Blog Entry

Iconic Updike column on Ted Williams honored

Posted on: September 28, 2010 2:51 pm
Edited on: September 28, 2010 2:56 pm
Ted Williams ... This was almost certainly [Ted Williams'] last time to come to the plate in Fenway Park, and instead of merely cheering, as we had at his three previous appearances, we stood, all of us—stood and applauded. Have you ever heard applause in a ballpark? Just applause—no calling, no whistling, just an ocean of handclaps, minute after minute, burst after burst, crowding and running together in continuous succession like the pushes of surf at the edge of the sand. It was a sombre and considered tumult. There was not a boo in it. It seemed to renew itself out of a shifting set of memories as the kid, the Marine, the veteran of feuds and failures and injuries, the friend of children, and the enduring old pro evolved down the bright tunnel of twenty-one summers toward this moment. ...

Understand that we were a crowd of rational people. We knew that a home run cannot be produced at will; the right pitch must be perfectly met and luck must ride with the ball. Three innings before, we had seen a brave effort fail. The air was soggy; the season was exhausted. Nevertheless, there will always lurk, around a corner in a pocket of our knowledge of the odds, an indefensible hope, and this was one of the times, which you now and then find in sports, when a density of expectation hangs in the air and plucks an event out of the future.

... [Doug] Fisher threw the third time, Williams swung again, and there it was. ...

Like a feather caught in a vortex, Williams ran around the square of bases at the center of our beseeching screaming. He ran as he always ran out home runs—hurriedly, unsmiling, head down, as if our praise were a storm of rain to get out of. He didn't tip his cap. Though we thumped, wept, and chanted "We want Ted" for minutes after he hid in the dugout, he did not come back. Our noise for some seconds passed beyond excitement into a kind of immense open anguish, a wailing, a cry to be saved. But immortality is nontransferable. The papers said that the other players, and even the umpires on the field, begged him to come out and acknowledge us in some way, but he never had and did not now. Gods do not answer letters. ...

-- John Updike, "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu"
The last at-bat of Ted Williams' (photo above circa 1955) career will go down in infamy -- not just for one of the best hitters of all time cranking a home-run in his final at-bat, but the eloquent prose of one John Updike that captured the moment and framed it in history for all time, providing an impossible ideal for future journalists to live up to.

Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu That moment happened on September 28th, 1960 -- making Tuesday the 50th anniversary of the original moment. Even more special about the moment was that everyone knew it was Williams' final at-bat. He would not be making the three-game trip to New York to wrap the season up and was replaced in the top of the ninth with Carroll Hardy. Incidentally, Hardy is the only player in baseball history to ever pinch-hit for Ted Williams (Williams was pinch-hit just once in his career, coming September 20th of 1960 when Williams fouled a ball off his foot and left the game) and Carl Yastrzemski, becoming the only player to pinch-hit for two future Hall of Famers. Hardy also pinch-hit for Roger Maris.

The Library of America (courtesy photo) is honoring the feat by re-releasing John Updike's epic column (read the column in full here ) in a commemorative edition which the author prepared just months before his January, 27, 2009 death. He has an autobiographical preface and an extensive afterword in the quaint book that deserves to be a staple of every baseball fan's collection. (The book can be purchased here .)

The Red Sox are also getting in on the action and will honor the moment on Friday, October 1 prior to the night's game against the Yankees. The ceremony will include footage of the home run and appearances by Red Sox icon Johnny Pesky and Updike's son, David. 150 free copies of the book will also be distributed to fans.

-- Evan Brunell

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Category: MLB

Since: Aug 22, 2008
Posted on: September 28, 2010 3:08 pm

Iconic Updike column on Ted Williams honored

Are those tears?

No. Of course not. A wind from the past just got in my eyes.

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