Hub Fans Bids Kid Adieu, John Updike’s fan-in-the-stands piece about Ted Williams’ final ball game is one of the most anthologized and famous stories in all of sports. It first appeared in The New Yorker and it is now re-printed on-line at Baseball Almanac.
I admire Updike’s elegant writing and observations but actually I prefer Ed Linn’s behind-the-scenes account of the same afternoon that was featured in Sport magazine. But the ultimate Williams profile has to be Richard Ben Cramer’s Esquire article, What Do You Think of Ted Williams Now? (1986):
Ted Williams can hush a room just by entering. There is a force that boils up from him and commands attention. This he has come to accept as his destiny and his due, just as he came to accept the maddening, if respectful, way that opponents pitched around him (he always seemed to be leading the league in bases on balls), or the way every fan in the ball park seemed always to watch (and comment upon) T. Williams’s every move. It was often said Ted would rather play ball in a lab, where fans couldn’t see. But he never blamed fans for watching him. His hate was for those who couldn’t or wouldn’t feel with him, his effort, his exultation, pride, rage, or sorrow. If they wouldn’t share those, then there was his scorn, and he’d make them feel that, by God. These days, there are no crowds, but Ted is watched, and why not? What other match could draw a kibitzer’s eye when Ted, on the near court, pounds toward the net, slashing the air with his big racket, laughing in triumphant derision as he scores with a killer drop shot, or smacking the ball twenty feet long and roaring, “SYPHILITIC SON OF A BITCH!” as he hurls his racket to the clay at his feet?
And who could say Ted does not mean to be seen when he stops in front of the kibitzers as he and his opponent change sides? “YOU OKAY?” Ted wheezes as he yells at his foe. “HOW D’YA FEEL?…HOW OLD ARE YOU?…JUST WORRIED ABOUT YOUR HEART HA HA HAW.” Ted turns and winks, mops his face. A kibitzer says mildly: “How are you, Ted?” And Ted drops the towel, swells with Florida air, grins gloriously, and booms back:
“WELL, HOW DO I LOOK?…HUH?…WHAT DO YOU THINK OF TED WILLIAMS NOW?”
If and when you have the time do yourself a favor and check out both of these classic pieces.