8/20/2014 5:50 P.M. ET
'Ted Williams, My Father' bares daughter's soul
By Paul Hagen / MLB.com
Ted Williams was one of the best hitters who ever lived. He was also a famously did-it-my-way sort known for, among other things, saying whatever was on his mind and to heck with the consequences.
In "Ted Williams, My Father," Claudia Williams demonstrates that she is very much her father's daughter. She has written a memoir that is tender and tough, poignant and heartbreaking, sweet and raw. And so honest that at times it feels like peeping into a stranger's window.
Claudia was a product of her father's second marriage, born a decade after he retired. She was largely raised by her mother. One theme that runs through these pages is her overwhelming need to be accepted by a father who doted on her brother John Henry and, if not a misogynist, held old-fashioned attitudes toward women. "You wouldn't believe how many times during my young years I wished I had been born a boy," she observes early on.
There's a revealing story about an invitational cross-country race when she was in sixth grade. She had a chance to be the first girl to win it. Making the outcome even more crucial, her father was there. She was third going into the home stretch but, summoning every bit of determination she had, she ended up winning. It was a wonderful moment that she wanted to bask in with her dad. But the other parents came up and started asking him for autographs and she was gradually pushed aside.
Claudia is a talented writer. Example: "Although my father spanked me only once, he tested me on numerous occasions. His words could penetrate even the toughest armor, and many times his words stung for days -- sometimes months. A few are still with me, like embedded splinters."
She clearly adores her dad, who she refers to occasionally as Ted Williams. She is blunt in her assessment of his treatment of women, but that only makes her work harder to gain his approval. He could be short-tempered, but that's because he was a perfectionist who became frustrated when he couldn't control whatever situation was at hand the way he mastered hitting and fly-fishing.
It's no secret that he was a world-class cusser. Her explanation: "Everyone needs an outlet, a coping strategy. For Dad it came in the form of verbal expression laced with expletives few have heard. Ted Williams needed to swear. Without swearing he never would have been able to express himself with the emphasis that he demanded. For Ted Williams to have repressed his emotions would have been dangerous to his health and his psyche. It was my father's heartfelt form of prayer."
Only those who have been born to a famous parent can fully understand what a double-edged sword it can be. Sure, there are benefits. But she also remembers getting an A on a science project only to have a classmate tell her the only reason was because of her father.
There are, apparently, many embedded splinters, and Williams doesn't sugarcoat her feelings toward those she believes wronged her family. Several of the women in her father's life, those who she says falsely presented themselves as friends, those who criticized John Henry for attempting to protect their father's brand from unscrupulous memorabilia dealers and, of course, the media.
In the end, she achieved the relationship with her father she'd worked so hard for. It happened late in his life. She, John Henry and Ted Williams began spending as much time together as possible. They didn't want it to end. Which explains the decision to be cryogenically frozen with the hope of being reunited in the distant future after science has conquered disease and perfected cloning.
She knew it would be controversial. She discusses the process with almost clinical detachment. She admits that the odds are long. In the end the takeaway is to wonder, as she does, why it bothers outsiders so much. Many, in this telling, reached the same conclusion after John Henry died of leukemia two years later.
Claudia Williams, the Hall of Famer's only surviving child, describes herself as a private person who was pushed to a point where she felt the need to counter what she regards as malicious falsehoods. She did more than that. She bared her soul in a remarkable, if sometimes uncomfortable, read.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.