20 March 2014

Review: The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams by Ben Bradlee Jr.

Although I'm not a rabid baseball fan, I have fond memories of listening to the Tigers' games on my transistor radio when it was too hot to sleep during the summer nights of my childhood. Despite rooting for the American League, I didn't follow the career of the great Boston Red Sox player Ted Williams, especially considering he retired when I was only four. All I knew about him was that he hit .409 and could be nasty to his fans.

I can't say that Ben Bradlee Jr.'s The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams turned me into a Williams lover, but it showed me that he was a complex, intelligent man who battled many demons.

Based on hundreds of interviews with Williams's family, friends, colleagues, and enemies; the examination of Williams's personal archives; and accounts in the public record, The Kid offers a three-dimensional view the baseball great. It's clear that Bradlee admired the Kid, but he didn't try to whitewash the less pleasant parts of his personality.

Among the more surprising things I learned about Williams was how involved he was with children suffering from debilitating diseases. He was a regular visitor to children's hospitals and was so focused on the kids that he forbade the press from accompanying him. Williams genuinely cared about the children and didn't cheer them up as a publicity stunt.

Of course, the bulk of the book is about Williams as a baseball player. Bradlee talks about Williams's scientific approach to maintaining his bats, his rocky relationship with the Rex Sox fans and the press, his years as a manager, and his records. Running throughout the biography are stories about Williams's wives, girlfriends, and children; his love of fishing and hunting; his business sense; and his childhood, retirement, and death.

Although Williams could be generous and kind, he was just as likely to be crude and cruel. He spit at fans, sometimes rejected his own children, was uncooperative with the press, and could come off as a spoiled brat. His background and personal hardships are no excuse for bad behavior, but they offer a context that helps us understand his bad temper and lack of self-control.

One of the more lasting images I'll have from The Kid is Bradlee's portrait of Williams's son, John-Henry, who was a selfish, manipulative young man who took advantage of his father's failing health. I felt so sorry for Williams at the end.

In The Kid, Ben Bradlee Jr., an award-winning journalist, found that magic place where scholarship meets personal passion. This well-researched and easy-to-read biography helped me see Williams in a clear light. As I said, Bradlee didn't transform me into a huge Ted Williams fan, but he made me respect the Kid more than I ever thought I would.

I listened to most of the unabridged audiobook (Hachette Audio; 35 hr, 13 min), reading only the final chapter and epilogue of The Kid in print. Dave Mallow did a wonderful job with the narration; I turned to print only because I was impatient to find out what happened to Williams's family after his death.

Note on the photo: Ted Williams in 1949. From Wikimedia Commons and in the public domain.

Published by Hachette Book Group / Little, Brown, 2013
ISBN-13: 9780316614351
Source: Review/audio; bought/print (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

5 comments:

bermudaonion 3/20/14, 7:40 AM  

I got this audio only because my uncle is mentioned in it. When I saw it's 35 hours, I wondered if I wanted to listen to all of that for a couple mentions of my uncle. Your review makes me think I'll enjoy the journey!

rhapsodyinbooks 3/20/14, 7:43 AM  

I love reading about baseball players. So many were so weird, in so many different weird ways. Like Lou Gehrig and his mother... And Ted Williams of course, being so hot and cold, and a hotshot war hero, etc. I can't stand watching the game, but I sure do like the players' stories!

(Diane) bookchickdi 3/20/14, 7:54 AM  

My dad is a huge Red Sox fan, so I heard all about Ted Williams growing up. But talk about a complicated person....

Vasilly 3/21/14, 12:22 PM  

I'm not a baseball fan but your review makes me curious about this book. I want to know what happened to Williams's family after his death.

Heather 3/21/14, 2:59 PM  

Isn't this the guy who had his head cryogenically frozen after he died? I swear, that's the only think I know about him! Well, and that he played baseball. He sounds like an odd bird.

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