By Harold Kaese, as featured in the August, 1947 issue of SPORT magazine.
To most baseball fans, the Red Sox slugging star is a moody, arrogant character who shuns contact with his fellow men like a plague. But there's one group of followers who'll tell you he's a prince.
Joe Cronin's wife, Mildred, turned on the radio in the den of their Newton, Massachusetts home one day last May. To the baby of the family, three-year-old Maureen, she said, "Shhh! Now we'll hear the ball game, honey."
As the radio warmed up, the words of the announcer filled the room: "... broadcasting this after noon's game between the Red Sox and the Yankees from Fenway Park, Boston. The Red Sox are about to bat in the last half of the first inning. In the third-base coaching box is Manager Joe Cronin, who..."
At this point, Maureen clapped her little hands, danced up and down, and cried, "That's my Daddy winning. What's Meathead doing?"
Meathead, which is baseball's delightful way of calling someone a dope, has been Ted Williams' nickname with Cronin children ever since Tommy was trademark high to a Louisville Slugger. And since Ted himself started it, 'way back there in 1941 when Tommy was not quite three years old, he has never been able to object to the title.
"Hello, Meathead," Williams would greet little Tommy some six years ago, and the youngster would giggle happily, and say, "Hiya, Ted."
But one day a Red Sox player told Tommy that he should turn the tables and call Ted by his favorite nickname. Thus, when Williams came striding into the hotel lobby at Sarasota, tall, handsome, and confident, there came the shrill salutation from the rear, "Hiya, Meathead."
Williams' back stiffened, the hair bristled on the back of his neck, and a growl seemed to grow in his throat. He swung around and confronted the kid. The kid was grinning. People in the lobby were grinning. And in another instant, Williams was grinning. He had received as good as he had sent. Ever since, Meathead has been a term of endearment be tween Williams and all children he has liked, including the various Cronins as they have come along – Tommy, Corky, and Maureen.
When Tommy was three years old, he was interviewed with these results:
Q – Where will the Red Sox finish this season?
A – Fwirst p'ace.
Q – Who will be their best hitter?
A – Yimmie Foxxie and my Daddy.
Q – What about Ted Williams?
A – Who?
Q – Ted, the big skinny guy.
A – Oh, Ted. Him's Meathead – Meathead!
Tommy then struck a left-handed batting pose, swung furiously, and shouted, "Go for two, Meathead. Go for two!" That ended Tommy Cronin's first interview, at the age of two years and 10 months. It made a good story.
Williams does not reserve his affections for the young Cronins. He likes all children, and all children seem to like him. He acts their age. Grownups may say, ''Williams is a big kid," but children do not hold that against him. A child may be Julius or Lispenard to his parents, but to Williams he is Butch, Bush, or Meathead. Children who meet Ted like him because he hits home runs, calls them by extravagant nicknames, listens to their troubles, tosses winning smiles at them, and outrageously orders them around.
On exhibition trips in Florida last Spring, the Cronins and other small fry appointed Williams, the $75,000-a-year slugger and peer among modern hitters, their own personal secretary. Tommy would sit with nobody but Williams on the bus trip to Tampa.
"Now light someplace, Meat, and don't be squirming around like a worm on hot ashes," Williams commanded. Then he tried to answer the bombardment of questions to be expected from a nine year old boy speeding through strange territory: Are there fish in that river? How big are they? Do snakes eat oranges? Why do tires sing? What is in that barn?
But asked what he talked about to Ted on bus trips, Tommy replied, "We didn't talk. I was too busy with my bubblegum."
Besides Tommy and Corky, there was a youngster from Ohio, Bobby Corey, who was a sort of honorary bat-boy at Sarasota. He too, attached himself tenaciously to Williams. When the Red Sox ate at the Columbia Restaurant in Tampa, after playing the Cincinnati Reds, big steaks were ordered for the boys, just as for the players. And who cut the steaks so the boys could chew them? Ted Williams.
When Tommy's appetite began to lag with his steak only half gone, Williams began to steal some of the meat off the boy's plate.
"Look there, Meathead. What's that waiter carrying?" Williams would ask. And as the boy glanced across the room, Ted would spear another piece of meat off his plate. This went on for 10 minutes, with Red Sox players laughing so uproariously that Tommy turned to Williams and asked, "What's everybody laughing for?"
Then a player told Tommy, “ Look. Meathead has stolen all your steak. You're not going to let him get away with that, are you?”
The youngster gazed down at his empty plate, frowned, and then floored his audience by saying, "Oh, that's all right. I don'l like steak. I like sandwiches."
Williams has three strong competitors for the affections of the two Cronin boys – cowboys, Indians, and Rudy York. Asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, Tommy answered, "I want to be half cowboy, half Indian, and half ballplayer."
Advised that it was impossible to be half of all three, Tommy objected, saying, "Why can't I? Rudy York is.” Corky, who is seldom called Mike, although christened Michael, is six years old, and not quite so sold on cowboys and Indians as his older brother. He is pretty sure that he wants to be a ballplayer when he grows up, and, if possible, another Ted Williams.
“But you bat right, Ted bats left,” argued Tommy. "I have to be Ted Williams, because I bat left. You bat right, so you will have to be Rudy York, Corky."
Corky objected to his brother's conclusion, and intimated strongly that he would be a right-handed Williams, leaving Tommy, if he wished, to be a left-handed Rudy York.
The young Cronins agree that their Daddy is the champion of all champions, that the Red Sox are the best team there ever was, that Ted Williams is the greatest of hitters, and that they don't like kids at school who continually pester them for passes to games.
The Cronin boys like to pose for pictures with the photogenic Williams. They were posing last Spring to duplicate a picture of which nobody seemed to have the negative, when Corky called a sudden halt, saying, "Wait a minute, Meat, my elbows should be back just a little more."
"Okay, okay," said Williams impatiently. "Make up your mind, Meathead."
A friend of the family, watching Corky pose, remarked in an undertone, "That Corky – he’s a better actor than his old man."
Williams, like Babe Ruth, has given generously of his time to children. Adults who have been resisted in their efforts to patronize him have classified him as a loner and a crank, but this picture leaves unexplained the many favors he has done children. Each season he visits many sick children. Invariably he tries to keep secret such errands of mercy. He argues, "People will think I'm doing it just for publicity. If it doesn't get in the papers, nobody will know anything about it, and people won't be saying, 'There's that Williams trying to make everyone think he's a great guy.'"
But there are too many keen reporters watching Williams for him to escape entirely such publicity. Thus, when Williams was absent from the victory party after the Red Sox clinched the pennant on his home run inside the park in Cleveland last September, the story leaked that he was visiting a dying soldier in a nearby Army camp.
Williams often answers the pleas of fathers and friends to visit ailing children. When the Red Sox reached Chattanooga on their trip north ward last Spring, Williams was approached by a man who said his son, after talking for weeks of seeing Williams play, now had the flu and could not go to the game. Would Ted come home with him and say hello to the boy?
Ted went with the stranger. He was asked by little Tommy Seessel, the sick boy, "Will you hit a home run for me today, Ted?"
"How far is it to the right field fence?"
"It's 350 feet," answered the boy.
"Then I'll hit one for you all right," promised Williams.
In the game that afternoon, Williams hit a home run that carried over a row of houses beyond the fence. It traveled about 475 feet, said Joe Engel of the home club, and only Babe Ruth had ever hit a ball as far in Chattanooga. Of course everyone wrote that Williams had hit the homer for Tommy Seessel, as if visiting the sick boy had given him superhuman power.
A more dramatic story deals with his visit to 11-year-old Glenny Brann in Malden, Massachusetts Hospital in May. Glenny had had both legs amputated. He was still on the danger list, and knew nothing of the loss of his legs when Ted visited him, giving him an autographed bat, a ball signed, "To my pal, Glenny, from Ted Williams," and a promise that he would try to hit a home run for him that afternoon.
After Williams had left the hospital, doctors felt that the boy's morale had improved so much that they could safely tell him that his legs had been amputated.
Williams did not hit one home run for Glenny. He hit two – and both sailed over Fenway Park's left-field fence. Ted had never hit a home run over that fence before. After visiting Glenny, he hit two in successive innings. Here, indeed, was evidence of inspiration, and Williams quipped, "Maybe I should visit a hospital every day."
On the way to a meeting of the Rhode Island School boys' Association in the Brown University gymnasium, Providence, Rhode Island, Williams said, "Now let's get this over with. I want to get home as soon as I can."
But when he reached the meeting, he forgot about his hurry to get home. The place was swarming with boys, one of whom asked him a simple question: "How do you hold the bat?" For nearly two hours, Williams talked to the boys about hitting and demonstrated his grip, swing, and followthrough.
Always to be mentioned among Williams' worshippers are boys who have worked for the Red Sox as bat-boys and clubhouse boys – Freddie Stack, Frankie Kelly, Red Kelly, and Mac McGrath. They and their boss, Johnny Orlando, can tell you of Williams' magnanimity.
"Ted is the best tipper baseball ever had,'' says Orlando, who is rumored to have received something like $2500 from Williams during the 1946 season.
Besides tipping the boys generously, Williams sometimes invites them on fishing trips, buys them ice-cream sodas, and takes them to shows. Strangers may doubt, but these boys believe stories of Williams giving away World Series tickets last Fall to people he had never met. They believe stories like this one:
A truck driver stopping at a roadside stand for a cup of coffee late one night got into a conversation with the counterman, and told him how hard he had tried to buy World Series tickets, and how disappointed he had been when he failed.
Within a few moments, a young man sitting a few seats down the counter finished eating, paid his bill, and rose to leave.
"So you can't get World Series tickets, eh?" he asked the truck driver.
"Nope – no place."
"Well, try these for size.'' The young stranger tossed two tickets at the astonished truck driver and quickly left.
As the driver numbly fingered the tickets, the counterman explained simply, "That was Ted Williams."
Red Sox clubhouse boys believe that story, because, to them it is just like Ted Williams. He has done them similar favors. He has never been unkind to them, and for a very good and characteristic reason: they have never been unkind to him.
The only children Williams does not like are "fresh kids." It is a sad fact that children, especially noisy adolescents, have brought Williams much of the grief he has had from baseball. Abnormally sensitive to jibes from the stands, Williams has suffered from the abuse of juvenile nitwits jeering him from the convenient left-field stand in Boston. Instead of staying home and pulling the wings off flies, these little sadists visit Fenway Park just to torment Williams.
Because of them, Williams does not tip his cap. Let 35,000 fans cheer themselves hoarse when he hits a home run, Williams will not flash them a courtesy "Thank you," because a few of them jeer when he strikes out.
But even the fresh kids sometimes submit to his prowess. When he smashed a home run with bases full off Walter Brown of the St. Louis Browns last May, Williams as usual ignored the thunderous applause.
"Tip your cap," the kids in left field yelled. But Ted would not tip his cap. When he trotted out to his position, his tormentors arose and solemnly salaamed, as if to say, "Okay, Ted, you're the king." It was a nice touch, and even Williams grinned.
But kids who know Ted Williams, like Tommy and Corky Cronin, do not salaam him. Instead, they punch him in the ribs, muss his hair, and call him Meathead. Above all others, children subscribe to the theory that to know Williams is to love him.