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Ben Bradlee Jr.'s Spotlight on "The Kid" Starts off the Inaugural Season of the Great Polar Park Writers Series

May 23, 2024 - International League (IL)
Worcester Red Sox News Release

On a rainy Saturday afternoon, the Polar Park DCU Club's energy was alive and well as the WooSox welcomed the first writer for the inaugural season of "The Great Polar Park Writers Series." WooSox President Dr. Charles Steinberg borrowed the concept of this series from its genesis at Fenway Park, "The Great Fenway Park Writers Series," which launched in 2002. Inspired by the series in Boston, Larry Lucchino wanted to bring an edition to Worcester at Polar Park.

Dr. Ted Gallagher was a classmate of Lucchino's at Princeton University, and the pair became close friends. Before his passing in April of this year, Lucchino named Gallagher chairman of "The Great Polar Park Writers Series" and entrusted him in bringing this series to light.

Ben Bradlee Jr. was the inaugural author of the series who spoke to the audience about his book, The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams. Following his graduation from Colby College in Waterville Maine, Bradlee Jr. served with the Peace Corps in Afghanistan. After his service, Bradlee pursued a career in journalism, starting first with the Riverside Press Enterprise in California before returning home to Massachusetts and joining The Boston Globe, where he spent most of his career.

Bradlee Jr. came from a great family of journalists; his father, Ben Bradlee Sr., is known for his role with the Washington Post in the release of the Pentagon Papers and the breaking of the Watergate story. During his time with the Globe, Bradlee Jr. was instrumental in the newspaper's coverage of the Catholic Church scandal in the early 2000s. The Globe was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 2003 for their coverage.

Following Ted Williams' passing in 2002, Bradlee Jr. was struck by the emotional outpouring from the city of Boston. "He was a glue in the baseball social fabric," Bradlee Jr. remarked, fondly recalling fathers and grandfathers telling their children stories about Williams.

In 2004, Bradlee Jr. left the Globe and began his 10-year journey to write one of the most comprehensive biographies of Ted Williams to date, just over 800 pages worth.

Many people today know Ted Williams as the icon and legend, but many do not fully understand him as the great player he really was or his complicated character. Many of the earlier books about Williams focused mainly on his baseball achievements and exploits on the field, but Bradlee Jr. "wanted to dig into the man." Though never a sportswriter, he was someone who always looked up to Williams; in fact, he still holds a baseball autographed by "the kid" as a cherished possession. Bradlee Jr. fondly remembers watching Williams at Fenway Park and how "the atmospherics in the park really changed when he got to the plate. When Williams was up to bat, you didn't dare get up to get a hot dog." As Bradlee Jr. worked through over 600 interviews, he was fascinated with Williams, noting how "the arc of his life was really something else."

Bradlee Jr. acknowledged that throughout his life, Ted Williams was an angry man. He had a troubled relationship with the media, his wives, and his children. Williams grew up in San Diego with his parents and brother. Bradlee Jr. refers to Williams and his brother as "latch key kids," left home alone for most of their days. Their mother was often out working late, and their father was absent. Williams spent his time at the local ballpark late into the evening.

A little-known fact about Williams was that his mother was Mexican. Williams made sure to keep this information away from the public, since he feared the prejudice of the day would impact his playing career if his Mexican American heritage was known. Bradlee Jr. was one of the first to bring this information to light in his biography.

Despite his prickly exterior, Williams was a big supporter of the Jimmy Fund. He spent a lot of time visiting patients and even stayed overnight on some occasions, but every time he visited, he made sure there would be no media presence.

Of course, we all know Ted Williams the player-the greatest hitter to ever live-who is still the last player to hit .400 in a season. Towards the end of the 1941 season, Williams had the option sit out of a doubleheader, but instead, he chose to play both games. He went 6-8 scoring a .406 average. Williams went on to end his career with 521 homeruns, a .344 batting average, and the highest OBP in MLB history that still stands today: .382. One of the most significant questions is how impressive Williams' statistics might have been if he had never joined the military and missed five years of baseball during his prime.

With the first day of the Great Polar Park Writers Series falling on Military Appreciation Day, Williams' military career was an appropriate subject to cover. Bradlee Jr. highlighted how Williams is the only member of the Baseball Hall of Fame who has served in two wars-World War II and the Korean Conflict. During World War II, Williams was a Marine Fighter Pilot Instructor, and six years later, he was drafted again to fly in the Korean Conflict. During his service, he resented the military for taking him away from his baseball career, but throughout his life he grew to be proud of his time in the service.

From his long research process, Bradlee shared many stories about Williams that he found amusing, one in particular that stuck out to him. Pedro Ramos of the Washington Senators was in his rookie year in 1955 and took the mound to face Ted Williams. In a rare event, the rookie struck Williams out. Ramos held onto the ball, and following the game, he ventured into the Red Sox clubhouse to ask Williams to autograph the baseball. Williams reluctantly agreed and sent Ramos on his way. Later that season, Williams came face to face with Ramos yet again, this time with a better outcome. Williams sent the ball flying into the bleachers at Fenway Park, and as he rounded the bases he jeered at Ramos "I'll sign that son of a bitch too if you can find it!"

Perhaps widely unknown, Ted Williams has a tie to Worcester. "The Kid" hit his first home run in a Red Sox uniform at Fitton Field in a 1939 exhibition game against College of the Holy Cross.

Bradlee Jr. was a fitting choice as the inaugural speaker for the series, given his close ties to both Worcester and the WooSox. His son, Joe Bradlee, was the WooSox first head of Community Relations, who has recently joined the Harvard Athletics Department.

We hope you will join us for the second installment of the Great Polar Park Writers Series as we welcome Bill Ballou, a Whitinsville native and walking encyclopedia of Worcester baseball history, on Saturday, May 25. His presentation is sure to be lively and entertaining as he shares stories of local baseball history and his time voting in the National Baseball Hall of Fame elections each year. Join us in the DCU Club Saturday at 1pm to learn more.

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