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Why Ted Williams is especially relevant now

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He saw war, and knew what it was worth.

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Ted Williams Dies
Listen to the American hero, will ya?

Ted Williams was neither merely a baseball player nor a dummy. He was also one of America’s finest fighter pilots, and he knew from experience that war worth less than the change in your pocket. He is always relevant and worth heeding. Here’s the Kid, on the value of war, in a pitch for his beloved Jimmy Fund:

All the bullets and all the bombs that explode all over the world won't leave the impact, when all is said and done, of a dollar bill dropped in the Jimmy Fund pot by a warm heart and a willing hand. You should be proud and happy to know that your contribution will someday help some kid to a better life.

The people who have been to war have told us it’s hell, over and over and over. The people who haven’t been to war have also told us this, even if they haven’t meant to. Let’s diverge from Ted for a moment. He’ll return. He always does.

Remember American Sniper? There was a liberal backlash to the movie after it dominated the box office, likely because of the conservative party politics of its director, Clint Eastwood. Fair enough: He put himself out there, he could live with the consequences for putting out potential propaganda. He made it clear he didn’t care, as is his right.

I was ready for a jingoistic jaunt down the American exceptionalist highway when I belatedly saw the movie. It didn’t happen. Far from being a pro-war movie, American Sniper is the single best anti-war movie I’ve ever seen, intentionally or not. Oops?

Consider:

  • The war theater is a dystopian hellscape in which American soldiers are in mortal danger at every moment
  • The lucky non-Chris Kyle soldiers who survive do so because they basically have a rifle-wielding Superman
  • This Superman has the blood pressure of a baby hummingbird and is so messed up he can’t relate to his family
  • He is killed by a Marine he was trying to help deal with the effects of PTSD

I was unequivocally horrified, so I don’t consider American Sniper a pro-war movie. That it was taken as such is a testament to the resilience of America’s idiots, for further comment on whom we go back to Ted:

If you don’t think too good, don’t think too much.

This brings us to the “former Major Leaguers get political on Twitter” portion of our program, which never ends well. Here’s ex-Red Sox legend Billy Wagner:

And here’s former Red Sox antagonist Aubrey Huff, doing his thing. The noted baseball analysts Dunning and Kruger did the relevant research on these two; you can look it up, but Williams knew of what he spoke.

Invariably, this post will get a “stick to sports” comment in response, and, lol, no. I will merely tether myself to them through Williams, who knew more about the horrors of war than virtually anyone alive now and would have gladly bought them out for four quarters. The modern baseball player, who generally knows nothing of firstand military service, would be wise to listen as well. War isn’t the important thing; play is the important thing, and no one knew it, or did it, better than Williams. I’ll leave you with a long anecdote from Richard Ben Cramer’s “What Do You Think of Ted Williams Now?,” which hits all sides of it:

On a bombing run, north of the thirty-eighth parallel, Ted lost sight of the plane ahead. He dropped through clouds, and when he came out, he was much too low. North Koreans sent up a hail of bullets. The plane was hit and set afire. The stick stiffened in his hand; his hydraulics were gone. Every warning light was red. The radio quit. A Marine in a nearby F-9 was pointing wildly at Ted’s plane. He was trying to signal: “Fire! Bail out!” But Ted’s biggest fear was ejecting; at six three, wedged in as he was, he’d leave his kneecaps under the gauges. So the other pilot led him to a base. Ted hauled his plane into a turn and he felt a shudder of explosion. One of his wheel doors had blown out. Now he was burning below, too. He made for a runway with fire streaming thirty feet behind. Koreans in a village saw his plane and ran for their lives. Only one wheel came down; he had no dive breaks, air flaps, nothing to slow the plane. He hit the concrete at 225 miles per hour and slid for almost a mile while he mashed the useless brakes and screamed. “STOP YOU DIRTY SONOFABITCH STOP STOP STOP.” When the F-9 stopped skidding, he somersaulted out of the hatch and slammed his helmet to the ground. Two Marines grabbed him on the tarmac and walked him away as the plane burned to a char.

He was flying the next day, and the day after. There weren’t enough pilots to rest a man. Ted was sicker, weak and gaunt. Soon his ears were so bad he couldn’t hear the radio. He had flown thirty-seven missions and won three air medals when they sent him to a hospital ship. Doctors sent him on Hawaii and then to Bethesda, Maryland, where at last they gave him a discharge. His thirty-fifth birthday was coming up; he was tired and ill. He didn’t want to do anything, mush less suit up to play. But Ford Frick, the commissioner, asked him to the 1953 All-Star Game, just to throw out the first ball.

So Ted went to Cincinnati, sat in a sport coat in the dugout. Players greeted him like a lost brother; even Ted couldn’t hear a boo in the stands. Tom Yawkey was there, and Joe Cronin; they worked on the Kid. The league president asked him to come back; the National League president, too. Brancy Rickey sat him down for a talk; Casey Stengel put in a plea. Ted went to Bethesda to ask the doctors, and then he told the waiting press to send a message to the fans at Fenway: “Warm up your lungs.” He took ten days of batting practice and returned with the Red Sox to Boston. First game, bottom of the seventh: pinch-hit home run.

I told you: He always comes back strong. This won’t be the last time.