I’ve always loved reading about baseball. Not modern baseball, but the old days. Like the deadball days in The Glory of their Times by Lawrence Ritter, one of my favorite baseball books ever. Or the Brooklyn Dodgers. Or the Negro Leagues, both awful and beautiful.
So I grabbed a book on my dad’s bookshelf called The Teammates by David Halberstam. It’s a story about the enduring friendship between four ballplayers: Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Dom DiMaggio, and Johnny Pesky.
Ted Williams was one of my father’s heroes. An unlikely hero, in my mind, because he was a hero with baggage. He was foul-mouthed and arrogant. Loud. He wasn’t gracious, wouldn’t tip his cap to the crowd, even in his last game, at his last at-bat, where he nailed his last home run.
John Updike, in Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu, said about Ted Williams, “Gods do not answer letters.”
But Ted Williams could hit the ball. Lou Boudreau came up with the Williams Shift for a reason. Why Ted Williams, in that instance, didn’t follow Wee Willy Keeler’s motto — “Hit ’em where they ain’t” — is a mystery to me.
The Teammates softened my thoughts on Ted Williams. It showed a more human side to him. One Ted Williams story lingers with me. In the words of Bobby Doerr —
“… and when lunch was over Ted turned to us and said he wanted to take and show his dad’s photography shop. And so we went across the street from the hotel, and there was a building there, all the offices empty now, nothing there but an empty building. Then he began talking about his father, who had not been successful, was out of work a lot, and had been drinking a lot. And as he talked you could just see it roll out, this little kid in this terrible world, all the unhappiness, all the things which had never gone away, and which had been stored up for so long. It was clear that his dad had never been there for him. And then when we came out he took us to this nearby corner, and he said, ‘This is where my mother made me march with the Salvation Army, and I would try and hide behind the bass drum.’ As he talked I could see it all, the little boy back then, the shame, and the pain, and the broken home, and how much he hated all of it. As we were walking around, and he was letting us into his childhood, I was thinking to myself, ‘This is where it all started.’ I’ll never forget that day when he took us around because all you could feel was the sadness of it. The sadness of that little boy, and the sense that it had weighed on him so heavily for so long.”
As I read that story i understood better how baseball is a game of grace. The very best players fail two-thirds of the time when they get up to bat. A batter is allowed three strikes. A pitcher is allowed four balls. A team three outs.
Baseball is not like the pure athleticism of a race, where the first one to finish wins. It’s a game of trying and trying again. Perseverance. Moving on past a failure. And another failure. And another failure. Grace.
The whole game is grace. There’s always another pitch, another at-bat, another game, another season.
It’s why the battle cry of the Red Sox — “Wait till next year” — rings true.
Hope is a cornerstone in baseball. It exists at every single base.
Today my daughter Mary follows in my footsteps (and her aunt’s) by starting a job at the Baseball Hall of Fame.
When combined with the Daily Prompt: “Childhood”, and the fact that this post turned up when I did a draft folder search of that word, you can understand why I’m posting this today.
Originally written last October. Never posted till now.