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Excerpt from Paul O’Neill’s book: A Memorable Conversation with Ted Williams

I knew my sister, Molly, a New York Times reporter, was to interview Ted about food, fishing, and, of course, a little baseball too. When Molly told me about it, I was in awe that my older sister was about to speak with one of the greatest hitters of all time. I jokingly told Molly that I was struggling and that she should tell Ted that I needed some advice. Still, I didn’t expect Molly’s visit to Ted’s to result in him contacting me. It all went back to being the boy whose proud dad told him his swing was reminiscent of Williams. I couldn’t match Williams’ swing or his accomplishments, but I was giddy to talk to the man himself.

Credit…Grand Central Editions

To this day, even with my sister’s connection and her gentle or forceful nudges, I’m still amazed that Ted agreed to call me. I was even more surprised when Ted said, “I bet you don’t hit the ball the other way. This comment gave me goosebumps because it showed that Ted knew the way I needed to hit to be productive. To be successful, I had to look for shots in the middle or outside the plate and hit the ball to the opposite court. So the legendary Ted Williams – a hitter who was also talented enough to adapt and hit the ball in the middle or in the opposite direction – knew my approach.

“You know what?” I answered. “You’re right. I came out too quickly on the front. A minute into the conversation I was already trying to figure out how surreal it was that Ted Williams – the Ted Williams – rated me as a hitter. Ted won six batting titles, two MVPs, made nineteen All-Star teams, was the last man to hit over .400 (in 1941), and finished his phenomenal career with a .344 average, 521 home runs and a all-time record. 0.482 basis percentage. He was the hero who also interrupted his career twice to serve our country in World War II and the Korean War. And he was talking about hitting me! It was such an inspiring and nerve-wracking call because I was absorbing every word Ted said. But I also felt like there were a hundred questions to ask before God’s voice hung up. I didn’t want to interrupt him, so I let him lead the conversation and, of course, Ted said something that made me smile and made me feel like I had done something right. as a hitter.

“Don’t let anyone change you,” Ted barked.

As much as any typing advice I’ve ever received, those words resonated with me because they matched how I’ve always felt. A stubborn and serious hitter, I dedicated myself to my level swing and elevation approach in a light uppercut to hit the lines. I believed in it and I still believe in it. Hearing Williams say a hitter shouldn’t let anyone change him was one of the highlights of the call and it’s something I could have listened to all day.

Honestly, I should have expected Ted to point this out because that’s what he wrote in “The Science of Hitting”, his seminal book in which he dissected the hardest thing to do in sport: hitting a baseball. I don’t remember the first time I picked up the book, but I remember being in love with it. There’s a photo of Ted on the cover, his front foot slightly lifted, his eyes focused on the baseball, and body language that screams, “I’m about to crush this pitch.” Ted wrote that Lefty O’Doul, who hit .349 in his career, told him, “Son, whatever you do, don’t let anyone change your style. Your style is yours. Ted obeys. Me too.

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