|TED WILLIAMS: THE GREATEST HITTER WHO EVER LIVED (TV) (director/writer: Nick Davis; cinematographer: Ed Marritz; editor: Josh Freed; music: Joel Goodman; cast: Jon Hamm (Narrator), Ted Williams (archival), Tom Yawkey (archival), Claudia Williams, Bob Costas, Roger Angell, Dick Enberg, Ben Bradlee, Jr., Wade Boggs, Willie McCovey, Jim Kaat, Joey Votto, Stu Apte, Emily DiMaggio, Jack Fisher, Dick Flavin, Leigh Montville, Peter Sutton, John Thorn, John Underwood, Frank Venzor; Runtime: 57; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jon O'Sheal; American Masters (TV series-7/24/2018 on PBS; 2018)|
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The biopic was aired by PBS on the American Masters (TV series).
Nick Davis ("Jack: The Last Kennedy Film"/"Blood Sweat and Gears: Racing Clean to the Tour de France") hits a home run with this baseball biopic on the former complex Boston Red Sox slugger. It refreshes our memory on the iconic player's illustrious career, pointing out in 1941 he was the last player to hit the magical number of .400 (hitting .406). The film uses former ballplayers like Wade Boggs and Willie McCovey to tell of his exploits, while sportswriters like Roger Angell and Ben Bradlee, Jr. tell of their personal contacts with the colorful and volatile figure, and baseball broadcasters like Bob Costas and Dick Enberg marvel at his perfect swing, exceptional eyesight, and his heroic persona-calling him the real John Wayne. While his daughter Claudia Williams (from his first marriage) relates to him as a sometimes angry father but always a loving one, and how in his three failed marriages he never learned how to get along with women. She also tells the creepy story of how she and her brother John Henry (from the third marriage) talked him into freezing his body in an Arizona facility.
The filmmaker reveals that Ted was embarrassed that his Salvation Army mom was of Mexican-American heritage, never mentioning it, and his absentee white dad was a drunk, a sometimes pickle salesman and a ne'er-do-well. His parents never saw him play in the Major Leagues and could care less about his baseball playing. He came from an unhappy home in San Diego, where he found the playgrounds as his chance to improve his skills in baseball and make something of himself.
His baseball career is explored from the time The Kid, The Thumper, The Splendid Splinter, some of the many nicknames he was called, started playing at twenty for the Sox and how he ended his career at the age of 40 by hitting a home run on his last at bat in Fenway Park. The film of it was recorded by a fan named Bill Murphy who was at Fenway for Williams’s final game on Sept. 28, 1960. Murphy, then 19, brought his 8mm camera to the game and caught Williams’s home run in his final at-bat and his refusal to tip his cap to the cheering fans.
Five years of Ted's prime was taken away from him as he served for 3 years during WW2 as a pilot instructor and for 2 years during the Korean War as a Marine pilot-doing 39 combat missions. When the 34-year-old returned in 1954 to the Sox, he was still the best hitter in the game, still angry at the sports writers for writing unfairly about him and refused to tip his hat to the fans after hitting a homer. He finished his playing career with a .344 batting average .
He was stubborn, could curse with the best of 'em, obsessed about being the best hitter ever and wrote the Bible on hitting called the Science of Hitting. The love the modern players had for him was shown in the 1999 All-Star Game in Boston, where the players all huddled around his wheel-chair and treated him like a God. At his HOF induction speech he mentioned how the Negro ballplayer was neglected by Major League baseball and mentioned Negro players like Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige as worthy HOFs, who because of him were soon inducted into the HOF.
For relaxation Ted fished, and being a competitive person became a champion in that field.
The most touching story was of Ted's genuine charity work for the Jimmy Fund, helping out children with cancer get treatment. Insisting on no press coverage. A story is told of how a kid wanted to meet him before going to sleep and wouldn't let go by wrapping his finger around him. Ted decided to get a cot and slept that night next to him. Ted left word with the doctors, if any of the kids needed him he would always be available.
REVIEWED ON 7/23/2018 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
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