DALY: A movie of Ted Williams’ life would only be natural

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“John told me he had a producer [for a Williams flick] one time, but the money fell through,” says Steinburg.

So they decided to give it another shot. It would be no Disney movie, that’s for sure. Williams, for all his heroics, had a bumpy ride in baseball — and in life, really. The quintessential loner, he warred with sportswriters, fans, wives, anybody who crossed him.

One time, Underwood found himself on the wrong side of Williams’ wrath when he made the “mistake” of grabbing a check in a restaurant. He already had sensed that morning that something might be wrong. “Ted’s eyes would get small and round when he was angered about something,” he says. “And his mandibles would jump. He’d be sitting there gnashing his teeth. He didn’t say anything negative [at first], but as we talked, it was almost like me doing all the talking.”

Then Underwood reached for the tab, and “Ted grabbed it out of my hand and said, ‘Don’t be a big shot.’ And with that, he loosed a torrent of curse words. He didn’t curse me, he just cursed openly and loudly. He was very good at cursing. He could find five ways to use ‘syphilitic.’ And I sat there and was stunned.

The writer and the Last .400 Hitter made up, though, and joined forces on a series of books, “My Turn at Bat” being followed by “The Science of Hitting,” “Ted Williams, Fishing the Big Three: Tarpon, Bonefish, Atlantic Salmon” and Underwood’s memoir, “It’s Only Me: The Ted Williams We Hardly Knew.”

Many sides to study

“There was so much to Williams’ life that you could certainly examine productively, even if you didn’t necessarily admire the whole thing,” he says.

And who better to tell the story than Underwood, who angled for game fish in the Florida Keys with him, hunted for sable antelope in Africa with him, sat in a duck blind in Arkansas with him and exchanged forehands on the tennis court with him?

About that duck blind …

“I remember being amazed that he could sit there in 38-degree temperature by the hour,” Underwood says - just like he used to wait, with superhuman patience, for his pitch. “One day, we hadn’t seen a duck all day, it was coming close to the end of the day, and sure enough a flock came over, way up high. I raised my shotgun and fired about 20 yards ahead, thinking it would get one of the ducks when they flew into it. And sure enough, I hit one, and it came down.

“Ted said, ‘I don’t believe it. I’m gonna get that one.’ And he came out of the blind — we had water up to our knees - and got the duck and brought it back. ‘Yeah,’ he said, ‘I knew it. Look, there’s not a scar on him. He saw those shotgun pellets way up there, he couldn’t believe it, and he had a heart attack.’ “

He was competitive at everything he did, Ted Williams was. And no matter what life gave him, he wanted more. How else do you think you hit .406?

‘Lonely and alone’

You can imagine his disappointment when he never won a World Series (and, slowed by an unpublicized injury, underperformed in the only one he played in). And you imagine how torn up Underwood was to see Williams, after his death, turned into a punch line when his son, John Henry, decided to have him cryogenically frozen.

Near the end, Underwood talked to Williams on the phone. “He had a nurse there full-time,” he says, “and she said he was sleeping, but she insisted that she wake him because he needed to have some encouragement. I’ll never forget how distant his voice sounded, how lonely and alone it sounded. It didn’t have any of the [usual] bristle. And he said to me — words to this effect — ‘John, if I had to live this last year of my life over again, and could get out of it by trading all the other years, I’d trade all the other years.’ That’s how bad it was for him.”

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About the Author
Dan Daly

Dan Daly

Dan Daly has been writing about sports for the Washington Times since 1982. He has won numerous national and local awards, appears regularly in NFL Films’ historical features and is the co-author of “The Pro Football Chronicle,” a decade-by-decade history of the game. Follow Dan on Twitter at @dandalyonsports –- or e-mail him at ddaly@washingtontimes.com.

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