Some of you may have noticed I wasn’t around the newspaper last week — I took a week off after I accepted an invitation from baseball historian Bill Nowlin to attend a celebration of what would have been my uncle Ted Williams’ 100th birthday in San Diego on Aug. 30. I’m glad I went, and I’m happy I got an opportunity to take Ted’s granddaughter, Lauren, and his great grandson, Huntington, along with me, too.
The day before the celebrations, I took my daughter to some of the old family haunts in North Park — my grandmother’s house on Utah Street (Ted’s childhood home and my residence in the late 1950s that was decorated with flowers and balloons in honor of Ted’s birthday), Ted Williams Field at the North Park Recreation Center where young Ted played with his friends everyday (two blocks away where my brother and I played as kids, too. We knew it as the University Heights Playground), the famous and deadly Upas Hill where we used to race our bikes on the way to Balboa Park (where my 6-year-old brother was cited by San Diego police for winning the race, but running a stop sign on a bicycle at the finish) and, of course, the world famous Hodads burger joint at Ocean Beach.
The day’s first event, sponsored by the San Diego Ted Williams Chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research, featured a number of baseball writers discussing Ted’s career and some of his more memorable records — 521 homeruns (third on the all-time list behind Jimmie Foxx and Babe Ruth in 1960 when Ted retired), his batting .406 in 1941 (the last hitter to break .400), his 2,021 career walks (fourth on the all-time list behind Barry Bonds, 2,558, Rickey Henderson, 2,190, and Babe Ruth, 2,062) and his astonishing number one career on-base percentage of .4817 — which means Ted got on base nearly half the times he came up to bat, 48 times out of every 100 appearances — a statistic that Major League Baseball officially adopted in 1984.
One of those writers, William Swank, even gave me copies of the first known color action photographs taken of my uncle at bat at Lane Field in San Diego from Oct. 5, 1941.
I also had the pleasure of meeting 84-year-old Rudy Venzor, the son of my grandmother’s brother, who played professional baseball in the 1950s but never made it to the big leagues. I remember meeting his dad at the Utah Street house when I was a kid.
The evening event was more formal and featured, among other things, proclamations and speeches by city and county officials.
But my cousin Claudia absolutely won everyone’s heart at the end of her presentation. After sharing an extremely humorous experience of a fly-fishing adventure with my uncle when she was 12 or 13 (did you know Ted also is in not one but two fishing Halls of Fame?), she asked everyone in the hall to sing “Happy Birthday” to Ted and her late brother, John Henry Williams. Since John Henry’s birthday was only three days before my uncle’s (Aug. 27), she said they always celebrated their birthdays together.
And then Claudia, the perfect person to further her dad’s awesome legacy, said if we all sang it loud enough, they just might be able to hear us. I thought it was an absolutely perfect ending to a day of celebration of Ted’s 100th birthday.
Nice homer, Claudia, and happy birthday to a great slugger and his son.