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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Baseball Legend Ted Williams Dead at 83

Aired July 5, 2002 - 12:44   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: According to the Associated Press, the Red Sox's Ted Williams, one of baseball's greatest hitters and last the player to bat .400, died at 83.

Here is CNN's Laura Okmin now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAURA OKMIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Imagine Ted Williams gone. It's nearly impossible, isn't it? Disappeared, perhaps, for he loved to do that, quietly leaving us for some deserted fishing hole. But gone completely? Why, that's impossible.

He was, after all, Teddy Ball Game, the Splendid Splinter, as close to Superman as anybody from this planet who would ever put on a baseball uniform. That he could be vulnerable seemed ludicrous, though his decline in recent years had become public knowledge, surgery to reduce blockage in a neck artery beginning his slide. In our minds, he never seemed a day over 30, tough as nails and surely able to slip right back into a batting box and hit .400 again today.

The Hall of Famer played his entire magnificent career with the Boston Red Sox from 1939 through 1960, a lifetime average over those 19 years of .344 -- the centerpiece, of course, 1941, when he became the last Major Leaguer to hit over .400. He finished at .406; 1939 to 1960, 19 seasons -- there's something missing there, you say -- well, of course, three years during World War II when he was in the Navy Air Corps.

And if you take into account the Korean conflict, during which he only went to bat 43 times in two years because of a stint as a Marine fighter pilot, war took a significant toll. But if baseball was a passion, war was a duty. And he worked just as hard at one as the other.

TED WILLIAMS, FORMER MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL PLAYER: I could never resent the three years that I spent in World War II, not that I did everything, but the very fact that everybody was in the service or doing something. I never regretted those years. I was proud of those years. I was happy that it happened that way.

OKMIN: He was the consummate hitter of a baseball, but he never took it for granted, sometimes waking his roommates when he was practicing his swing in the middle of the night. WILLIAMS: When some guy said one day, he said, "Boy, that kid has got quick wrists," well, I even today don't think quick wrists are that important. But I didn't know whether it was good or bad, but it sounded like a compliment to me. And when I heard that, I said, "Just wait until the next time he sees me." I was going to get quicker yet.

OKMIN: It was a talent of which he was quite proud. And when he had his worst season in 1959, a year he considered retiring after hitting just .254, he refused to leave the game on that note. And so he stayed another season, hit .316, with 29 home runs, including one in his final at-bat.

He spent four seasons managing before finally retiring to the solitude of the fishing hole, from the Florida Keys to New Brunswick, Canada, and finally to the Florida Gulf Coast. He was a lifelong loner. But he came back to us several times, once to help promote the opening of a Ted Williams museum in Central Florida. There, amidst the statues and memorabilia, came one single line that best sums up Theodore Samuel Williams. He said, "I want people to say, 'There goes Ted Williams, the greatest hitter who ever lived.'"

Everyone within saluting range said just that in July, 1999, when the Splinter reassumed center stage at Fenway Park during All-Star Game festivities. He was a gamer again later that month, waving to the crowd during Hall of Fame inductions. And he took his place on baseball's All-Century Team prior to game two of the 1999 World Series.

WILLIAMS: So they can never write ever again that I was hard- headed, and never write again that I never tipped my hat to the crowd.

(CHEERING)

(LAUGHTER)

WILLIAMS: Because, today, I tip my hat to all the people in New England.

OKMIN: And all of the people of the world tip their caps now in the utmost of respect.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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