Friday, July 03, 2009

"Ted Williams"

On Thursday afternoon I had the pleasure of being at HBO Studios in midtown Manhattan to attend a preview of the upcoming HBO special documentary, "Ted Williams: There Goes The Greatest Hitter That Ever Lived." I was there with my friends Chris Wertz and Pete Fornatale, and about 50 other folks to see the upcoming film that will debut on HBO on July 15th at 9:30 PM, the night after the All-Star Game.

HBO has made some very special sports documentaries, like those about the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Red Sox and their 2004 World Series win. But they have taken on a very complex subject with Ted Williams, and once again they have made a great baseball documentary.

"Ted Williams", which is narrated by Liev Schreiber and runs nearly 90 minutes, is a very fair and balanced look at his life, of course talking much about what an icon he was to Boston and all its loyal baseball fans. I was really impressed with the early footage of when Ted first got to Fenway, as a lot of the film is in color. His early life in baseball includes interviews with his longtime friends Johnny Pesky and Bobby Doerr, and writers Leigh Montville and Dan Shaughnessy discussed his relationship with the writers and fans, which turned sour as early as 1940, just his second year in Boston.

Ted grew up in San Diego, and his formative years were touched on by his nephew, also known as Ted Williams. He brought an interesting perspective, as I've never seen him interviewed before. A wide range of other folks talk about the Ted they knew, like Robert Redford, George H.W. Bush, Richard Ben Cramer and Bob Feller.

Of course, most of the film discusses his life with the Red Sox as he was becoming a superstar. His .406 season, 1941 All-Star game-winning home run, his Triple Crowns, his only appearance in the World Series, 1946 (his biggest disappointment in baseball) and his homer in his final at-bat (shown from a camera angle I've never seen before) dominate his baseball accomplishments. His military service is widely seen as something Williams was vastly proud of, and the controversy that surrounded him staying out of the Army in 1942 is touched on, as well as his combat service in Korea, where he flew 39 missions. Ted seemed to thrive on controversy, and just about every major one he was in touched upon.

Ted is shown as a "man's man" or "more John Wayne than John Wayne." His personal life with his wives and children show that he wasn't the best family man. But it also shows what a caring man he was, especially with children with cancer. Dan Shaughnessy discusses how Ted reached out to him and his daughter when she was diagnosed with leukemia when she was just six. He devoted countless hours for The Jimmy Fund, something that he kept quiet for the most part.

The film shows what a complex man he was: caring friend, competitive player and a man given to rages when things didn't go his way. He's shown as a man who mellowed with age, and how the Red Sox fans warmed to him more as he became an elder statesman. A very touching moment of the film was his 1999 All-Star Game appearance. Ted was not in good health, and Boston and MLB poured out their hearts to him and said their goodbyes. Tony Gwynn and Nomar Garciaparra, both Ted favorites, give their takes on the man they came to know and love.

His relationship with his son John Henry and daughter Claudia are at the heart of the conclusion of the documentary, as the decision to have Ted cryogenically frozen is talked about by his daughter, who steadfastly believes it was a "family decision" to do that and defends it, despite all the uproar it caused among Ted's fans.

The film is a wonderful look at a man who will forever be part of Red Sox lore. It's a must for any Ted fan, Red Sox fan, or anyone who appreciates good documentary filmmaking about baseball.


Chris Wertz said...

Great wrap up of a great film.

The Omnipotent Q said...

And thanks for passing along the Times article today, JT. Looking forward to reading more...