The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams by Ben Bradlee, Jr.

March 24, 2014

the  kid Summary (from the publisher): Williams was the best hitter in baseball history. His batting average of .406 in 1941 has not been topped since, and no player who has hit more than 500 home runs has a higher career batting average. Those totals would have been even higher if Williams had not left baseball for nearly five years in the prime of his career to serve as a Marine pilot in WWII and Korea. He hit home runs farther than any player before him–and traveled a long way himself, as Ben Bradlee, Jr.’s grand biography reveals. Born in 1918 in San Diego, Ted would spend most of his life disguising his Mexican heritage. During his 22 years with the Boston Red Sox, Williams electrified crowds across America–and shocked them, too: His notorious clashes with the press and fans threatened his reputation. Yet while he was a God in the batter’s box, he was profoundly human once he stepped away from the plate. His ferocity came to define his troubled domestic life. While baseball might have been straightforward for Ted Williams, life was not.

THE KID is biography of the highest literary order, a thrilling and honest account of a legend in all his glory and human complexity. In his final at-bat, Williams hit a home run. Bradlee’s marvelous book clears the fences, too.

Reaction:

Note: I knew nothing of Ted Williams (besides the fact that he was the last .400 hitter in MLB) prior to reading this book, and have no other Williams biographies to compare this to. As such, the following opinion is formed from the point of view of a very casual baseball fan, not necessarily from a Ted Williams fan.

Bradlee’s biography of Ted Williams is exhaustive in scope and covers every period of Ted’s life in great detail. The chronology starts off in a logical manner, as the book opens with stories of Ted’s childhood and school years in San Diego. But once Ted gets to the majors, Bradlee begins mentioning a bunch of things that happen in the future. The overarching narrative remains chronological, but the details become confusing.

Nevertheless, I was almost immediately mesmerized by the way Ted was portrayed in this book. I have the utmost respect for anyone that dedicates himself so completely to his craft — and despite all the other stuff that happened in Ted’s life, no one can say he neglected his hitting.

Still, what made Ted fascinating was the fact that there was a decidedly selfish, totally un-P.C. side of himself that he rarely bothered to hide. Here was a guy that cared more for individual stats than team success and who flipped off the fans with regularity. A guy who physically abused his wives, neglected his children, and had multiple extramarital affairs. Can you imagine what the tabloids, paparazzi, and Twitter would do to such a player in this day and age? But as despicable as some of his failings were, they served to paint him as a human — just like the rest of us.

Bradlee’s book in general was pretty good. I liked the writing and felt that Ted’s baseball career received the thorough treatment it deserved.

However, the author went too far in covering other aspect’s of Ted’s life and included stuff that really didn’t need to be in there. For example, Bradlee went off on a tangent about the Red Sox owner’s summer home and dalliances at a brothel. Was that necessary? Similarly, Bradlee — perhaps because he’s a journalist himself — spent an inordinate amount of time describing the Boston press corps and their relationship to Ted. Yeah, it was adversarial, but man, that stuff got exceedingly repetitive after a while.

The worst part of the book, for me, was the last 1/3 or 1/4, which covered Ted’s retirement years. This is where the tone and focus shifted significantly and essentially became a biography of John-Henry Williams instead of Ted Williams. Bradlee went to great lengths to show how much of a bad seed John-Henry turned out to be, culminating with the infamous cryonics episode. Again, was it necessary to cover so much about John-Henry (dating back to his high school days, FFS!) in order to give the reader an idea of what kind of man he was? Not at all! The author should have cut a hundred or so pages from the final product and kept the focus squarely on Ted.

Rating:

Overall, I thought The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams was a engrossing and enjoyable read. Casual fans will learn more about Williams than they ever dreamed of, and more hadrcore fans can probably pick up an interesting tidbit or two as well. Even with the boring, nonessential detours in place, I give this book 4 stars out of 5.

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