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Biography Sheds Light On Life Of Ted Williams

BOSTON — Ben Bradlee Jr. says he left no stone unturned in his quest to shed light on the life of a man considered by many to be baseball’s greatest hitter.

His biography of Red Sox legend Ted Williams consumed 10 years of his life and took 600 interviews to complete. The book at points is quite graphic in describing Williams’ death and the decapitation that preceded the cryonic preservation of his body.

Bradlee joined WBUR’s Morning Edition to discuss Williams’ legacy and why he took on the project.

Interview Highlights

On Williams’ early life: 

Ted Williams at spring training in 1939. (AP)

Ted Williams at spring training in 1939. (AP)

His mother was a Salvation Army zealot, out until all hours of the night saving souls. The father was sort of a near-do-well and a drunk, largely absent, so he wasn’t a factor in Ted’s life. He was ashamed of his upbringing. … He had his father’s genes so he looked quite Anglo, and with the name “Williams” no one ever assumed he was Mexican, but he was. His mother was born there. He was advised apparently early on that the prejudice of the day could hurt his baseball career, so he decided to keep this a tightly held secret.

On baseball: 

He studied pitchers. He was always amazed when he would ask a teammate what did the guy throw, was it a fastball, a curve, a knuckler, and the fellow wouldn’t know — he would be dumbfounded. … He guessed what they would throw to him. He gathered information from all kinds of sources, including the umpires.

On cryonics:

The cryonicists believe that the most important thing to preserve is the head because it contains the brain which contains the memory. And that presumably science will have advanced to the point where you can grow tissue on a body underneath your head. So better to preserve the head, so the theory goes.

Lasting impressions:

For a whole younger generation that didn’t know much about Ted Williams, the concern went [that] the cryonics affair would be the lasting impression and perhaps affect his legacy. But on balance, I think with the passage of time, that’s not proven the case.

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