Williams or Wayne, a Memorial Day Tribute
Ted Williams (The Kid) is, was, and always will be, one of the greatest hitters that ever lived. Most people agreed that he had forgotten more about hitting a baseball than most players would ever learn. Ted’s temperamental, high-strung nature combined with his immense confidence in his beliefs propelled him to the top of the world of Major League Baseball. When Ted stepped into a batters box, he knew he had to be perfect. John Wayne (The Duke), on the other hand, was labeled “The Greatest Cowboy Star of All Time.” His loyalty to this country and the American West made him a legend of the big screen. The power of his raw presence screamed the words American, honor, dignity, and strength. They were both American heroes in every sense of the word: One in real life and the other in the minds of the public. The similarities were remarkable. They were both, tall, masculine, good-looking men. They each stood over 6’4”. Both started their careers in 1939. One became famous on a movie set in Hollywood during the filming of “Stagecoach” and the other, on baseball diamonds across the country with the Boston Red Sox. One was shot down, for real, flying a plane in the Korean War, while the other was shot down on a World War II movie set in “Flying Tigers.” Both were American as baseball, apple pie, and Chevrolet. They both grew up in poverty during their early years and each received their formal education in California. They stood for justice, hard work, fair play, courage, patriotism and the American Way. One earned two Triple Crown Awards in baseball and the other, two Oscar nominations in acting. One was selected to the Baseball Hall of Fame Museum in 1966, and the other received a People’s Choice Award for the most popular motion picture actor in 1976. One became an MVP in Major League baseball, twice, and the other received his profession’s highest honor in 1970, an Oscar. Both owned boats and loved to fish. They each were outspoken, controversial, admired, and revered as one of the best in their profession. One has an airport named after him in Los Angeles and the other, a tunnel in Boston. They were both loud, had nicknames, and preferred those over their real names. One carried a gun most days to work, the other a bat. Both have museums honoring their lifetime accomplishments. They have both written books and had many books written about them, some good, and some bad. Both were raised primarily by their mothers, but each had a male mentor (Tom Yawkey and John Ford, respectively) who helped them attain legendary status in their chosen professions. Their images appeared on many products over the years. Williams’s image could be found on soft drinks, all types of Sears sporting goods equipment, baseball cards, and national magazines. Wayne’s image was seen on lunch boxes, chocolates, cigarettes, playing cards, and comic books. One had a television show about fishing and the other, a radio show about detectives. One received the Medal of Freedom in 1991 from President George Herbert Bush, and the other received the Congressional Gold Medal in 1979 from Congress. One was elected to the All-Century Team; the other received a square on the Hollywood Walk of Stars. Both were very active in the fight against cancer. One helped finance the “Jimmy Fund” in New England, while the other supported the John Wayne Cancer Hospital in California. Both were married three times, and all ended in divorce. One has a life-size statue in the foyer of the Baseball Hall of Fame and the other, a life-size statue, on a horse, in front of the Great Western Bank Building on Wilshire Blvd. in Los Angeles, California. One hit a home run in his last at-bat of a Major League game and the other went out with guns a blazing in his last film, “The Shootist.” Both had the support of lifelong friends. Ted Williams had teammates Bobby Doerr, Dom DiMaggio, and Johnny Pesky, while John Wayne enjoyed the company of Harry Carey, Jr., Ward Bond, and Ronald Reagan. Theodore Samuel Williams was born August 30, 1918. He became a professional baseball player, U.S. Marine fighter pilot, and fly fisherman. Ted died at the age of 84 of cardiac arrest, July 5, 2002. Marion Robert “Duke” Morrison was born May 26, 1907. He became an actor, artist, and patriot. John died at the age of 72 of lung cancer, June 11, 1979. Throughout the years, as Ted grew older, he was asked by reporters, “How do you want to be remembered by baseball fans?” His answer was always the same, “When people see me walk down the street, I want them to say, ‘There goes the best damn hitter that ever lived.’” It’s a cinch that if he wasn’t considered the best, it surely didn’t take long to call roll. There is a great story of a blind man who came to every Red Sox game. When asked why, he said he came to see Ted Williams. He then went on to explain that he always knew when Ted came out to the on-deck circle, when Ted stepped into the batters box and of course when Ted hit, all by listening to the crowd. When Wayne was also asked the same questions by reporters in his later years, he replied: “Feo, Fuerte y Formal,” a Spanish proverb which means, “He was ugly, strong and had dignity.” It appears that both men were greatly loved in the eyes of their fans. Wayne wanted very much to go to Annapolis and become an officer in the Navy; but after being denied, he chose to make movies and support the USO to fulfill his need for being a part of the American military. He even had an Army RAH-66 Helicopter named after him, “The Duke.” Ted Williams on the other hand, actually lived the character that John Wayne portrayed in the movies. Ted served as a U.S. Marine fighter pilot during both World War II and the Korean War, flying a propeller-driven F4U Corsair and a F9F Panther jet aircraft. Was one man anymore famous than the other? I doubt it. Take your pick, Williams or Wayne. Both will be remembered forever. Andy Purvis is a local author. His books "In the Company of Greatness" and "Remembered Greatness" are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble, at Beamer's Sports Grill 5922 S Staples, and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc. They are also available in e-reader format. Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, or .