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Still trying to sell another little piece of his pop

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By MARY JO MELONE, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published July 14, 2002


The turning point of John-Henry Williams' life came the day he met the great-great grandson of Babe Ruth.

Williams was dumbstruck at coming that close to greatness, even if it was three generations removed.

A light must have flicked on in Williams' mind. Why, he was Ted Williams' son. That made John-Henry somebody other than a loser, didn't it?

Being the child of a celebrity isn't easy. You either strike out completely on your own and find a life and an occupation in which your bloodline doesn't matter -- or you live in constant shadow, scrambling to find your own place in the reflected light of your famous relatives, and in constant fear that you will never measure up.

John-Henry Williams chose the second way.

This spring, he got himself a tryout with a farm team of the Boston Red Sox, his father's team for so many seasons.

John-Henry was 33 -- an old man in baseball years -- trying to compete with strong, ambitious kids.

He went 0-for-3 as a designated hitter. Then two days before his father's death, he broke a rib chasing a fly ball.

His miserable luck was unshakeable. Before the baseball tryout, he'd tried to start several businesses by relying on his father's name. Each failed.

Three bankruptcies followed.

There were suits by creditors, and even a court battle with his sister over baseball bats autographed by their dad -- and all of this going on as he kept up the pressure on his father to sign, sign, anything that could be sold as a relic of the famous ballplayer's life.

What could John-Henry have wanted in having his father frozen?

Does he expect that in his own dotage, Ted will be thawed, propped up and given a pen so he can keep signing autographs and making money for John-Henry?

Or is the speculation accurate, that he wants to sell off bits of his father's DNA?

Given how John-Henry has turned out, this would certainly seem a questionable investment.

Or could it be that John-Henry simply can't accept the fact of his father's death and wants to hang on to him one way or another?

Friday, I tried through his lawyer to find out what John-Henry was up to. The woman who answered the phone huffed that this was a private family matter and hung up.

A private matter?

Anybody who expected to keep this creepiness a secret is delusional. The story could be an episode on Six Feet Under.

It makes you homesick for the usual stripe of probate ugliness. In more ordinarily dysfunctional families, survivors fight over the cash, pure and simple. Not organs and bones and brains on ice versus turning the beloved into dust and scattered on the waves.

If you asked him, John-Henry Williams would no doubt say how much he loved his father. But this wacko coda to Ted Williams' life is a most peculiar form of love. Sick obsession is more like it.

And perhaps there also exists a secret desire to trash his father's legacy -- because when they write the story of Ted Williams' life, from now on this chapter will have to be included.

God willing, Ted Williams made his wishes known through his will, and this saga will end once the will is probated. God willing, he'll have asked to be cremated, as other members of the family say was his wish.

If this happens, John-Henry Williams will lose again. But if he really is a clever entrepreneur, he'll have a backup plan. He could try to auction off the cremated remains in small allotments, packaged in tiny urns done in the Red Sox colors. Don't sell short the necrophiliac market.

-- You can reach Mary Jo Melone at mjmelone@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3402.

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