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Profiles in Manlitude: Ted Williams

Continuing the continuation of our ongoing odyssey to instruct the men of today on what real manliness is! Or was.

Ted Williams is widely reknowned as the greatest hitter that ever lived, which was his life's goal -- not being the greatest hitter, which he already had in the bag, but making sure everyone knew it. Boom! You just got pulled into another Profile in Manlitude.

Before he was Teddy Ballgame, he was Teddy Williams, a California kid whose uncle Saul Venzor taught him America's sport. Venzor had pitched against Babe Ruth at the tender age of eight (granted it was an exhibition game, but come on, we're building a legend here). The Kid spent his life not just practicing his swing, but seeking the counsel of other greats, which you might recognize as the stud method Batman used when he started hitting.

At the same time, a retired neighbor named Chick Rotert was teaching the young athlete how to fly-fish. But more on that in a second.

At 20 years old, the rookie Williams was Boston's hot prospect. He finished the season batting .327 with 31 home runs, prompting Babe Ruth (possibly still afraid of Saul's pitching) to declare him "Rookie of the year" even though that didn't exist yet. Ted Williams made the Sultan of Swat wish it into existence.

Breaking his leg the following year didn't stop Williams from casually announcing his plans to smack a 600-foot, record-breaking 11th inning home run against the White Sox. He chased a .400 batting average around the 1941 season, dipping above and below the figure. This was so important to America that even Yankees fans booed their own pitcher after he walked Williams. Yes, you heard. Yankees fans wanted to see a Red Sox slugger take a base. He also hit his finest work ever -- a legendary walk-off home run that saved the All-Star Game for the American League. And he did it with his eyes closed.

In the season's final game, a double-header against the (then-Philadelphia) Athletics, Williams could have sat out and let the league round up his .39955 to a .400 that smelled like lilacs. But -- being a man -- he wanted his acclaim for its own self, so he clobbered his way to .406.

There are only two kinds of fly fisherman: first-timers, and those whose wives haven't filed a missing persons report because they forget what they look like. Williams was the latter. His first daughter was born while he was conquering nature with nothing more than an inch of metal and a piece of string. Fishermen have a rural legend about two guys in a boat yelling down the river to ask him what kind of fly he was using. In answer, he cast his line perfectly into the hull.

It took the government a few weeks into World War II to realize that Williams' awesome powers of destruction could be used to end the war, so they ignored the fact that he was his mother's only source of income to draft him into the military. Williams politely explained he just wanted to earn his ma some vittles money before enlisting, but still got stuck with a rep as a coward. Little did they know he just wanted to use his keen hand-eye coordination to their utmost, and also hit 100 home runs. At the end of the season, he told the U.S. Marine Corps they needed him to destroy fast-moving targets, so they made him a pilot. That's right -- the draft wasn't enough military for Williams, he was just waiting for a chance to commit more destruction.

And holy crow, did he find his calling. Every pilot test they gave him he not only passed, but scorched the record. Sox teammate and fellow aviator William Pesky said, "His reflexes, coordination, and visual reaction made him a built-in part of the machine." Ted Williams was the kind of cyborg that makes the machinery more capable. Not even Robocop can say that.

For three years, Williams was too busy slamming the Axis to play much baseball, though he did meet -- who else? -- Babe Ruth, who told him, "Hiya, kid. You remind me a lot of myself. I love to hit. You're one of the most natural ballplayers I've ever seen. And if my record is broken, I hope you're the one to do it." These two were one grand slam away from the greatest buddy comedy ever.

He spent the remainder of the decade creaming the ball and getting smacked in the arm by it as payback. Come 1952, America recalled him to service, figuring unless Korea had a pitcher good enough to smash his elbow, he'd be invulnerable. At his going-away celebration, all of Fenway Stadium held hands and sung to him, something so touchy-feely Americans only do it at national catastrophes.

He returned from Korea, which is still ringing so hard from his attack that Kim Jong-Il can't think straight. The Red Sox asked him to manage the team, but he declined, because he'd heard there were some baseballs that weren't yet afraid of him. He kept playing, and procured his 400th home run.

Williams was also a known figure around children's cancer wards, and being a good man, refused to let any publicity get out about it. He didn't want acclaim; he wanted to carve out a good memory for a sick kid. Frequently he'd pay the medical bills without telling the family. Cancer's just lucky it seldom grows to baseball-size or Ted Williams would have cured it.

In 1957, the Sox hired Pumpsie Green, the team's first black player. Now if you know anything about Boston, you know that it's a progressive, liberal city where our first patriots fought for the rights of man, and Jesus Christ, is Boston white. Williams, who grew up in San Diego with Mexican heritage, knew a thing or two about jerk attitudes, and decided he wasn't having any part of the jerk-ness. As far as he was concerned, Green could play, and that was that. In fact, at his Hall of Fame inductment, he called out the League for not recognizing great black players prior to Jackie Robinson.

In 1960, Williams retired to fish and fight cancer with his bare hands. At his final at-bat, he knocked out out a home run and left the field a champion.