(HOST) For commentator Howard Coffin, the world series always brings back memories of games and hitters of long ago.
(COFFIN) Once upon a time when baseball, not football or eating, was the national pastime, the whole country focused on what poet Ogden Nash called "The World Serious." But as San Fransisco and Texas engage in this year’s grand finale, my baseball interest centers on a half century ago, when New England’s greatest baseball hero played his last game.
Each year beginning in 1952, my father took me to Boston for a Red Sox game. We left White River Junction railway station before dawn on a Bud liner car, I almost trembling with excitement.
The first time I saw Ted Williams, he was just back from the Korean War. That day he swung at but one pitch, a blazing fastball from left hander Herb Score. The home run was still rising when it hit the net above Fenway Park’s left field wall.
In 1957, Poppa took his Red Sox fan son to see the Yankees he loved because, in his words, "I like good baseball." That day, the largest crowd since World War Two jammed Fenway, nearly 37,000 fans filling every nook and cranny. The attraction was Williams, and Yankee center fielder Mickey Mantle, both hitting about .380 in a close race for the batting title.
The game came down to the last of the ninth, New York leading 2-1. The Red Sox had a man on and one out when Williams came to the plate. He was tall, long-legged, and long-armed, though the years had added weight, and considerable muscle, to a physique that once produced the nickname "Splendid Splinter." He had a way of running that was something like ambling, but when he stepped into the batter’s box, it all congealed into utter concentration and grace.
His swing was, simply, the most beautiful baseball has yet produced. The crowd cheered, then quieted, as Williams dug in his spikes and eyed the pitcher.
The count reached two and one, the runner took his lead, the pitch came in, and the mighty man swung. The ball arched high into the blue August sky. It rose and rose as did the crowd’s roar, until it crested and descended in the net by the center field flagpole, a monumental blast, and as Williams came toward third base on his game winning home run trot, he ran right at me. Of course, he did not tip his hat. He never did. "Gods do not send letters," John Updike once wrote of him.
Williams hit 388 that year. Mantle finished second at 361. In Williams’s last at bat 50 years ago, while I listened on a scratchy radio in Lyndonville, he lined a home run through a Boston sea fog into Fenway’s center field bleachers. In such ways, I guess, do deities say farewell.