CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) - Thomas Ware sits at a long table in the sunroom of his Lookout Mountain home surrounded by papers and photographs. He’s digging through a briefcase full of folders which are full of things he collected over the years.
On this day, the retired professor of English at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, is particularly interested in going through the photos and literature he’s saved that detail the day back in 1952 when he followed baseball-great-turned-Navy-pilot Capt. Ted Williams around Honolulu. The pictures are of special interest because they were taken by Ware, then a U.S. Navy photographer, who had been assigned the enviable task of documenting Williams’ visit on his way to Korea.
“It was all quite an experience,” Ware says.
Williams was the last Major League player to hit over .400 for the season, which he did in 1941. Then, as now, he was considered one of the best to ever play the game, so he was a huge star and he knew the Honolulu trip was primarily a publicity opportunity for the military
He wasn’t overly happy about it, Ware recalls.
“He posed for a photo, but he was more interested in going somewhere to get a beer,” he says.
Williams served for three years in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps during World War II and was returned to active duty for parts of 1952 and 1953 during the Korean War. He played his whole baseball career for the Boston Red Sox and finished his career there in 1958.
Happy to accommodate the Hall-of-Fame slugger known affectionately as “The Splendid Splinter,” ”The Thumper,” ”Teddy Ballgame” or simply “The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived,” Ware and the other two men in their little party found a place to drink a beer near the base. Of course, it didn’t take long for the other soldiers to recognize Williams.
“I could only let a few in at a time, so I stood by the door and let five or six men in,” Ware says. “He (Williams) signed pieces of paper, arms, backs, anything until someone finally brought a box of baseballs.”
All the while, the officials who had planned a formal publicity event were calling and demanding that Williams get there on the double.
“It was getting close to 6 in the evening and he was having none of it,” Ware says. “He didn’t care about those guys.”
The day had started like most others for Ware, but then he got a call saying he needed to follow Ted Williams around all day to take pictures.
“I knew someone was pulling my leg and I told them so,” Ware says. “Pretty soon a Jeep showed up and off we went. I still didn’t believe them, but then I walked in this room and there was this man. He was almost god-like.”
Ware says the sports reporter with him asked a silly question about how the Boston Red Sox and Williams would do in the coming year, and Williams shot back, “How the hell should I know? I’m not playing this year.”
The now gun-shy Ware determined not to get on the star’s bad side and kept quiet, but he says Williams, who turned out to have an interest in photography, warmed to him, posed for several pictures and even offered tips on how to shoot him swinging a bat like the pros did it.
Ware found a couple of kids in a neighborhood and posed Williams with them, and later snapped one of Williams looking at a statue of King Kamehameha, who created the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1810 after conquering most of the chain’s islands. It was shortly after when the slugger asked if they could find a cool bar with even colder beer.
Williams, Ware says, became friendly as the day wore on and was gracious to the enlisted men who asked for autographs.
In the following months, the two exchanged letters, but Ware says he lost his, as well as the baseball Williams had signed for him. His younger brothers decided to toss it around in their Louisville home years later and it found its way into the sewer system.
Information from: Chattanooga Times Free Press, https://www.timesfreepress.com
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