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Lane told him. "I'm grateful to you for making the try."
At first, his problem was diagnosed as a cold in the neck. It was actually a
pinched nerve. Because it was widely believed that Ted had used slight or
imaginary injuries to get out of exhibition games for years, the first stories
about the pinched nerve were taken, it may be said, with a pinch of salt.
Ted was not alarmed at first, because he was told that the trouble would clear
up in plenty of time for him to make the opening game of the season. "It was
when it got worse instead of better, and I realized I was going to miss the
opener again," Ted said later, "that I began to really feel discouraged."
Shipped up to Boston at the end of March, he was fitted with a thick collar,
and told that he would indeed probably miss the opener. He missed much more
than that. It was another full month before the collar was taken off, and
another ten days before he was able to play.
The Kid's Last Game
It was anticipated that he would work his way into the lineup slowly-- as he
always had in the past--but Ted surprised everybody by asking to be written
into the starting lineup as soon as the club came back to Boston. His muscles
were still sore, his hands were still blistered, and he bore little
resemblance to the Ted Williams whom Boston fans had become accustomed to
cheering and booing. He went twenty-one times at bat without a base hit,
picked up a couple of hits, then went nothing for sixteen.
He had forgone the slower, surer route because he felt that he was in terrible
condition that only the steady, hard competitive play could bring him around.
A terrible mistake. The neck bothered him all year. Since he couldn't move his
head, he had to stand at the plate facing the pitcher. "I didn't expect to do
real good," he said, "but I never thought I'd be that bad."
In mid-June, he was batting. 175 (103- 18). The Red Sox, who had been in fifth
place when he returned to the lineup, dropped into the cellar, and for the
first time in his life Ted Williams found himself being benched for
non-hitting.
He didn't start to hit until after he had failed to make the starting lineup
in the All-Star Game again.
And then came a succession of small, nagging injuries to go along with the
constant pain in his neck. He skinned the knuckles on his hand sliding. In
mid-August, an abscessed tooth knocked him out of a series in New York. By
then, Billy Jurges, who had replaced Higgins for the second half of the
season, had announced that he was going to "spot" Ted here and there, a nice
way of saying that he was being benched again.
In the dog days of August he had always loved in the past, he was deep in
another slump. By the last week of August, Ted Williams was batting.233.
He felt old. He was always tired. And, finally, in a night game against Kansas
City, he didn't even bother to run back to the Red Sox dugout between innings
unless he was due to come to bat. Instead, he took his rest in the Boston bull
pen along the left-field foul line.
For the season, he hit only.254. And, despite a final flickering of the flame
near the end, he was able to pick up only ten home runs, one short of the
number he had needed to catch Lou Gehrig.
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As the season came to an end, Yawkey called him to his suite at the Ritz
Carlton and told him flat-out that he wanted him to retire. "It hurt me," Ted
says, looking back. "I didn't think I was ready to retire. I thought I could
still hit. We agreed that we'd see what happened in spring training."
Hurt, yes. Surprised, no. During the season, Yawkey had sent Dick O'Connell to
sound him out about becoming the manager. That's the way you do it when you're
looking for deniability. You send a third party to ask the man you want to
hire whether he would be interested in the job "if it were offered to you." If
he turns you down, it is never on the record that the job had been offered.
"He told me that he would never give the Boston writers the chance to
second-guess him," O'Connell says. "I've never really been sure whether he
understood that the job was really being offered to him."
"I knew," Ted laughs. And he also knew why. It was not the first time the job
had been tendered. Joe Cronin had offered the job to him during the latter
part of the 1954 season. "I said, I don't want to manage. I said, I can still
hit. And I proved that for five years. Cronin said absolutely, 'Why don't you
take it? The guys all respect you.' They all this and that. They never brought
it up again in those five years, but that's the way it all started. And it
would have been a terrible mistake."
He would be facing his final year--as he had faced the previous one--with
wracking trouble back in San Diego. His brother, Danny, was dying of leukemia,
the disease Ted had devoted so much of his time to combating, and his
mother--Salvation May of the invincible faith--had broken under the strain of
her younger son's obviously losing battle against death and had suffered a
complete nervous breakdown.
As the final irony, Danny had straightened himself out after the war
and had found work as a contract painter and interior decorator. He had [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]