Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Bob Lobel: The Day I Saw Ted Williams Cry

By Bob Lobel  @boblobel

I saw Ted Williams cry. 

There is a chance that outside of his immediate family and closest friends, I have been one of the few. He was not the crying type. 

There have been many ways to describe Ted Williams, from nicknames, to brutal descriptions of his personal vendettas and temper, to his enormous generosity toward the less fortunate. His courage and patriotism were also legendary, as were his prodigious baseball numbers.

Selfish and selfless at the same time, but not a crier. He might be the greatest hitter that ever lived, but not the crier that I witness on the last day I saw him in the spring of 2002, the year that he died.  

“The greatest hitter that ever lived,” I’m sure, is what he would have wanted on his headstone, but since he wanted cremation, there would be no headstone. In fact, there aren't even any ashes. For a man who got just about everything he ever wanted in life, he has yet to get anything he wanted in death. 

He wasn’t cremated, he was frozen. That’s as much as I am going to repeat what you probably already know. These past few days, The Boston Globe has been running excerpts of a new book, by a former Globe writer with great bloodlines, Ben Bradlee Jr.

The book, in case you're curious, is entitled "The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams."

Other notable books about Williams have been written by the likes of returning (happy day) great columnist, Leigh Montville. The Bradlee book, out for Christmas, of course, may be the definitive one. If the brutal description of Ted’s decapitation is any indication, it will be a must read. The Globe excerpts prompted me to recount the crying moment that I shall never forget as long as I live.  

I get asked pretty often about sports moments that rank as most memorable. It’s not difficult to put this up there. In fact, there are a few moments that were not captured by any still camera, or video one for that matter. Some of the most memorable moments, like this one, happened far away from any interview or contrived setting. 

Some of those moments were intensely personal, like the one I’m going to share with you. 

Thank you Ben Bradlee for opening the door for me to bring this up. I don’t talk about this moment often, simply because it feels like I am being self serving. That’s just not true. I was just there and did what anybody would have done. I’ll spare you the build up, but  simply say I had done many events with Ted and for his son, John Henry, over the 15 or so years leading up to his final stroke. 

He had a few strokes along the way, but the last one was devastating. It left him almost paralyzed in a wheel chair, and the antithesis of the “John Wayne” image everyone knew as Ted Williams.  

The moment came at the end of a ceremony at his Hitters' Hall of Fame in Citrus Hills, Florida. It was an annual event and everyone there, including the frail guy in the chair, had to know it was going to be his last. His daughter, Claudia, wheeled him back from the front of the stage toward the ramp leading off, near where I was sitting on stage as a guest. 

There was a tear on his face, then another. John Henry said,  and I remember it like it was yesterday, “Dad, you remember Bob Lobel? The sportscaster we did the show with in Boston?”

Ted, kinda raised his hand as best he could in a recognition gesture. Again, I looked down at him and another tear was coming down his cheek. No one else saw the tear is the best explanation I can offer, which is why I did what anyone else would have done. I reached toward him and wiped the tear or two off his cheek.

He simply looked at me and said in his weak, raspy voice, “thank you.” 

A moment, as I said, that I will never forget. As a postscript, I can tell you that my thoughts were pretty simple. I knew he was a Godless man, yet I felt as if I was touching the DNA of the Gods. 

Tears are not like autographs. They don’t last. But, be assured, they are far more meaningful.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps he was not a Godless man. Leigh Montville, in his book, "Ted Williams", wrote that Ted's nurse, Virginia Hiley-Self, in January 2002, told Ted that God forgives and could provide eternal life. She said that Ted accepted that and he prayed. He knew that God was his savior. Ted was my baseball idol since 1947. I pray that he is at peace after a turbulent life.

elutz said...

Great story, Bob. Your Sports Final with the holy trinity of Boston sports legends was an all time classic. Thanks for the many years of bringing us the best. Why can't we get guys like you? ;)

Unknown said...

Bob, I've always enjoyed your work, but I have concerns about this piece, starting with your inability to spell "Bradlee." And I'm not sure that it's actually a final stroke that led to Williams' frail condition, but rather a very long, very complicated open-heart surgery followed by infection and kidney failure. How can you not know these things? Seriously.

Anonymous said...

Travis W... BOOM! let's hear it for facts.