The baseball world including the Japanese press mourned the death of Ted Williams on Friday, remembering the legendary hitter not only as a hero on and off the field but as a passionate student of the game and a generous friend.
“Ted’s passing signals a sad day, not only for baseball fans, but for every American,” said Baseball Hall of Fame president Dale Petroskey. “He was a cultural icon, a larger-than-life personality.
“He was great enough to become a Hall of Fame player. He was caring enough to be the first Hall of Famer to call for the inclusion of Negro League stars in Cooperstown. He was brave enough to serve our country in not one, but two global conflicts.”
Williams, the last major leaguer to bat .400 and one of the greatest hitters in the game’s history, died Friday at the age of 83 after battling heart problems and a series of ailments for several years.
His achievements on the field might have been even greater had he not lost four seasons in his prime to military service, serving as an aviator in World War II and the Korean War.
In Boston, a somber night at Fenway Park began with a moment of silence in honor of Williams.
Williams’ uniform No. 9 was cut into the grass in his familiar spot in left field.
“I think we’ve all lost a loved one,” said Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra before Boston fell to Detroit 9-5. “I think we all know what it’s like to go through a day when someone you care about — and know — dies.”
All day long, former teammates and rivals as well as younger players had recalled both the awe Williams inspired and his willingness to help them improve their own games.
“Ted helped me a lot when I first started. He gave me a lot of tips on hitting,” said Hall of Famer Willie McCovey.
“I met him in Scottsdale during my first spring training with the Giants. He was still with the Red Sox.
“I used to pick his brain, being a rookie and all, and he was willing to give me advice. I always credit him with helping me. All of his advice turned out to be good for me —- bat selection, weight of bats, everything.
“He was a student of pitchers,” McCovey added. “I applied much of what he told me about his theories of hitting, and it worked for me. We ended up with the same number of home runs, and that means a lot to me.”
“Ted was a great team player,” said former Red Sox second baseman and Williams teammate Bobby Doerr. “He wanted to win. He patted everyone on the back. He took the pressure off the rest of the players.”
“Ted Williams was a great friend,” said Hall of Famer Willie Mays. “I mostly remember how he helped me when I first came to Phoenix. He spent time talking to me about hitting, even though he played on another team. I’m very, very sorry to hear of his passing.”
“I am truly heartbroken,” added Hall of Famer Phil Rizzuto. “Ted Williams was one of the most exciting players I ever saw.
“Unbelievable. And, when I was just a rookie in 1941, he took me under his wing. After he hit a double one day, he called timeout and told me, kid, you’ve got a chance to play for the Yankees for a long time, so bear down.’ He was a credit to the game and did so much for so many people.”
“I first met him at spring training,” recalled Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk. “He came right over to me. He was loud, aggressive and assured. He comes over and was asking me questions about hitting. Here I am, an 18-year-old. It’s a sad day for baseball.”
“I remember the first time I met him,” said Former Boston Red Sox third baseman Wade Boggs.
“In 1976, only a few months after I was drafted, I was standing in line at a movie theater and he was right behind me. I was almost speechless, but I introduced myself and told him that I was just drafted by the Red Sox. He looked at me and said, can you hit?’
“I told him I hit .485 in my senior year of high school and he said, you’ll do great.’”
“He loved talking about hitting,” New York Yankees manager Joe Torre said. “I was lucky to have sat next to him for an entire game once, and he talked about hitting throughout the entire game.
“He loved talking about hitting,” echoed Hall of Famer Stan Musial. “He studied hitting and pitchers.”
Hall of Famer Whitey Ford recalled a lunch where his wife, Joan “asked Ted about hitting, and he got up in the middle of the restaurant, took his menu, wrapped it up and started showing her about hitting.”
US President George W. Bush lauded Williams for “his persistence on the field and his courage off the field”.
“He inspired young ballplayers across the nation for decades,” Bush said.
And Hall of Famer and Montreal Expos manager Frank Robinson noted that with Williams’ death, another link to a glorious era in baseball has been lost.
“We’re just losing our idols that we used to idolize as players and as youngsters growing up,” Robinson said. “That’s the sad part about it.”
Japanese newspapers paid warm tributes to Williams.
The influential Asahi Shimbun newspaper said Williams mesmerized fans with his firm determination to win.
The Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan’s best selling daily called him a “perfectionist” and a symbol of baseball.