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Williams recalled with praise

By BRUCE LOWITT, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 6, 2002

This was the relationship one of baseball's greatest hitters -- perhaps the greatest -- had with the game's sportswriters of his era:

This was the relationship one of baseball's greatest hitters -- perhaps the greatest -- had with the game's sportswriters of his era:

Of the 302 who cast ballots when Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox became eligible for Hall of Fame induction in 1966, 20 did not vote for him.

In 1942, when Williams won the American League Triple Crown (a .356 batting average, 36 home runs and 137 runs batted in), the Most Valuable Player as selected by the writers was the Yankees' Joe Gordon (.322, 18, 103 and a league-leading 95 strikeouts).

In 1947, when Williams won the AL Triple Crown again (.343, 32, 114), the MVP was the Yankees' Joe DiMaggio (.315, 20, 97). One writer left Williams out of his top 10.

"The press didn't love him that much, but he overcame them," former Yankees infielder Gil McDougald, who played from 1951-60, said Friday. "He was human, just like them."

Despite comments about Williams' coolness with the press and fans, there were few unkind words spoken of him.

"Whether serving the country in the armed forces or excelling on the baseball diamond, Ted Williams demonstrated unique talent and love of country," said President Bush, former owner of the Texas Rangers.

When the Devil Rays staged Wade Boggs Day in August 1999, about three weeks after he got his 3,000th career hit, one man in attendance was Williams. As a Red Sox spring training instructor, Williams had worked with a young Boggs. Williams was there despite his failing health. "I don't go to too many places that I don't want to go to," Williams said then. "I'm genuinely happy to be here."

Boggs, in New York, recalled the first time they met. "In 1976, only a few months after I was drafted, I was standing in line at a movie theater and he was right behind me. I was almost speechless, but I introduced myself and told him that I was just drafted by the Red Sox. He looked at me and said, 'Can you hit?' I told him I hit .485 my senior year in high school and he said, 'You'll do great."' Boggs retired in 2000 with a .328 career batting average.

Rays owner Vince Naimoli called Williams "a great friend to our organization. Right from the very beginning he generously made himself available to us. His presence at our inaugural game and our celebration for Wade Boggs made those two events truly unforgettable. We are proud and privileged to have known him."

Haywood Sullivan, a little-used Red Sox catcher from 1955, '57, '59 and '60 and part owner of the team from 1978-93, called Williams "an American original. He was one of those individuals that commanded attention whenever he walked in a room."

Commissioner Bud Selig said Williams was one of his heroes when he was growing up. "Ted was an American legend. Besides being one of baseball's all-time greats, he was a genuine war hero. ... He often said it was his goal that people would say of him: 'There goes the greatest hitter who ever lived.' Ted fulfilled that dream."

Red Auerbach, coach of the NBA's Boston Celtics from 1950-66, said, "For some reason, you thought he was forever.

"In addition to the enormous talent, he had charisma. No matter what he did, it was news -- where he ate, how he gestured to people, or whether he made some caustic remark. He was news."

-- Staff writers Marc Topkin and Kevin Kelly contributed to this report, which used information from other news organizations.

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