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November 26, 2007 | 5 Comments

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   I recently read Leigh Montville's biography of Ted Williams. In it I discovered that Williams spent a year playing for the Minneapolis Millers prior to making the majors. During that time, he fell in love with Minnesota. He would frequently return in the off-season to hunt and fish all over your fine state. Is there any chance he ever happened to wander into Lake Wobegon? What would the residents have made of him?

Kind Regards,
Andy R.

Williams did play for the Millers back when they were a Red Sox farm team and I remember seeing him towards the end of his career, when the Sox came to Minneapolis to play an exhibition game. The Splendid Splinter sat in the dugout as the fans peered down at him there on the bench and speculated whether he would come out to bat, or perhaps even tip his cap, and in the 9th inning he did — came out to pinch-hit and got a fat pitch and whacked it over the wall and trotted around the bases. He looked good, trotting. That was the only time I saw him and then, not long after, I read John Updike's splendid homage to Williams in The New Yorker, "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu," a title I remember well forty-five years later. I never heard of Williams coming to Minnesota. I had thought he preferred deep-sea fishing off Florida, where he lived. But who knows? Minnesota has tens of thousands of lakes and the great man could've driven up to one, rented a boat, and had himself a splendid day on the water and nobody the wiser. Had he wandered into Lake Wobegon, somebody would've recognized him for sure — maybe Art at Art's Baits, or Dorothy at the Chatterbox Cafe — and that person would've guarded his privacy assiduously. Mr. Williams would've sat in splendid isolation and picked out his bait or enjoyed his grilled cheese sandwich and nobody would've asked for his autograph. The person who recognized him would want to be the ONLY person to know that Ted Williams was in town, and then once he was gone, that person would've told everybody. They would've said, "Naw, you're pulling my leg." And the person would've said, "He was here. I talked to him. He was a nice guy. I don't care if you believe me or not." That's how that would work.


Instead of having his head cryonically frozen at some lab out west, Ted's son could have had 'ol dad's noggin naturally preserved in the upper reaches of Minnesota. Maybe in the freezer at Ralph's Pretty Good Grocery or stacked with cases of beer at the Sidetrack Tap.

Ted Williams was baseball royalty, but a lout in real life.

I'm happy to know that I'm not the only guy who has spent time thinking about what it would have been like to have Ted Williams in my town.

I'm sure Garrison knows that Ted was no angel but no writer could resist him as a subject (see Updike).

I fully agree. Privacy for celebraties in a small town is easy to have. I have had a couple encounters with a famous person in my small town and I haven't asked them for their autograph, just been as nice as possible, and when they leave it just gets me goin' knowin that no one else was able to know them just like I do.

If Ted Williams, indeed, visited Lake Wobegon, it wasn't just once. There was a second visit as the Splendid Splinter would've been invited back for ice fishing. And he accepted because he'd heard the story about ice fishing with a can of peas. You remember how the story goes: you use peas as bait, putting one on your hook and waiting until the fish comes up to take a pea. Of course, Williams wouldn't have told anybody about this because it sounds almost too good to be true.

Garrison's account on what would have transpired is right on target. I grew up near Boston and was a big TW fan. In the fall of 1971 I lived in New Hampshire. One day, I was in a store in Hillsboro and there was a man at the counter. Another fellow, who seemed to be with the other, was pacing the floor. He was tall and dressed in what looked like hunting clothes for the time. It was Ballgame! And much like the account Garrison described, I never wanted to invade his privacy. I never said I talked to him. My friends understood. Just seeing him up close was enough.

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