The Splendid Splinter and Connections

All of this volunteer sequestering has giving me time to read as well as write. In the last two weeks, i have read two books i had put on the shelf with good intentions. They are related. Now, they are read.

My nephew Tommy Duff gave me one for Christmas, Ted Williams: What Do You Think of Me Now? by Richard Ben Cramer. The other is one i had on my shelf and will be sending to Tommy today, Being Ted Williams: Growing Up with a Baseball Idol by Dick Enberg (with Tom Clavin). There are a lot of connections for me with books about The Kid, aka The Splendid Splinter. Both books admit Ted Williams was a flawed hero. Of course, all heroes are flawed. But most won’t accept that possibility about their personal heroes. With Ted, it’s impossible for all but an idiot to believe he wasn’t flawed.

Both books do an excellent job of portraying perhaps the greatest hitter baseball has ever experienced in honest assessments.

i was interested because i feel some connections. Ted is acknowledged as one of the many great athletes who have come from the Southwest corner. He was focused on baseball, specifically hitting the baseball. i was never that focused but loved the game.

Baseball was also the only one of the three major sports when i was playing in which i was not at a disadvantage because of my size. Five-Six, One-fifty (that was a long time ago) boys must be the best athletes in the world to make it in football and basketball.

Darrin Sproles, my height, made the NFL with the San Diego (once) Chargers, the New Orleans Saints, and the Philadelphia Eagles. Sproles, who retired recently at the age of 36, made the pro-bowl four times and was an important cog on the Eagles team that won the 2017 Super Bowl. Of course, Sproles was 190 pounds of very fast and agile muscle. i wasn’t then, and i am far, far away from that now.

Spud Webb at 5-7 and Muggsy Bogues at 5-3 were successful in the NBA. Both could dunk and were phenomenal shooters. Although i had a good eye and occasionally could hit from the corner and could drive with a quick release, i could almost get my hand over the rim most of the time, didn’t have a real jump shot, and was predominantly a right-hand dribbler. i shudder to think what a shambles it would have been had i played against the top tier of basketball players.

But i often wonder how good i could have been and what level i might have reached had i focused on baseball, had the instruction available now, and practiced hours and hours and hours rather than just playing. And i played a lot, a whole lot.

After all, Eddie Gaedel was 3-7. Of course in 1951, Bill Veeck, the high jinx promoter and owner of the St. Louis Browns put Gaedel on the team roster, and had him pinch hit against the Detroit Tigers. Gaedel walked on four pitches — he still officially has the record for on-base percentage, 1.000, his only at bat.

Not considering him, there are a number of players around my height who have succeeded at the major league level. Wee Willie Keeler, Hack Wilson, and Rabbit Maranville were early stars at my height.  Phil Rizzuto and Freddie Patek came later. And currently,  Billy Hamilton and José Altuve are my height.

i played a lot from somewhere around five-years old to forty-six. In my junior and senior years of high school, i played either baseball or fast pitch softball six days a week in the summer. i played softball regularly up until forty-six, and played in an “over-33” baseball league for four years, giving it up at 46 when i hit .206 for the season. Other than having great difficulty catching a high fly ball coming straight at me, i was a good fielder, a decent catcher, and very good contact hitter. i had no power, hitting one home-run the entire time.

But still i wonder…er, dream, and love the game. Absolutely love the game.

As for the Ted connection, i played at least five games at Ted’s original stomping grounds in San Diego, the diamond at Hoover High in San Diego. His accomplishments were always in the forefront of my mind when i was playing, especially after hitting over .400 a couple of years in Lebanon’s Babe Ruth League, probably the pinnacle of my baseball capability. And when he and Tony Gwynn became close and discussed hitting, he again became my hero along with Tony, the only guy who really challenged Ted as the last major leaguer to hit .400.

The two books both cover Ted’s entire life. They give different looks. Cramer is a writer and it shows. His prose is excellent and catches a lot of what Ted was like, especially in his later years when Cramer interviewed him several times. How Do You Like Me Now takes an in-depth probe into Ted’s psyche, pretty much concluding at heart, Ted, in addition to being one of the best baseball players ever and subtly pushing for Ted being the best hitter, ever,  had a big heart and was well-intentioned even with his flaws.

The other book has more connections for me. Dick Enberg, in case you didn’t know, was one of the best sports announcers ever, and certainly covered more sports than most: baseball, football, basketball, tennis, and boxing at the highest levels. Enberg’s story intertwines the story of the Splendid Splinter with his own rise to success, an interesting parallel.

In the last of his sixty years as an announcer, Enberg came back to his home in La Jolla and was the television play-by-play announcer for the San Diego Padres. My team. Enberg announced Padre games for five wonderful seasons. Having given up my season tickets in 2014, and contributing to Maureen becoming a knowledgeable Padre fan, we watched him almost nightly through each of his last three seasons.

Sadly, Dick Enberg retired as a broadcaster at the end of the 2016 season. He passed away just over a year later, December 21, 2017. His book about his boyhood idol was published posthumously the next spring.

i don’t think i could pick one of these books about Ted over the other. They both give us a portrait of a man who was one of the best athletes in my lifetime, a war hero (he flew with John Glen and Jerry Coleman, the previous Padre announcer and Yankee second baseman during their glory years), and one who pursued excellence to a fault.

Great reads, especially if you are a baseball fan.

Thanks, Tommy.

It’s time to read some more.

 

 

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