ALBUQUERQUE – Ted Williams is the last major league baseball player to hit over .400. The Boston Red Sox slugger captivated millions with his dazzling swing and towering homers throughout the 1940s and 1950s in competition with New York Yankees hero Joe DiMaggio.
But beneath the smiles and happy trots around the bases sat a man consumed with rage. For years, the baseball legend would shun his ethnic heritage and kept his family’s past a secret. Only when he’d begin to speak out on behalf of black players would he begin to slowly reveal his connections to his Mexican-American Southern California family and the experiences that shaped him.
A new PBS “American Masters” documentary explores the life of Williams and his volatile relationships with his family and the press. The upcoming film uses rare footage and family interviews to paint a picture of an entangled figure who hid his past while enjoying the admiration of adoring fans.
Williams, often called the “greatest hitter who ever lived,” was followed closely by sports writers thanks to his superb slugging skills and John Wayne-like persona as a foul-mouth outdoorsman. But the future Hall of Famer regularly clashed with critical journalists and had public spats with his numerous wives. The slugger also lost prime years because of service in World War II and the Korean War – something that angered him.
“We wanted to know ... who was this man who had such an effect on so many people?” director Nick Davis said. “He was so complicated and so full of contradictions and rages. Where did it all come from?”
The San Diego-born Williams played 19 years as a left fielder for the Boston Red Sox, where he won two American League Most Valuable Player Awards and twice took the Triple Crown. He finished his career with a .344 batting average and 521 home runs, both of which rank among the top in baseball history.
While many of Williams’ professional accomplishments and personal clashes were widely known, Davis said few knew about Williams’ ethnic background until Ben Bradlee Jr.’s well-researched 2013 book, The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams.
“American Masters Ted Williams: ‘The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived’” will air on most PBS stations on Monday.