In all the years that the PBS show American Masters has been on the air, they have never featured a male athlete. They've had a couple of women athletes -- both tennis players, Althea Gibson and Billie Jean King. But zero men in sports. That finally changed on this past Monday. That's when they aired, "Ted Williams: The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived."
It was wonderful.
Clearly it will be of more interest to people who follow baseball. But keep in mind, this is American Masters, they understand what they're doing. They're presenting stories about people, their lives and why they were so important to American culture. So, I think there's a great deal here of interest to people who aren't baseball fans. But yes, certainly, it will be particularly impactful if you are.
Ted Williams (who had numerous nicknames -- (Teddy Ballgame, The Kid and The Splendid Splinter, among them) was a fascinating person -- indeed between him and Babe Ruth, perhaps the greatest hitter ever in baseball. And for all his amazing career statistics, he lost five years to the sport fighting in World War II and then the Korean War. In many ways he was profoundly independent, almost a loner -- which suited him perfectly as a world-class fisherman -- who was a prima donna and carried long grudges, but also with a fascinating, warm personal side within his circle. (A great story is when he was actively fundraising for a charity and a former ballplayer kept putting off his pushy requests until finally telling Williams, "I'm all tapped out." Yet Williams didn't give up and got the guy to send $10 to him for the charity. Then, getting the check, he marked down the bank code number, tracked down the account and put $1,000 in it.)
I found out about the show last week, when the inveterate Chris Dunn sent me an article about some remarkable footage that was found of Williams' famous last game. That was when he hit a home run in his last-ever at bat. Black-and-white footage exists of the at bat, but it turned out that a young man (at the time) took a color home movie of the entire game, and it sat in his attack for 50 years. He finally tried to interest people in it, but could get nowhere. Finally, he found out about this American Masters documentary, and asked the filmmaker if he was interested in it -- just a day or two before he "locked" the film. The footage is crisp and in great condition.
PBS doesn't make its shows available for On Demand. But they do post them online for a while -- maybe a month or so. And therefore I'm able to embed the hour-long program below. At some point, it will expire, but for now, here 'tis --
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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