As a baseball hitter, Ted Williams' talent was truly extraordinary. But the difference between a talented athlete and a great one is that the great one hones and shapes his talent to as close to perfection as possible.
That is what distinguished Mr. Williams, the 1939-1960 Boston Red Sox superstar who died last week at age 83, from most of his contemporaries. To the Splendid Splinter, hitting a baseball wasn't hit or miss - it was a science. He worked on it all the time. His 1970 The Science of Hitting is still the "go-to" book for young ballplayers seeking to improve their batting skills.
The many remarkable records Mr. Williams set - including being the last major leaguer to hit over .400 - he did with no shortcuts, no steroids. How old-fashioned he must seem to many of today's spoiled, artificially pumped-up major league jocks. How many of them would take time out from their illustrious careers to serve their country in war as Mr. Williams twice did in World War II and Korea - and not as a ballplayer entertaining the troops, but as a Marine and fighter pilot.
One can only speculate how many more hitting records "The Kid" would have set had he not lost five years in the prime of his career fighting for his country. Ever the perfectionist, the often irascible, cantankerous Mr. Williams went on to become a world class sports fisherman after his retirement from baseball.
It's said that Ted Williams lived in real life the life that actor John Wayne pretended to live on screen. A cliche perhaps, but the point of cliches is that they are usually true. Mr. Williams, who lived a quintessential 20th Century American life, strived for excellence in whatever he set out to do. That, and not his wish to be chronicled as the greatest hitter ever, may be his richest legacy.
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