- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 6, 2002

Ted Williams often said that hitting a baseball was the hardest thing to do in sports then made himself look like a liar.
When Williams died yesterday at 83 in Crystal Rivers, Fla., most veteran baseball men hailed him as the game's greatest hitter during the past 67 years, or since Babe Ruth's retirement in 1935.
Williams, whose .344 batting average over 19 seasons with the Boston Red Sox, was the sixth-best in history, had suffered a series of strokes and congestive heart failure in recent years. He was taken to Citrus County Memorial Hospital in nearby Inverness, Fla., and pronounced dead at 8:49 a.m., a hospital spokeswoman said.
Later, groundskeepers at Boston's Fenway Park began shaving his No.9 into the left field position he had played, while in Cooperstown, N.Y., at the Baseball Hall of Fame, into which he was inducted in 1966, a wreath was placed around his plaque and a flower arrangement around his statue.
The left-handed slugger, known in his younger years as the "Splendid Splinter" because of his slender physique, gained greatest renown for batting .406 in his third season of 1941 the last player to achieve .400. He never again approached that figure in a career interrupted twice by stints as a Marine fighter pilot in World War II and Korea.
"America has lost a baseball legend," said President Bush, a former part owner of the Texas Rangers. "Whether serving the country in the armed forces or excelling on the baseball diamond, Ted Williams demonstrated unique talent and love of country. He will be greatly missed."
Williams' batting feats awed people in and out of baseball. Former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tom Lasorda recalled in a CNN interview how he once called his pal Frank Sinatra and put Williams on the phone.
After the call, Mr. Lasorda said, the famous singer told him, "I can't believe I talked to Ted Williams."
Hall of Fame shortstop Phil Rizzuto, a longtime rival with the New York Yankees, said he was "heartbroken." Mr. Rizzuto added, "He was a credit to the game and did so much for so many people."
Williams was a San Diego native and broke into the major leagues in 1939 by hitting .327 with 31 home runs and 145 runs batted in. He won six American League batting championships the last in 1958, at age 40 and two Triple Crowns for leading the league in batting average, homers and RBI. He hit 521 home runs, including a dramatic swat at Fenway Park in his last at bat, Sept.28, 1960.
Despite his talent, Williams was often embroiled in controversy. He was a stubborn man who refused to acknowledge fans' applause by tipping his cap. He carried on a longtime feud with Boston sportswriters the "Knights of the Keyboard," Williams dubbed them and once spit at the customers when they booed him for a lackluster fielding effort.
Unlike contemporary superstars Joe DiMaggio and Stan Musial, Williams was hardly a complete player. His defensive play, throwing arm and speed were frequently ordinary. But nobody made a science of hitting as Williams did. When he became manager of the Washington Senators in 1969, which electrified the city's sporting public, nearly every player on the team improved substantially at the plate.
Williams managed the team for three seasons in Washington and one in Texas after it became the Rangers, then retired to pursue game fishing in Florida. One of his last public appearances was at the 1999 All-Star Game in Boston. The ailing Williams rode onto the field in a golf cart and, aided by veteran stars Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn, stood shakily to throw out the first ball while spectators roared their tribute.
In his later years, Williams served the Red Sox as a spring training batting instructor, a vice president and a consultant. However, a severe stroke in February 1994 limited his vision and mobility. He had a pacemaker installed in 2000 and underwent open-heart surgery in 2001. For about a decade, his son, John Henry Williams, had handled his father's business affairs.
Funeral arrangements were incomplete last night.

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