advanced Neanderthal, with the reasoning powers of a backward five-year-old. Williams is concededly a ballplayer of stature, so long as he has a bat in his hand, and two feet poised on the turf next to home plate.

Whether based on a reasoned rancor, or just
trying to boost sales, Sport Life lit into Ted
Williams. The editors even characterized
the smiling fisherman in this photo as
"despondent and morbid."
When he changes his venue during his leisure moments, and especially during the off-season, the baseball public, including millions of kids who unfortunately look upon him as a hero and an idol, are privileged to hear some of the most ludicrous and baseless outpourings since a pompous little man assailed his subjects from a balcony in Rome.

What we don't understand is why Ted Williams continues to play baseball. In this democracy of ours when a man begins to tire of his occupation, or despises him employer, or finds his surroundings making him morbid and despondent, he looks for another trade. Taxi drivers, school teachers, artists, lawyers and grocers have been known to make drastic changes in their pursuit of happiness--so why not an outfielder named Ted Williams?

Williams should be at the height of his tempestuous career right now. He has a splendid war record. He is presumably an adult, with a wife and family to support. One would think Ted would be delighted as Punch to have his health, money and baseball career in this frightening and altogether gruesome era of world history.

Instead, he fumes, pouts, raves, and rants, without purpose or design. He deserves little sympathy, unless he mends his ways.

Given the prominence and vitriolic nature of the magazine's coverage of Williams in its May, 1951, I have to wonder what he did to incur the wrath of the publisher or the editor. Did Williams never hear the quote "Never pick a fight with someone who buys their ink by the barrel" (variously attributed to Ben Franklin, Ben Johnson, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde and others)?

Perhaps the magazine's "feud" with Williams was merely a ploy to boost newsstand sales and subscriptions. Regardless, it is of a type of sports journalism that we don't see much today. Or at least I don't see it. But that may be because I don't read much current sports writing.

The feature article was penned by Boston American sports writer Austen Lake. Veterasn baseball card collectors may recognize Lake as the author of the player biographies and playing tips that appear on the backs of 1934-1936 Diamond Stars cards.

We're presenting the text of Lake's article in its entirety. Perhaps, like me, you'll enjoy the style of writing that predominated in the mass-appeal sports magazines of 60 years ago.

Sure, some of the references are dated, but this is an opportunity to learn how one of the card  hobby's Most Valuable Players was seen by a knowledgeable contemporary.

Lake was a staple of Boston journalism for 40 years. He had been a football star at Lafayette College (Pa.), and played professionally for a time in pre-NFL days. 

Before the U.S. entered World War I, Lake served in France as an ambulance driver. When the U.S. declared war, he joined the tank corps. He was a war correspondent in World War II, covering the London Blitz, D-Day and the liberation of Paris.

At the time he wrote this feature, he would have been about 56 years old, and a veteran observer of baseball and baseball players.

by Austen Lake
of the Boston American
It's too late to cure Ted Williams of his deep-seated conviction that all baseball fans and all sports writers are pernicious pests fit only for tanglefoot paper or to be swatted with snubs. Ted is 32 now, and his character has jelled.

Still it is nothing new to sport. There have been many pickle-pussed grampuses who regard the public and press as irritating mugs to be treated with snarls or lofty disdain. There were Jack Sharkey, Bill Terry, Tommy Farr, George P. Marshall, Max Schmeling--to mention just a few. (Editor's note: Tommy Farr was a Welsh boxing champion.)

But the diamond suspender buckle for long-distance hatred and pure cussedness goes to the Red Sox whizz-kid whose sandpaper personality annually scuffs the toughest skins in the business.

In our next presentation, on June 26, we'll continue the presentation of Austen Lake's first-hand assessment of Ted Williams as published in the May, 1951, issue of Sport Life magazine.

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