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Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero [Hardcover]

Leigh Montville
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 13 2004

He was The Kid. The Splendid Splinter. Teddy Ballgame. One of the greatest figures of his generation, and arguably the greatest baseball hitter of all time. But what made Ted Williams a legend – and a lightning rod for controversy in life and in death? What motivated him to interrupt his Hall of Fame career twice to serve his country as a fighter pilot; to embrace his fans while tangling with the media; to retreat from the limelight whenever possible into his solitary love of fishing; and to become the most famous man ever to have his body cryogenically frozen after his death? New York Times bestselling author Leigh Montville, who wrote the celebrated Sports Illustrated obituary of Ted Williams, now delivers an intimate, riveting account of this extraordinary life.

Still a gangly teenager when he stepped into a Boston Red Sox uniform in 1939, Williams’s boisterous personality and penchant for towering home runs earned him adoring admirers--the fans--and venomous critics--the sportswriters. In 1941, the entire country followed Williams's stunning .406 season, a record that has not been touched in over six decades. At the pinnacle of his prime, Williams left Boston to train and serve as a fighter pilot in World War II, missing three full years of baseball. He was back in 1946, dominating the sport alongside teammates Dominic DiMaggio, Johnny Pesky, and Bobby Doerr. But Williams left baseball again in 1952 to fight in Korea, where he flew thirty-nine combat missions—crash-landing his flaming, smoke-filled plane, in one famous episode.

Ted Willams's personal life was equally colorful. His attraction to women (and their attraction to him) was a constant. He was married and divorced three times and he fathered two daughters and a son. He was one of corporate America's first modern spokesmen, and he remained, nearly into his eighties, a fiercely devoted fisherman. With his son, John Henry Williams, he devoted his final years to the sports memorabilia business, even as illness overtook him. And in death, controversy and public outcry followed Williams and the disagreements between his children over the decision to have his body preserved for future resuscitation in a cryonics facility--a fate, many argue, Williams never wanted.

With unmatched verve and passion, and drawing upon hundreds of interviews, acclaimed best-selling author Leigh Montville brings to life Ted Williams's superb triumphs, lonely tragedies, and intensely colorful personality, in a biography that is fitting of an American hero and legend.

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From Publishers Weekly

Montville, who also penned the bestselling bio about racer Dale Earnhart (The Altar of Speed), covers all of Williams's heroic achievements-a Hall of Fame baseball career, two tours of duty as a Marine fighter pilot, an unmatched thirst for the thrill of the outdoors. But thanks to the author's ability to track down new sources of information, Montville presents a more nuanced portrayal of the baseball star than many previous biographies. The Kid, as Williams was known, is brought to life with portraits supplied from the people who made up Williams's very compartmentalized life. Distinct recollections of his former teammates, fishing buddies, former lovers, caretakers, family members and brothers in arms coupled with Montville's ability to display each memory in its own context gives readers an extraordinary glimpse into Williams's complex psyche. Though he admits to worshipping Williams as a youth, Montville's crisp prose holds nothing back when it comes to exposing Williams's many flaws, his heartbreaking final years and the controversy surrounding his death. Relying on his years as a sports writer, Montville is also able to subtly shift the tone of the book to fit Williams's personality as he evolved from an energetic youth to a cantankerous star, from America's bigger-than-life legend to a bedridden invalid. Sure, Teddy Ballgame was an American icon, but Montville's ability to show the darker and lighter human sides of Williams is a pretty remarkable achievement in its own right.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

The late, great baseball Hall-of-Famer Ted Williams was always a lightning rod, igniting controversy in his wake, even after his death, as those who have followed the intrafamily battle regarding the disposition of his remains can attest. Montville, whose resume includes stints as a Boston Globe columnist and senior writer for Sports Illustrated, offers a warts-and-all portrait of the Red Sox star but also shows Williams' wit, empathy, intelligence, uncommon loyalty to those he called friends, and unswerving commitment to excellence (in hitting, fishing, hunting, and piloting). Exploring the many aspects of this complex sports icon through first-person interviews, newspaper accounts, magazine articles, and other print sources, Montville shows Williams lashing out at fans and battling the Boston press, but he also recounts the off-the-field triumphs: the "hero" in the subtitle stems not so much from Williams' baseball exploits as from his two stints as a marine pilot, one in World War II, the other in Korea. Ted Williams would have been a difficult man to befriend, but on the basis of Montville's work and David Halberstam's Teammates [BKL Mr 15 03], it appears that the effort was usually dwarfed by the reward of being in The Kid's inner circle. Expect this evenhanded reassessment to draw the kind of attention given to Jane Leavy's Sandy Koufax (2002). Wes Lukowsky
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Life Of Ted Williams July 16 2004
Ted Williams is one of the greatest baseball players of all time. His .406 batting average stands as of the game's greatest accomplishments and is still the benchmark average that modern players aim towards. Leigh Montvale's Ted Williams: The Biography Of An American Hero is the most extensive book about the Splendid Splinter. Despite the fanfare, the book is a disappointment. Mr. Montvale spends far too much time on Mr. Williams' life after baseball than his time within the game. To any reader of any sports biography, the most important aspect of the book should be the subject's athletic career. No one wants to read just an expanded stat sheet, but Mr. Montvale concentrates too much of the book on Mr. Williams' life outside of baseball. The 1941 season has some detail, but the 1946 is almost written as an afterthought. That season ended in Mr. Williams' only trip to the World Series in his long career. His two Triple Crown seasons of 1942 & 1947 are mentioned in passing. Mr. Montvale does do an excellent job of explained the bitter rivalry between Mr. Williams and the Boston sportswriters. But again, he spends too much time into the background of the writers (one doesn't really care about the life history of Mr. Williams' fiercest critic, Dave Egan, but we get that). Mr. Montvale does go into great detail about Mr. Williams' three marriages and his fishing life on the Florida Keys and Canada. This is interesting, to a point, but these aspects of his life should have been given the secondary nature that his career received. Mr. Montvale also conveys Mr. Williams as an impetuous, foul-mouthed crank and relays countless stories from acquaintances and loved ones who hammer this point home. Included is a word for word interview with Mr. Read more ›
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5.0 out of 5 stars THE Williams biography June 26 2004
By aglaess
The problem with most sports books is that they come off as one long box score, with just the most basic personal information, usually written at the Jr. High School level.
Leigh Montville has a home run(pardon the pun)with this book. A real, complete, mature biography. Williams from birth to death bed, in a fair and balanced fashion--what a biography is supposed to be. It is too easy to either idolize the subject of a biography, or to tear them down by airing all their diry laundry. To his credit, Montville does neither. Ted Williams comes off as an amazing athlete, pilot and fisherman. A perfectionist man's man, who often jumped to the aid of the sick and down and out. A lousy father and poor husband. A cranky individualist who didn't always like people around, but who nevertheless would be there for you in a second if times were bad.
In short, a human being, a man. Telling that life story is what a biography is all about.
With the people who knew Ted in his prime growing old, this will probably turn out to be the definitive Ted Williams book. Thanks to Leigh Montville for getting it right.
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2.0 out of 5 stars A Foul Ball June 25 2004
If I read a biography of a U.S. president, I expect that a vast majority of the content deals with his work as president. Similarly, when reading a biography of one of the all-time greats in baseball history, I expect detailed analysis of his baseball career. Oddly, Leigh Montville's new biography of Ted Williams disappoints, with precious few new insights into Williams' extraordinary career. Instead, Montville appears more interested in William's dysfunctional family life and fishing exploits.
In addition to these problems, the writing style Montville utilizes is choppy and haphazard, jumping awkwardly from topic to topic while seemingly attempting to provide a historical and cultural context for Williams' life and work. Unfortunately, this only serves to give the impression that the edition is quirky and unorganized.
This is one of the largest collections of stories and anecdotes of Williams' life outside of baseball. But if you are a baseball fan you will likely be disappointed in this biography.
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2.0 out of 5 stars disappointing June 4 2004
Ever since my Little League-youth, when my grandfather used to regale us with tales of the Splendid Splinter, I've always considered Ted Williams my favorite of the Greats. So I was excited to see this book released but found it disappointing.
Montville tries to be too artsy with his style: one-word sentences, one-word paragraphs, lots of repetition. For the most part, the prose is readable, but it clashes with the book's subject, who was many things, maybe even a bit of a rebel, but not artsy.
Worse, for a book that approaches 500 pages of text, it is surprisingly superficial. Williams's World War II service gets a chapter, as does his more eventful Korean War experience; both chapters are thin and barely scratch the surface. Even the 1941 season (.406!!) gets lean treatment. I like the parallel he tries to draw with Joe DiMaggio (The Streak!!)--Montville writes, "Edge: DiMaggio" or "Edge: Williams"--but I wish he would have explored it more.
Before the book is halfway through, Williams retires from playing (the chapter on his last game is probably the book's best; Montville nicely captures the atmosphere of The Kid's famous last at bat--and no tip of the hat), and the book then focuses on his marriages, his fishing, his work for Sears, as well as a fair amount of gossip-type stories. The main character of the second part is Ted's son John-Henry. At times, Ted drops out entirely as Montville recounts the life and despicable behavior of the son, who used his father as a money-making machine.
I finished knowing more about John-Henry than Ted. Too often, Montville lets his sources speak for themselves rather than crafting a narrative from his interviews. The end result is a very distant portrait of Williams; we see him mostly and explicitly through other people's eyes. I'll stick with My Turn at Bat.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Biography of "Baseball's John Wayne"
Leigh Montville's biography of Ted Williams is compelling reading. Williams was a complex, driven individual who sought perfection within himself often at the expense of... Read more
Published on April 8 2012 by Lava1964
4.0 out of 5 stars A must read for Williams fans...
This book is a must read for Williams fans, Red Sox fans and baseball fans in general. I felt this book was one of the most balanced books I have read aboout Williams. Read more
Published on July 19 2004
4.0 out of 5 stars A good, honest look at a good, honest man...
I recently read Cramer's bio of Joe DiMaggio and thought this would be a good complement. And it was. Read more
Published on July 10 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars What a life Teddy Ballgame had!
This book describes greatness, a quest for perfection, deep and long-term friendships between men; heroism and personal sacrifice for country; some of the inside details of... Read more
Published on July 9 2004 by Charles Ashbacher
4.0 out of 5 stars Complicated man - now he'd be medicated!
I enjoyed this biography (except for a glaring typo in an early chapter that gives TW's birthday as April, 1918 instead of August....where was the editor??!). Read more
Published on May 31 2004
4.0 out of 5 stars Great biography, depressing ending
This is a fascinating and illuminating book about a talented baseball player, a military hero, and a cantankerous curmudgeon - Ted Williams. Read more
Published on May 21 2004 by Mark Daniels
5.0 out of 5 stars Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero
In 1941, Ted Williams became the last major league baseball player to hit .400 for a season. Over his career, he hit for average (.344 lifetime). Read more
Published on May 18 2004 by B. Viberg
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book, Intriguing life, Interesting man, Tragic end
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I have always been intrigued by Ted Williams. As a baseball fan, who can't? Read more
Published on May 17 2004 by D. Moss
4.0 out of 5 stars The Complete Biography
I enjoyed the book and would buy it again. Having said that the book only rates 4 stars because the author spends too much time - in my opinion - on non baseball issues after Ted... Read more
Published on May 16 2004 by J. E. Robinson
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