Bill Nowlin - Ted Williams Hitters Hall of Fame
While writing the first of what has become several books about Ted Williams and the Red Sox in the middle 1990s, I also started to collect baseball cards of Ted – and
then broadened my collection to begin to include other things bearing his name and image – magazine covers, Moxie items, and items from the Ted Williams Camp. I went to a few card shows around the Boston area and met a few of the dealers. Then I saw something come up in an auction that I really wanted: a sidewritten game-used Ted Williams bat from 1941 provenance (a side-written bat that was known to have come from the Louisville Slugger factory, the writing indicating they had received it in August 1941.) I had to bid on that.
My company was having our most successful year ever, so I set a limit for myself and got on the telephone for live bidding. I was fortunate to acquire it for less than I'd intended and, much to my surprise, I also won a Ty Cobb bat in the same auction. I had put in a ceiling bid on it and only learned I had won it when I called a couple of days after the auction. I realized that I now had bats from two of the men who'd hit .400. And there was a Shoeless Joe Jackson bat that had been in the very same auction, too. What price did that go for, I asked. It hadn't sold, I was told.
No one had met the minimum. A few phone calls later and I was the owner of a Jackson gamer, a Cobb gamer, and the Ted Williams bat.
Ted Williams was my hero growing up. I knew full well that he was a member of perhaps the most exclusive clubs in baseball: the .400 Hitters Club. I set out to get one game-used bat of each member of the club.
I decided to expand my collection further – that's what collectors sometimes do when they've been bit by the bug – and so I decided to try and get a game-used bat from each of the members of the other two "clubs" that Ted Williams belonged to: the 500 Home Run Club and the Triple Crown Club.
I'd loaned the 1941 Williams bat to the Ted Williams Museum in Hernando, Florida and I approached then-director Buzz Hamon about loaning them these other bats, too. He set up two different meetings with Ted, once at Ted Williams Family Enterprises and once at the Museum itself. The first time we played a guessing game. I'd hand Ted a bat and he'd tried to guess whose it was. He wouldn't look at the barrel of the bat; he'd just try to guess the player by the feel of the bat. He was remarkable. He got almost all of them right. Some were easier than others, of course. The thicker-handled bats tended to belong to the earlier ballplayers like Jackson and Cobb. The heaviest bat of all belonged to Babe Ruth – that was the one he guessed quickest. "THIS HAS GOT TO BE RUTH," he declared in that booming voice. Ted was right.
During his own playing days, Williams was well-known for weighing his bats when they came in from the factory and could discern to a quarter-ounce the weight of any bat even without a postal scale. Baseball bats were the tools of his trade, and he was one of the few ballplayers who visited the Louisville Slugger factory itself, often once a year, and got to know lathe operator Fritz Bickel. He'd slip Bickel a little extra to get the bats with the smallest pin knots in the wood, the tighter grain producing a more solid bat. Ted was one of the first to move to lighter-weight bats, because he knew it was bat speed more than brute force which best determined how far a bat could hit a baseball.
Ted came to know me as the "bat guy" – which was a true honor even though the flip side of it was that it seemed he never remembered my actual name. It was also an honor to work as editor of publications for the Ted Williams Museum for many years and to ghost-write several articles for The Kid himself, including his last written words.
But one of the moments that brought me the greatest pleasure was watching Ted pick up these bats used by the men he most admired – the greatest hitters in the history of the game – and talking about the tool they all employed: the baseball bat. "Now, Hornsby…I can tell this is Hornsby's. Ya know, he was my hitting coach in Minneapolis in 1938…."
- Bill Nowlin
Bill Nowlin is national Vice President of SABR and the author of nearly 20 books on the Red Sox or Red Sox players, the most recent being Ted Williams At War and Love That Dirty Water: The Standells and the Improbable Victory Anthem of the Boston Red Sox (both from Rounder Books.) Bill is also co-founder of Rounder Records of Cambridge, Massachusetts.