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Ben Bradlee Jr. The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams. New York: Little, Brown, 2013. 864 pp. Cloth, $35.00.

Ben Bradlee Jr. has written what surely must be the definitive biography of Ted Williams. Nearly nine hundred pages in length, Bradlee's book presents Ted Williams's life with warts and all. While Williams was a hero to many on the ball field, in his private life he was a tormented soul who struggled to come to grips with his heritage and his relationships with women and his children. What Bradlee accomplishes is a portrayal of Williams as a human being, not a deity, a man who wanted to be the greatest hitter in the history of baseball and one who failed miserably as a husband and father.

Bradlee begins this extensive tale of Williams's life by exploring his heritage. Williams's mother was born in Mexico, moved to San Diego, and was well-known for her work with the Salvation Army in that city. Yet according to Bradlee, Williams was ashamed of his parents and would rarely speak of them to the press.

The subject of the press, especially the Boston newspaper sportswriters, takes up a great deal of the text of Bradlee's book. While it has been fifty-three years since Williams retired as a player from the game, many baseball fans still know of his battles with the Boston press, including several well-publicized spitting instances.

While Williams was single-minded in his quest to become the best hitter ever in baseball, he was extremely complex off the field. In some ways, he was a big kid who never grew up. Bradlee's descriptions of his relations with the press are indications of this, but additional examples of his relationships with his wives and the women in his life, as well as with his children, reveal an individual dealing with many demons. Williams was often profane, yet he frequently visited ill children in hospitals and was a champion of the Jimmy Fund, a charitable organization supporting the battle against cancer at Boston's Dana Farber Cancer Institute. Williams would often show up in the middle of the night to visit the cancer-stricken children, and he made sure the press kept it quiet. In this, as in many other areas of his life, Williams shunned the spotlight.

Bradlee had unprecedented access to files and people who knew Williams. Williams's surviving daughter, Claudia, was especially important in Bradlee's research. She provided him with access to Williams's papers, files, records, letters, journals, fishing logs, and other important documents. Bradlee conducted a number of interviews with Claudia. He also had access to Williams's older daughter, Bobby-Jo, prior to her death. Bradlee notes that they "provided important insights into growing up with Ted--his view of women, his anger, his insecurity and his record as a father. But perhaps the most significant thing she supplied was her family's first full explanation, including many new details, of the cryonics affair" (7). Bradlee also was able to speak with two of Williams's wives, Lee Howard and Dolores Williams. Williams's son, John-Henry, had agreed to talk with Bradlee but passed away before this could be accomplished. In addition, Bradlee interviewed family members from May Williams's side of the family, and they provided additional information for this book. The level of research conducted by Bradlee is impressive and comprehensive. Can anything more be uncovered about this baseball legend?

This is an extremely long book. Yet it is a well-written and structured book and an easy read. Bradlee, a former newspaper executive, keeps one reading to find out what happens next, despite the major facts of Williams's life being relatively well-known. Bradlee pulls no punches in the book. Williams's colorful use of the English language appears frequently throughout the book, but this is as it should be. Williams pulled no punches either in his dealings with the press, fans, and his family. The sudden temper tantrums come through even when dealing with his son, John-Henry, who by the end of Williams's life had become his closest confidant and friend.

The first half of the book deals with Williams's early life and career, while the second half takes on his postbaseball life and looks closely at his relationships with his wives and children, his love of fishing, life in the Florida Keys and on the Miramachi River, and finally with the events leading up to the end of his life and the decision to have his body frozen at the urging of John-Henry and Claudia and the signing of a controversial pact by the three of them agreeing they would all undergo this procedure.

This is an excellent piece of writing and research. It is hard to believe that there may be more information to be uncovered on the life of Ted Williams. Bradlee appears to have turned over every stone and written the definitive biography of this American legend.
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Title Annotation:BOOK REVIEWS
Author:Lehman, Douglas K.
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2014
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