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Throwback: Ted Williams’ Hall of Fame speech

Jul 27, 2014, 2:55 PM EDT

On this Hall of Fame induction Sunday — Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, Tom Glavine, Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox, and Joe Torre are all going in — we give you Ted Williams’ speech from 1966 …

I guess every player thinks about going into the Hall of Fame. Now that the moment has come for me, I find it difficult to say what is really in my heart. But I know it is the greatest thrill of my life. I received two hundred and eighty-odd votes from the writers. I know I didn’t have two hundred and eighty-odd close friends among the writers. I know they voted for me because they felt in their minds, and some in their hearts, that I rated it, and I want to say to them: Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

Today I am thinking about a lot of things. I am thinking of my playground director in San Diego, Rodney Luscomb, and my high school coach, Wos Caldwell, and my managers, who had such patience with me and helped me so much – Frank Shellenback, Donie Bush, Joe Cronin, and Joe McCarthy. I am thinking of Eddie Collins, who had so much faith in me – and to be in the Hall of Fame with him particularly, as well as those other great players, is a great honour. I’m sorry Eddie isn’t here today.

I’m thinking, too, of Tom Yawkey. I have always said it: Tom Yawkey is the greatest owner in baseball I was luck to have played on the club he owned and I’m grateful to him for being here today.

But I’d not be leveling if I left it at that. Ballplayers are not born great. They’re not born great hitters or pitchers or managers, and luck isn’t the big factor. No one has come up with a substitute for hard work. I’ve never met a great player who didn’t have to work harder at learning to play ball than anything else he ever did. To me it was the greatest fun I ever had, which probably explains why today I feel both humility and pride, because God let me play the game and learn to be good at it.

The other day Willie Mays hit his five hundred and twenty second home run. (Note: Williams retired with 521.) He has gone past me, and he’s pushing, and I say to him, “Go get ‘em, Willie.” Baseball gives every American boy a chance to excel. Not just to be as good as someone else, but to be beter. This is the nature of man and the name of the game. I hope that one day Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson will be voted into the Hall of Fame as symbols of the great Negro players who are not here only because they weren’t given the chance.

As time goes on I’ll be thinking baseball, teaching baseball and arguing for baseball to keep it right on top of American sports, just as it is in Japan, Mexico, Venezuela, and other Latin and South American countries. I know Casey Stengel feels the same way (Note: Stengel was inducted into the Hall of Fame the same day; he was scheduled to speak following Williams). I also know I’ll lose a dear friend if I don’t stop talking. I’m eating into his time, and that is unforgivable. So in closing, I’m grateful and know how lucky I was to have been born an American and had a chance to play the game I loved, the greatest game.

  1. lazlosother - Jul 27, 2014 at 3:03 PM

    Teddy Ballgame. The more I read about that guy the more awesome he becomes.

  2. skerney - Jul 27, 2014 at 3:03 PM

    The greatest game.

    • nothanksimdriving123 - Jul 27, 2014 at 6:22 PM

      I was raised on hockey in Canada, and found baseball a confusing bore. Vin Scully turned me into a baseball fan, and I have long enjoyed it more than hockey. FWIW.

  3. whatacrocker - Jul 27, 2014 at 3:04 PM

    I never actually read it before, but now that I have, I am forced to observe that his plea for including African-American players in the Hall of Fame is rather undermined by his first characterizing Tom Yawkey as, “the greatest owner in baseball.”

    • paperlions - Jul 27, 2014 at 3:12 PM

      Yeah, I noticed that as well. Guys like Yawkey were the reason that African American players weren’t given a chance. Still, it is impossible for me to put myself in the context of times that were before I was even born.

    • bbil2012 - Jul 27, 2014 at 3:15 PM

      So you’re calling Ted Williams a cracker?

      • skerney - Jul 27, 2014 at 6:55 PM

        Ted Williams is half Mexican-American. His mother is a latina.

    • whatacrocker - Jul 27, 2014 at 3:47 PM

      I’m not calling Ted Williams anything, I am saying that his seemingly enlightened views on racial inequality are somewhat negated by his seemingly unenlightened views on the causes of that racial inequality.

      Tom Yawkey may have been more responsible than anyone–besides, perhaps Kenesaw Mountain Landis–for maintaining baseball’s color line. Yawkey’s views couldn’t have been TOO much of a secret–it would be uncharacteristic of a 1930s/1940s/1950s racist to keep their views to themselves. And certainly there was no doubt, when Williams was inducted, that the Red Sox had been the last team to integrate (1959, just seven years before). Is there really any chance Williams had no awareness of Yawkey’s views and actions in this regard?

      • [citation needed] fka COPO - Jul 27, 2014 at 6:03 PM

        Tom Yawkey may have been more responsible than anyone–besides, perhaps Kenesaw Mountain Landis–for maintaining baseball’s color line.

        Line starts at Cap Anson.

      • whatacrocker - Jul 27, 2014 at 6:23 PM

        A fair point, but also exactly why I said “maintaining” rather than “creating.” I could regard Anson as preeminent amongst the first generation of color line supporters (the creators), and Landis/Yawkey as preeminent amongst the second generation (the maintainers).

      • Paul White - Jul 27, 2014 at 8:57 PM

        Well, there’s two possibilities here…First, it’s possible that Williams knew nothing of Yawkey’s racism and therefore sees no problem with mentioning him as a great owner just before arguing that African-American players were just as good and deserving and were only absent because they hadn’t been given a chance. But I agree with you, option 2 is far more likely…Williams knew Yawkey was a racist. And yet Williams, who owed a great deal to Yawkey, as he noted, then took the step of openly disagreeing with his former boss in the most public setting imaginable at the time, because he felt it was the right thing to do.

        I’m having a hard time seeing either option as a negative for Williams.

      • ashoreinhawaii - Jul 28, 2014 at 9:15 AM

        The relatively new book, The Kid addresses the Yawkey/race issue.
        Citing countless examples of Ted’s concerns for Black players. He sent Jackie Robinson congratulatory telegram after his first game – he actually played against him in a high school baseball tournament. He went out of his way to make the first AL player -sorry, name escapes me – feel welcome. Buck O’Neil loved him. When asked about Yawkey, he was kind of taken aback as he didn’t think he had really any right to tell “Mr. Yawkey,” anything. He always regretted it.
        Good book, by Ben Bradlee Jr.

  4. Glenn - Jul 27, 2014 at 4:19 PM

    Ted Williams was portrayed as a selfish ballplayer who only cared about himself and his stats throughout his career. Funny but all of his team mates loved playing with him and there are mountains of evidence of his generosity to many all done under the radar. His speech shows pretty progressive thinking way ahead of his time. I don’t think you can hold his friendship to Tom Yawkey against him. For all we know, he was addressing Yawkey’s shortcomings indirectly.

    • sportsfan18 - Jul 27, 2014 at 4:26 PM

      I’m sure Ted was aware of Yawkey’s stand on race.

      But, owners do a lot of things and when Ted said he was the greatest owner, it didn’t mean that he had to be or was perfect as an owner across the board. Obviously he wasn’t the greatest when it came to the color line so you downgrade him as an owner there. But there are many other things that owners do and Ted felt that the totality of his ownership had him come out above other owners even though he wasn’t better than them with respect to the color line.

      And Ted made it KNOWN how HE felt by what he said in his speech.

      Here’s an analogy everyone will get. Whoever people think is our nations best president ever still has many things he didn’t handle well or do right. But we do have a best president and that includes his flaws.

      Yawkey, to Ted was the best owner even with his flaws, which we all have just like whoever this nations best president is even with his flaws.

      The two points, Ted calling Yawkey the greatest owner and his views in his speech are not mutually exclusive of each other.

      • whatacrocker - Jul 27, 2014 at 6:31 PM

        A weak analogy, I think.

        First of all, a president or other leader is often left with only bad options, and will (hopefully) try to choose the least bad among them. Yawkey was not choosing from a bunch of bad options; in fact, he almost certainly allowed his racism to interfere with what was best for team. He WILLFULLY ignored the good option in favor of the bad.

        Second, it is one thing to forgive a person whose culture/time period did not present them with alternatives. George Washington, to take a random example, was a sexist by our standards, but we forgive that because the modern concept of gender equity did not exist in his time. Yawkey, by contrast, could see the change around him. MILLIONS of Americans saw the injustice being done to black Americans and either did something about it, or at least changed their views. Yawkey continued to stubbornly hold on to an older, outmoded worldview. This is far less forgivable.

  5. ashoreinhawaii - Jul 27, 2014 at 5:36 PM

    Every player elected to any Hall should be made to read Ted’s speech.
    Now, like the Oscar winners, they just go through a laundry list of thank you’s. It’s boring. Sorry, Frank Thomas’s was boring, despite the sincerity.
    They should also read Michael Jordan’s Hall speech for what not to do. He showed himself as a spiteful little man. I have never looked at him in the same way after that.

  6. tmc602014 - Jul 27, 2014 at 8:08 PM

    He didn’t say Yawkey was a great man or a great humanitarian, he said he was a great owner. We’ve all had bad bosses and good bosses but being a good boss only means – that’s a good boss. They might still be jerks outside the workplace. IMO the HOF induction is not the place for calling out or recriminations. The Kid gave his boss some props, and also many others, and still managed to also be patriotic and open minded. In written form it’s stirring and appears heartfelt, and it’s brief!

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