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A few Rays were touched by Williams

Players, former and current, recall their encounters with the Splendid Splinter.

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published July 6, 2002

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Everyone knows Ted Williams was one of, if not the greatest hitter ever. But playing for Williams for two years when he managed the Washington Senators showed Jackie Brown just how huge of an impact Williams had on the game of baseball.

"It's hard to say this guy is more important or that guy is more important but there's just something extra special when you say 'Ted Williams,"' said Brown, the Rays pitching coach. "We've lost some other greats in the last few years, but Ted Williams -- there's something there.

"This is one of those times when I wish I was good with the English language because there needs to be something special said because this guy, in my opinion, was baseball."

Brown said he considers it an honor to have played for Williams in 1970-71. Rays Double-A pitching coach Dick Bosman and Triple-A coach Joe Coleman also played for Williams.

And being a pitcher for the game's premier hitter wasn't easy, Brown said.

"It wasn't good," Brown said. "He thought we should have to buy a ticket to get in the game, and he didn't hesitate to tell you that. ... He was strictly hitting."

Rays manager Hal McRae knew when Williams came to watch a Reds spring training workout.

"I was a rookie in camp in Tampa with the Reds and I was introduced to him by Ted Kluszewski and he watched me hit," McRae said. "He told me my hips were too stiff, that I had to pop my hips, that's the way he did it."

McRae kept his hips stiff and turned out to be a pretty good hitter anyway. But he enjoyed any chance he got to talk hitting with Williams.

Twice when McRae won the award as the game's top DH, he went to a banquet in New Hampshire that Williams attended. The sessions in the postbanquet hospitality room were the best part of the night.

"Naturally it was a hitting conversation, and what I remember most was that everybody could talk a little bit and then at some point Ted would just take over," McRae said. "It was informational. I learned something just shooting the breeze."

Rays catcher John Flaherty met Williams nearly the same way McRae did -- Williams stopped by a Red Sox instructional league workout when Flaherty was a first-year pro in 1988. Williams watched him take a few cuts, told him the key to hitting was to use your hips and your hands, then walked away.

"He was larger than life," Flaherty said. "When you met him, you didn't realize how tall he was, how big of a guy he was, and just the presence and the words and all that. Obviously it was a very simple thing to say that hips and hands were the key to hitting, but that's what he believed. And I'll always remember that."

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