My subscription to Life expired, but I still have a subscription to Mad.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Teddy Ballgame

Pop was a Red Sox fan, so I was a Red Sox fan.

To begin my indoctrination into Red Sox fandom, Pop bought me my first pack of baseball cards early in the spring of 1958.

I opened the pack containing five cards and one slab of pink gum and discovered a Red Sox player among those five cards, but not just any player, rather it was Ted Williams' baseball card, which happened to be number 1 in the Topps series that year.

Pop was a Ted Williams fan, so I was a Ted Williams fan.

In 1959, Fleer issued an 80-card set of baseball cards commemorating Ted Williams career. (Ted was supposed to retire in 1959, but changed his mind before the season ended.) Almost everyday, Pop brought home a few nickle packs of Ted Williams cards for me and before long, I had a complete set except for one card, number 68.

Pop kept buying the cards so I could get that elusive #68, but no luck. Finally, one day he came home with a complete box of Ted Williams packs under his arm and I finally found #68 to complete the set.

Unbeknownst to Pop or me, #68 was very rare and I was lucky to find it at all. That card showed Ted signing his contract with Bucky Harris, the Red Sox GM back then. Turns out that Bucky had an exclusive contract with Topps, so Fleer had to stop production of #68 and very few of those cards ever made it out of the factory for sale to the public.

Opening Day 1958 at Yankee Stadium, I saw Ted play in person for the first time. I saw him in person a few more times before he retired. The most memorable was on his birthday at Fenway Park, August 30, 1960. The Fenway Park organist, John Kiley, played Happy Birthday when Ted stepped up to the plate, which was kind of special (I don't think Kiley did the same for Don Buddin or Marty Keough). A month later, Ted bid the fans adieu with a home run on his last career at bat.

After he retired, I saw Ted again when he came to Waterbury for The Jimmy Fund. He batted balls pitched to him by Joan Joyce, the famous softball player. I don't recall if the balls were softballs or hardballs, but whatever they were, they all flew out of Municipal Stadium that evening.

I recalled my memories of Ted Williams after watching his biographical documentary on HBO. It was very well done and it brought back memories of Ted's life that I had forgotten and revealed things I never knew. I highly recommend it.

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