He was arguably the greatest baseball batter ever. He played 19 years for the Boston Red Sox and every one of those 19 years, he was an American League All-Star. In 1941, he had a batting average of 406, which remains the highest batting average in the major leagues since 1924 and at that time, it was 45 points higher than any other player in the league. He also led the league in runs scored, home runs, walks, getting on base and slugging percentage. In spite of having one of the most impressive batting performances of all time, he did not win the Most Valuable Player Award in 1941 because he was only 22 years old. The award went to Joe DiMaggio for setting the all-time record for getting base hits in 56 consecutive games.
A Life in Baseball
Theodore Samuel Williams was born and raised in San Diego. His father was a soldier, sheriff, and photographer originally from New York and his mother was a Mexican-American from El Paso who spent most of her time working for the Salvation Army. His uncle, who had been a semi-professional baseball player, taught Williams how to pitch and he became the star pitcher on his high school baseball team. He had offers from major league teams while he was in high school but his mother thought he was too young to leave home, so he played for the San Diego Padres.
At age 21, in 1939, he moved up to the Boston Red Sox where he was an outstanding hitter. In 1941, his .406 batting average made him the last major league baseball player to hit 400 and the next year he won the triple crown of batting average, home runs and runs batted in. From 1943 to 1945, he was in the Navy and the Marines as a fighter pilot. In 1946, he returned to the Red Sox, won the Most Valuable Player Award and played in his only World Series. In 1947, he won his second Triple Crown.
In 1952, he returned to active military duty as a Marine pilot and flew 39 combat missions in the Korean War. His plane was hit by gunfire at least three times. He then returned to the Red Sox and continued his stellar career. In 1957 and 1958 at age 39 and 40, he won the American League batting championship for the fifth and sixth time. At age 42 he retired from playing baseball and in his last time at bat, he hit a home run. At age 48, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame and from age 48 to 51, he managed the Washington Senators/Texas Rangers.
In 1944, he married Doris Soule, daughter of his hunting guide, and they had a daughter who was born when Williams was away fishing in Florida. They divorced in 1954. At age 43, he married model Lee Howard, and they were divorced when he was 49. At age 50, he married model Dolores Wettach and they had a son that same year and a daughter three years later. They divorced when he was 54. He then lived with Louise Kaufman for twenty years until her death from a ruptured aneurysm in 1993. She was seven years older than him and an even better fisherman. He had known her for many years and he hurt her terribly each time he married someone else. However, she always remained available for him. Several of his friends said that she was the only woman he really loved.
Rapid Decline After a Stroke
In 1991, when Williams was 73 years old, he was honored with Joe DiMaggio in Fenway Park to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the glorious 1941 season. Six months later, Williams suffered a stroke that paralyzed his right side and his right visual field. A few months later, he had another stroke. He appeared to recover and was able to function until age 76, but then a clot broke off and traveled to the right side of his brain. He lost feeling and muscle control in his left side and most of his vision in his left eye. He still could see since his right eye was not affected, but he had no control of the muscles on his left side and required a wheelchair just to move about. A few months later he suffered a third stroke.
When he was 77, his son moved to join him in Florida and immediately changed his diet, stopped him from drinking alcohol, and started him on an exercise program. That same year, Williams was a major attraction at the 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway Park in Boston. He was severely debilitated by his multiple strokes and was unable to stand up or walk and had to ride in a golf cart to the pitcher's mound. He had to be held up by one of the team members, Tony Gwynn, just to stand and throw the ceremonial first pitch 40 feet to Carlton Fisk, the former Red Sox catcher, and the Boston fans went wild. At age 78, he needed a pacemaker to regulate his heartbeat and at age 79 he required a nine-hour operation to replace his left mitral heart valve. After that, he was unable to speak because a tracheotomy was put in during surgery and left in place to help him breathe. He was now in heart failure and his heart stopped beating on July 5, 2002. He was 83 years old.
Preventing Strokes and Heart Attacks
Most North Americans have already laid down significant plaques in their arteries by age five, and the plaques keep on extending as they age. Eventually the plaques can become so large that they can block the flow of blood, but that is not what causes heart attacks and strokes. Heart attacks are caused by plaques breaking off from the inner lining of an artery. Then that area bleeds and clots, and the clots extend to block all blood flow to the heart. Heart attacks are caused by a sudden complete obstruction of blood to a part of the heart muscle, and the part of the heart muscle that lacks oxygen dies. Strokes are caused by the same mechanism, but the clot travels to the brain. Strokes can also be caused by bleeding into the brain.
Exercise helps to prevent heart attacks and strokes. Ted Williams was one of the greatest athletes who ever lived, but in his later life he did not exercise at all unless you call fishing exercise. His lifestyle was marked by:
• excessive alcohol intake,
• a typical Western diet loaded with red meat, processed meat, sugar-added foods, sugared drinks, and fried foods, and
• weight gain, with a large belly that markedly increased his chances of developing diabetes.
All of these factors can cause inflammation, an overactive immunity, that punches holes in the inner linings of arteries to start the formation of plaques. Inflammation then weakens the plaques so they break off from the inner linings of arteries to cause heart attacks and strokes. The majority of strokes and heart attacks could be prevented with lifestyle changes.
Exercise does not prevent plaques from forming, but it does help to prevent plaques from breaking off to start a heart attack or stroke. Everyone should be on an anti-inflammatory diet, because eating unhealthful foods causes plaques to form at any age. Everyone should also have a life-long exercise program to help prevent plaques from breaking off. If you exercised in your youth, you also must keep on exercising the rest of your life because as soon as you stop exercising, you increase the rate at which plaques break off from arteries.
August 30, 1918 – July 5, 2002