- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 17, 2002

As they used to say in Brooklyn, leave us take one last, unloving look at this business of freezing Ted Williams' remains presumably with the goal of selling his DNA to clone heaven knows how many future .400 hitters for fun and profit.

The scariest thing about all this is that John Henry Williams, Ted's apparently avaricious son, may have created, literally, a monster. The question is where such athletically motivated cloning might lead.

Just think: Eventually, another Wayne Gretzky? Another Tiger Woods? Another Venus or Serena?

Another Mike Tyson?

Where there is money to be made, certain people will stop at nothing. And while John Henry Williams did not invent this concept, he certainly has pursued it for the last decade or so.

It is well known in sporting circles how John Henry dominated his declining dad's business affairs, toting Ted hither, thither and yon in search of the quick buck and shoving papers under his snoot to sign faster than the old man could read them.

Here's one example. A few years ago, Ted turned up in Chantilly, Va., at a reunion of the 1969 Washington Senators, the first team he managed and one that escaped the American League's nether regions successfully enough to finish 10 games over .500.

Although he had suffered a couple of strokes by then, Williams rose from his wheelchair to give a rousing talk at the reunion breakfast. When the affair was over, a man announced that Ted and his former players would be signing autographs a bit later in an exhibit hall next door.

I had brought to this warm, fuzzy occasion an 8-by-10 photo, encountered some years before at Boston's Faneuil Hall, of Williams hitting a home run in his final time at bat in 1960. Naively, I planned to thrust it in front of Williams and have him graciously sign it. In the exhibit hall, I asked an employee, "Is this the line for Ted's autograph? I'm surprised there are so few people waiting."

The man looked at me pityingly. "Well, you know, sir, Mr. Williams is getting $750 per signature."

Gee thanks, John Henry, and see ya around. I wouldn't pay $750 for anybody's signature, and not just because of the money. Bill Russell, the old Boston Celtics iconoclast, probably had the right slant on autographs: They're demeaning to both parties because of the implication that one person is better, or at least more notable, than the other.

I will offer this caveat: If a person owns a piece of memorabilia from an event he treasures, it's OK to have a participant sign it not to enhance its resale value but to personalize it. Otherwise, forget it. I keep thinking of all those young fans who waited in line at Camden Yards for the Orioles' ever gracious icon to scribble "Cal Ripken" on a scrap of paper. Nice, but so what?

As we all know, many retired athletes make a comfortable income selling autographs. Bob Feller, the Indians' great pitcher from the '30s and '40s, could be seen just a few years ago signing at minor league ballparks around the country. His name alone cost $10. A signed photo, supplied by Feller himself, went for $20. If you wanted his "Rapid Robert" on a ball or glove, it was $25.

"Look at this, Bob," an excited middle-aged man said one night at a Prince William Cannons game. "It's a genuine Bob Feller glove I got when I was a kid in 1937. Cost $3."

"Izzat so?" said Feller, taking the money and moving right along. "Next person in line, please."

Somehow, it all seemed demeaning a true blue baseball hero peddling his autograph like some guy selling cheap watches in a dark alley. Worst of all, during induction week in Cooperstown, N.Y., the Hall of Famers set up little tables on Main street outside the museum and unashamedly hawk their John Hancocks.

Does this detract from the power and the glory usually associated with baseball's Valhalla?

Does Randy Johnson throw a nasty fastball?

I suppose ex-jocks have the same inalienable right as the rest of us to earn the almighty dollar, though the game's escalating salaries and pension plan presumedly have removed most of them from desperate financial straits.

Yet to my old-fashioned mind, star athletes should be above the petty concerns that pester most of us. In other words, they should be good people as well as good athletes even though we know, sadly, that the two often don't go together.

And so the idea of freezing Ted Williams' remains against his express wishes seems disrespectful as well as ghoulish. This man was the greatest hitter of his time, whether his salary was $5,000 or $125,000. He deserves to be remembered for what he was, not for what he might be worth in some future Twilight Zone time.

R.I.P., Teddy Ballgame and if it's possible, take that kid of yours to some celestial woodshed.

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