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Ted Williams: The Sequel

July 9, 2002

Only in America. No sooner had the eulogies to Ted Williams died out than his children were haggling over his remains. We’ve all seen bereaved families interrupt the mourning to fight over a legacy, but this is a new one.

I can’t vouch that the following story is true. I can only say that it’s been in the papers and, after rubbing my eyes, I conclude that it is either hard fact or a gigantic journalistic hoax. I would prefer to believe the latter.

I have always been a Ted Williams fan. He was the thinking man’s ballplayer par excellence, and his passing has afforded my fellow pundits occasion to display their intimacy with the awesome statistics that measure his supremacy as a hitter.

For years the aging baseball great, crippled by strokes and other infirmities, let his son, John Henry, manage his business affairs, chiefly the sale of his autographs and baseball artifacts. For the benefit of my Hottentot readers, I should explain that athletes’ autographs are a huge business in America. Given his peerless celebrity, Ted Williams could have made a fortune just sitting in his wheelchair, signing baseballs.

So lucrative is the autograph business that it has spawned a racket in forged autographs. Like an art museum authenticating purported works of the Old Masters, autograph collectors have to be very wary of clever fakes.

John Henry, fairly or not, has been accused of exploiting the old man for his own gain. Certainly he has made his own fortune. And he has made a reputation as a tough negotiator, jealously guarding the goods.

You might think that Ted’s passing would be a distinct setback for John Henry. It appears not. Where a less enterprising young man would see only calamity, John Henry appears to have seen new opportunity. He has reportedly had Ted’s remains frozen in a cryogenics lab in Arizona.

[Breaker quote: It's not over.]In the normal cryonics process, the body is frozen at an extremely low temperature after being drained of blood and filled with a preservative solution. The idea is to keep it until it can be thawed and revived somewhere down the road. But Ted, or what’s left of him, may face a somewhat different scenario.

Bobby Jo Ferrell, John Henry’s elder half-sister, bitterly opposes his project. Her husband charges that John Henry wants to freeze Ted’s head and sell the DNA in the future. Perhaps, with advances in cloning, myriads of new Splendid Splinters could be produced in the next generation. That would indeed be terrifying news for pitchers.

The Ferrells quote John Henry as saying, “Let’s freeze Dad!” One seldom hears such a sentiment expressed outside science-fiction films. Most of us have never had occasion to say it ourselves, even when our fathers were at their most annoying.

If all this is true, it might be fair to say that in John Henry Williams the commercial instinct prevails over the filial. By a wide margin. He brings to business practices some of the same scientific spirit his father brought to hitting a baseball. Not that he’s getting much credit for this. Most of the headlines feature rather judgmental words like ghoulish.

When Ted bade the game farewell with a mighty home run in his final appearance at the plate, little did we suspect that he would one day make a comeback, of sorts, as the raw material in a Frankenstein story. Or maybe baseball’s answer to The Boys from Brazil.

We’ve long followed the Ted Williams story in the sports pages. From now on we may be following it in the business section. This story adds new meaning to Yogi Berra’s famous epigram: “It’s not over till it’s over.”

At the height of his career, Ted was paid $125,000 per season. It seemed like a lot of money in those days. Today John Henry would laugh such a sum to scorn. Why, one of Ted’s ears would be worth several times that much!

On a personal note, I wish my siblings and I had realized the profits that might be made auctioning off your ancestors’ spare parts when we allowed Dad to be cremated. We may have unwittingly incinerated a million dollars. Live and learn.

John Henry Williams is a handsome young man with a lot of money. He seems to be unmarried. I am confident that with any luck at all, he will find a lovely Goneril.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2002 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
a division of Griffin Communications
This column may not be reprinted in print or
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