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Ted Williams: A Celebration of an American Hero

July 22, 2002

Remembering Ted Williams

My next trip to Fenway was for the special ceremony titled Ted Williams: A Celebration of an American Hero. The Red Sox had the day off before opening a homestand against the Devil Rays and Orioles the next day. Fenway Park had been open to the public in the morning. Fans had the chance to walk around the warning track and view Williams memorabilia, including his Hall of Fame plaque, which was on loan from Cooperstown for the occasion. The evening portion was a ticketed event, with proceeds going to the Jimmy Fund. Although Ted Williams retired thirteen years before I was born, I understand and appreciate his place in baseball history and Boston folklore, and I wanted to be part of the celebration.

The large "9" which had been mowed into left field at the end of the last homestand was outlined and covered in flowers. The giant flag which had been used for Opening Day was again draped over the Green Monster. Above The Wall were two billboards reading "Ted Williams: An American Hero 1918-2002" and "There goes the greatest hitter who ever lived." A large jersey with a "9" on the back hung on the center field wall. on the infield were painted .406, USMC, and 521, representing his 1941 batting average, the U.S. Marine Corps, and his career home run total. When I arrived, I went downstairs to get a hot dog. As I stood in line, Bud Selig walked by with some other men in suits. I was wearing my "Garciaparra" shirt, because he's the closest thing our generation has to Ted Williams, but I thought it would have been funny if I had bought and worn one of the shirts I had seen on sale at the SABR convention last month: "Fix baseball - contract Bud." A Marine Corps band was playing on the field as fans made their way to their seats. It was interesting to see the diversity of fans who attended the event. It wasn't just people old enough to have watched Ted play or kids being dragged by parents or grandparents, but every age group was well represented, showing the respect all Boston fans have for baseball and one of its all-time greats.

Banners on the Green MonsterThe ceremony began with a procession of former and current players, broadcasters, baseball executives, and the requisite state dignitaries. It was amusing to see Selig pared up with John Glenn, and the mayor and govenor pared up with broadcasters Curt Gowdy and Ned Martin, so that no one could be booed. Current broadcaster Sean McDonough and sportswriter Peter Gammons emceed the event. The National Anthem was sung by a Marine, and then the flag which had covered the Green Monster was lowered, revealing three large banners reading, "The greatest Red Sox player of them all", "An American patriot", and "A pioneer in the development of the Jimmy Fund." Red Sox owners John W. Henry and Tom Werner spoke first. They displayed the Hall of Fame plaque that was borrowed for the day and announced that the 600 Club (so named because it has 600 seats) was being renamed the .406 Club in honor of Ted. Next was Dick Flavin, a writer and friend of Williams, who recited "Teddy at the Bat," his parody of the famous Ernest Lawrence Thayer poem. (This version had a happy ending: "Somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout/And they're going wild at Fenway Park, 'cause Teddy hit one out!")

Pesky, DiMaggio, Gammons, and GowdyNext came pairs or groups of people who shared their memories of Ted. The first group included Ted's teammates Johnny Pesky and Dom DiMaggio and legendary broadcaster Curt Gowdy. (Pesky, DiMaggio, Peter Gammons, and Gowdy are pictured to the right.) Gowdy reminisced about fishing with Ted, and DiMaggio made a plea to the Williams family to stop their squabble over his remains and respect his wishes, which received a standing ovation. The next group was Carl Yastrzemski, who replaced Ted in left field and sought his help with hitting, and broadcaster Ned Martin, who shared his memories that night and ironically passed away later that week. They were followed by Nomar Garciaparra and broadcaster Ken Coleman. Nomar talked about what it was like not to have merely met Ted, but to have called him a friend, talking with him by phone, visiting his house, and even inviting him to a party before the 1999 All-Star Game. After showing a video clip of Ted crash-landing his plane in Korea, Jerry Coleman and John Glenn were introduced. Coleman is a former New York second baseman and current Padres broadcaster, and Glenn was an astronaut and U.S. Senator. Both spoke about serving with Williams in the Marines. Next a clip of Ted's Hall of Fame induction speech was shown, in which he had spoken on the need to induct Negro League stars into the Hall. Then former pitcher Earl Wilson shared his memories of playing with Ted, and filmmaker Ken Burns spoke about Ted's place in baseball history. Video of a Jimmy Fund ad starring Ted introduced Mike Andrews, sportswriter Dan Shaughnessy, and Dan's daughter Kate. Andrews is the former Red Sox second baseman who is now Chairman of the Jimmy Fund. Kate Shaughnessy shared how she met Ted when she was diagnosed with leukemia as a child. When all the speakers were finished, doves were released at home plate.

Dom DiMaggio and Johnny DamonTo begin the grand finale, a cast of Red Sox greats from throughout the decades came out in uniform and took their places on the field. It was really special to see so many of the stars from the past sixty years assembled together, from teammates of Ted Williams to the current team. In the picture to the left, Johnny Damon (with his son) greets Dom DiMaggio in center field. The players introduced were center fielder Dom DiMaggio, shortstop Johnny Pesky, third baseman Frank Malzone, second baseman Ted Lepcio, second baseman Jerry Remy, first baseman Walt Dropo, pitcher Charlie Wagner, pitcher Dick Radatz, catcher Bob Montgomery, pitcher Dave "Boo" Ferriss, pitcher Bill Monbouquette, shortstop Rico Petrocelli, right fielder Dwight Evans, second baseman Mike Andrews, manager Joe Morgan, pitcher Earl Wilson, pitcher Jim Lonborg, left fielder Jim Rice, pitcher Luis Tiant, center fielder Johnny Damon, catcher Jason Varitek, pitcher Tim Wakefield, infielder Lou Merloni, pitching coach Tony Cloninger, third base coach Mike Cubbage, manager Grady Little, and shortstop Nomar Garciaparra.

Red Sox greats assembled on the fieldOnce the players had all taken up their positions, Curt Gowdy stepped to the microphone to re-enact his call of Ted's homer in his final at-bat. Gowdy narrated as the clip was shown, and everyone stood up to applaud when the homer was hit. (Although there may have been only 10,000 people in attendance for the final home game of the 1960 season, I'm part of a new generation of fans who can say we were at Fenway Park cheering as we "watched" Ted Williams homer in his final at-bat!) The players then all walked to stand around the "9" in left field. Taps was played and God Bless America was sung, before a final video tribute as the players left the field.

Additional coverage of the ceremony from

Three great shortstops Red Sox greats
Three great shortstops: Nomar Garciaparra, Rico Petrocelli, and Johnny PeskyRed Sox greats past and present assemble in left field

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