Baseball was like a religion in my house when I was growing up. My dad and my grandfather made baseball the most important aspect of life (aside from modeling for me the importance of putting in an honest day’s work). My dad would tell wonderful stories of the great ballplayers of his day. Men like Sandy Koufax, Hank Greenberg, Nellie Fox, Luke Appling, and Minnie Minoso – these men played the game like it was supposed to be played (according to my dad), and they were his true heroes.
But the man he most admired as a ballplayer was Ted Williams. To this day, Dad still gushes about the kind of hitter Ted Williams was. “You know, Dave, Ted could actually see the rotation of the seams on the baseball as it was pitched to him.” I think I have heard that story at least 50 times. Ted Williams is arguably the best hitter in the history of baseball. He was the last player to hit 400 for the season, he hit over 500 home runs (one of only 17 players to accomplish that), he was the 1939 rookie of the year, he was a two-time most valuable player, and he won the American League Triple Crown twice. Enough said.
Ted Williams should be remembered as a true hero. Not because of his incredible athletic accomplishments on the baseball diamond, but because of what he did off the field of play. Right in the middle of his remarkable career, Ted left baseball to fight in World War II, and then a few years later, he left baseball again to fight in the Korean War. For both tours of duty Ted flew fighter aircraft for the U.S. Marines. Ted was not drafted. He enlisted in May of 1942.
Today, the sports headlines are full of stories about players signing multi-million dollar contracts, athletes taking steroids to gain an unfair advantage, coaches cheating, and players and referees gambling on their sports. I have been thinking all day about Ted Williams. Here is a man who, in the prime of his career, put his country first. He lost lost salary and endorsement deals when he entered the service, but he did it any way. Aside from Pat Tillman, can you think of any player today who would give it all up for the love of country?
Ted Williams is one shining example of the importance of Memorial Day. Imagine what his career statistics would have been had he not chosen to fight for his country. Yet, today I will remember Ted for his bravery flying aircraft as a proud U.S. Marine.