Read as part of CBR14Bingo: star. Ted Williams was one of the biggest stars in baseball history and this biography is worthy of him.
When I read Leigh Montville’s Ted Williams: The Biography of An American Hero about ten years ago, I figured that would be the end of my journey with the life of the Splendid Splinter. I liked reading about Williams, I find him interesting, but I didn’t need more than one 500+ page work on his life. When Ben Bradlee, Jr. dropped this 775 page tome two years ago, I gave it a hard pass.
And yet, there I was in a bookstore a few weeks ago with a yen for baseball and money in my pocket. I saw nothing else other than the Williams bio that looked appealing. Figuring that I could stretch out reading it over a longer period of time, listening to most of it on audio and finishing it when it was convenient, I decided to grab it.
And I’m so glad I did. Both are excellent works. I don’t remember enough of the subtleties of Montville’s to distinguish one from the other; I remember Montville goes longer on Ted’s relationships with his teammates, especially near the end of his life. But Bradlee seems to have access to a broader scope of information so he’s able to present his in better detail, albeit written in a way that makes for compelling reading.
Ted Williams is an interesting character. Bradlee’s portrait is sympathetic but not uncritical. He seemed to be abusive towards women and there’s at least one claim of physical assault on his first wife that has the veracity of truth. He was loud and obnoxious and rude and an absolutely terrible father (which came back to haunt him in his later years). But he also had a deeply humane side. The Jimmy Fund visits, the constant picking up of checks, the real advocacy for Black players and recognition for those who played in the Negro Leagues. You get the full picture of a person who was genuinely complicated.
I don’t know if I needed Bradlee to go as long as he did on the end of Williams’ life, given the embarrassing way his children started feuding over his estate and body before and after he died. Not that it all needed to be private but it’s covered in extraneous detail that felt perverse. Others may differ.
All that to say, this is an excellent book worthy of a complicated man who loved just a few things in his life and struggled to express love for others, finding it near the end.