Williams takes another hit
We are beyond shock when it comes to this story. The greatest hitter who ever lived, the greatest athlete in the history of Boston sports, has become a national punch line because of the way two of his children have chosen to deal with his remains. Fiction blurs with fact. If we can believe the latest reports, Dr. Frankenstein, Buffalo Bill (from "Silence of the Lambs"), and Jeffrey Dahmer have nothing on the folks in charge of Ted Williams's body.
Sports Illustrated hits the stands today with a lengthy and disturbing story by two estimable reporters, Tom Verducci and Lester Munson. This time we've got a disgruntled former employee of Alcor Life Extension Foundation making outrageous accusations about what has happened to Teddy Ballgame's body since he died July 5, 2002.
The story claims that, in the interest of science and with the potential for immortality, Ted was decapitated in the hours after his death. His head has cracked many times because of careless handling by Alcor folks in the last 13 months. There are samples of his DNA missing. Ted's son, John-Henry, owes Alcor money. On and on it goes. Macabre detail after macabre detail. Reading not fit for the family hour.
A couple of local reporters last night relayed this latest information to Ted's longtime friend and teammate, gentleman Dominic DiMaggio. Dominic hardly knew how to respond. He's the man who made the strongest statement at the Tedfest at Fenway last summer, imploring the family to let Ted rest in peace.
Now this. Exactly what is the appropriate response to these increasingly outrageous accounts of Ted's treatment at the cryonics center in Arizona?
"It's a terrible thing," DiMaggio said last night from his home in Southeastern Massachusetts. "We were under the impression that this was something to be preserved for many years. Under those conditions, at some point, there could have been a change of heart. From what I'm told now . . . I just can't believe what I'm reading. It's a terrible thing. Here's a man who achieved so much during his lifetime, and now when people think of Teddy after all this, they are going to think of this gruesome treatment he received after death. What else can I say? It's a sad situation. To try to figure it out is incomprehensible -- that such a thing is happening to Teddy Williams. It's hard to find words to describe a person's feelings. It's just a gruesome, terrible thing.
"The whole thing throws a whole new light on everything. Everything happened so quickly after he died. We were led to believe something was to be preserved. When you start reading this, you see that was not the reason at all. It's a hard thing to take. I find it difficult to accept. The family probably says, `Who cares?' "
Ted's youngest daughter, Claudia Williams, has publicly supported the actions of her brother, John-Henry, since their father died last year. Their half-sister, Bobby-Jo Williams Ferrell, went to court to block the Alcor experiment and to have Ted's ashes sprinkled over the Florida Keys, but Bobby-Jo ran out of money and (at least temporarily) has abandoned the battle.
Bobby-Jo (who is gagged by a court settlement) and John-Henry did not return calls last night. Ripping into the media last Feb. 15 for what she felt was unfair coverage of a private family matter, Claudia told WBZ's Bob Lobel (with her lawyer present): "There's no doubt that what happened after he died would have enraged him even more. If swears were not bleeped on television, I would let you know what he would say now. He would definitely curse the skies at you guys right now for what we had to go through . . . It was extremely private, and I don't think anybody has the right to intrude on that."
The most suspicious nugget in the SI report is the contention that John-Henry Williams owes Alcor money. John-Henry has a history of unpaid debts, but why would he owe Alcor? The acquisition of Ted Williams's remains was a PR bonanza for the company. It seemed more likely that Alcor would pay the Williams family for the right to keep the remains of a celebrity client. Charging John-Henry to freeze Ted Williams would be like a Division 1 college basketball program sending a tuition bill to LeBron James. Celebrities go for free. Usually, you pay them.
Maybe the alleged missing DNA is the key to the mystery. Maybe somebody stands to profit by selling Ted's double helix.
Nothing about this story has made sense since the day Ted died. What a shame. It seems the greatest hitter who ever lived has taken more hits than anybody who ever died.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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