Read an Excerpt
MANDATE: A MAN FOR THE TIMESThe Presidency of George Herman "Ted" Williams
By Michael A. Connelly
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Michael A. Connelly
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDad's Dreams Change Radically
Edward 'Ted' Williams, twenty-eight-years-old and a late season minor league call-up for the AL East leading Boston Red Sox, tentatively motioned for his veteran catcher to come out to the mound.
The backstop had already been to three big league all-star games—but he was still a year younger than nervous rookie Ed-Ted.
Ed-Ted said, "Sorry, Buck, but isn't this ump really squeezing me on the inside corner? Can ya say something polite to him?"
"Ya watch the ump videos, Old Rook? Four-eyed prick always gives the hitter the inside corner. I think the blind bastard is too fat to see the inside strike."
"I did notice that he is indeed disturbingly stout, especially to be out on this historic ballfield in front of thousands of people; but I missed the implications for the strike zone."
"Rookie mistake. Anyway, I can't say anything now that ya called me out here, Rook, 'cause he'll just tell me you oughta shut the fuck up and go back to Pawtucket. Sharp curve down and away now ... make the goddamn pitch; these Yanks are only one behind us. And don't be nervous. It's only Sox/Yanks in September; and the thirty-eight thousand Boston fans sitting quietly in their seats are famous for their patience and understanding."
With the count two-and-two, Ted got on top of about the sharpest curveball he was capable of, and was momentarily thrilled when it felt just right and headed perfectly down and away, just off the strike zone but close enough that the hitter would have to bite with two strikes, two outs, and two on in the eighth.
But the right-handed-hitting Yankee slugger seemed to know exactly what and where, and lined the aging rookie's best off-speed paint over the Red Sox bullpen in right-center-field. In nine years in the minor leagues, Ed-Ted had never seen a right-handed hitter hit a ball that far to the opposite field—never mind on a two-strike curveball down and out of the zone.
When the veteran catcher got to the mound to wait for the manager to come take the ball, he said, "I was afraid the muscle-bound monster might guess right; he knows that dickhead ump as well as I do. But I never thought he'd hit it that fuckin' far. You must be really embarrassed."
Ed-Ted—still vaguely gazing out towards the right-center-field stands—muttered, "Career minor leaguer, with a wife to boot. I'm far too broke to worry about embarrassed."
Back in the Sox dugout, the crusty old pitching coach—who had been just a few votes shy of being voted into 'The Hall' last year—said to Ed-Ted, "Well, ya too old and too puny rook, I'm afraid you're gonna have to get a couple inches taller, or start juicing to make it in this league. You're a yard short on the heater and about ten points light on your pitching IQ. I don't know what to tell ya, except I'm glad I'm not you."
Ted, an admittedly anxious and now resigned ex-pro but not an abject shrinking violet, chuckled and said, "Yeah, my life sucks at the career-ending moment. And I sure wish I could stick in the bigs for a few minutes, never mind make The Hall like you will eventually. The only good news in all this is that I finally feel free to tell ya that you have the biggest belly I've ever seen in a major league uniform. Please, get the front office to spring for a roomier shirt, willya."
The personally dissolute but professionally demanding coach (an ironic but hardly aberrant combination in modern American sport) proudly stuck out his huge belly, and said, "I feel formidable, kid. I could easily lose weight, but then you stupid rooks would stand too close, and wouldn't listen close enough. Plus, that would give my wife the misleading impression that I've started listening to her. Seriously, don't have any regrets. You gave it your absolute all. It's just that, if God really wanted you to be a major league hurler, he would have made you bigger, stronger, and smarter. So cheer up."
That very same momentous night, back in his small but tastefully appointed condo off Daniel Webster Highway in his hometown of Nashua, New Hampshire, Ted's wife, Ellie, plopped into his lap, kissed him tenderly on the cheek, and said, "Bad news all around, Dear. You may not have been able to slip enough pitches by those nasty major league hitters, but doc says one of your little fishies did swim past my goaltender. It's my fault. You're such a lusty lover I should have known to use both a diaphragm and a sponge."
Ted kissed her back, deeply, and said with a catch in his voice, "I knew it. I knew it! There was even a funny looking little kid in my dreams last night. Done deal then. Hell, I'm not sure they were even gonna let me have another year in the minors anyway ... hey, maybe fatherhood is something I'll actually be good at."
"We both know you'll make a great dad. And by all accounts you're a pretty good car salesman, too, despite yourself."
"Yeah. What a thing to be good at."
"Genuine, honest, likeable guy giving people a fair deal; and his employer an honest day's work. Nothing wrong with that, My Love."
"Yeah, I could be worse off. Odds of pitching even an inning in the bigs are about one in a hundred thousand ... so who the hell am I to feel cheated ... and, I best remember to add at this point in the conversation, I certainly did marry well. Very well, indeed, Mother."
"Yeah, I love you too, Dear. But how 'bout at least waiting until the baby is born and can say "mama" before you start calling me "mother," please."
Ed-Ted, while struggling mightily the last few summers in the high minors, had been working winters at a family friend's nearby Cadillac dealership for the last seven years, starting as a salesman, and then, since he was bright, responsible, hardworking, and well-liked, as an assistant manager.
Naturally outgoing anyway, Ed's southern-New Hampshire baseball celebrity culminating in at least that brief stint with the Sox had, over the years, garnered him an impressive accumulation of both friends and acquaintances. His easygoing warm nature and ready wit allowed him to bring State Line Cadillac into the conversation without seeming to impose on the friendship; the finishing touch to his effectiveness as a salesman was that he always took the time to be a genuine expert on all the new and used cars in inventory or available for sale.
Chapter TwoThe Youth of GHT—Baseball; Brilliance; Cadillacs; and The Harder I Work The Better I Do
Six months later, Ellie said to Ed-Ted, "Quirky doesn't work with kid's names. My dad's name was John. Nobody ever got into any fistfights because their name was John Williams."
Ed replied, "Well, but if they ever did, they'd lose for sure. John Williams was a very famous conductor and composer—Jaws and Jurassic Park. Name's now both too bland and too recognizable. Our imminent little fella put the final kibosh on my baseball fantasy; but he's sure gonna have every opportunity to make his own. George Herman Williams has some ball-playin' style ... and anyway, if he doesn't become a ballplayer, people will just call him George."
Ed-Ted, naturally ambitious and in truth deeply stung by his baseball disappointment, compensated by now working long and hard at the dealership, soon becoming full-time manager; and then, as the owner neared retirement age, by gradually buying into it.
He said to Ellie, "Sure, I'm nervous about putting so much of our little nest egg into this one thing. But I know this business now, and at least this is something I have some control over. I'm actually gonna really enjoy running the place, more than I ever thought I would. I'll do whatever it takes to make it work out for us, so please bear with me."
Ellie replied, smiling sweetly, "Are you kidding? Compared to being the wife of a minor league ballplayer for six years, being married to a good auto man is a piece of cake—even if you are working seventy hours a week."
Ed still found plenty of time to work diligently with young 'G-H-Ted' on baseball, and is delighted that GHT is a natural, both hitting and pitching.
(Even more encouraging is that young GHT will ultimately grow into the size of a pro and then some: six-five, raw-boned, big strong hands, rangy, coordinated, with unusually large and powerful legs. Ed certainly knew that his own relatively ordinary size—six-one and a little too frail by MLB standards—had contributed significantly to the ultimate disappointment of his own long, essentially "just-missed" baseball career.)
Late one summer afternoon on his way home from work, Ed stopped to briefly watch ten-year-old GHT play unsupervised 'pick-up' ball with his friends. At supper Ed said, "You fellas are getting old enough and good enough to step past that 'lobbing it in.' You're not gonna improve at hitting real pitching that way."
"I know that, Dad, but the knuckleheads like trying to reach the fence, now that some of us finally can. And they don't like chasing the foul balls when studly young hurlers like me put some real zip on it ... they sure do like it when you come out and pitch half-speed to both teams, though. Hint, hint, Pop."
"Once in a while, but you know I got a business to run and a wife to humor, kid. Time to start showing some leadership out on that ballfield, son."
So precociously determined GHT became the young group's passionate advocate of balancing the fun of blasting away at 'lob' pitching versus the challenge of trying to improve against 'real' pitching, garnering an early lesson in leadership in the somewhat painful process.
Ed eventually bought the Cadillac dealership outright, and did well enough to send young GHT to numerous state-of-the-art baseball summer camps, on Cape Cod, and later even down in Florida. As an adjunct to his southern New Hampshire marketing strategy for the dealership, the genial, generally well-known ex-pro-ballplayer also became active in local politics, eventually enjoying it far beyond the business benefits.
Ed soon expanded the dealership to include Buick and Chevrolet, in addition to Cadillacs; and also, over the years, built a substantial used car business.
GHT, aided by the expert instruction from a very young age, excelled in Little League. He is smart enough, and aware enough, to wonder, and actually even worry about, how much better he is than everybody else.
"Hey, Pop, I read that it's the sleepers, not the young superstars, that actually make it in the long run."
"Come on, son, I'm working hard to teach you common sense. You just do the best you can at all times. Enjoy it! Stop thinking so much, and stay in the moment—and stop being embarrassed by how good you are."
GHT brightened, grinned, and said, "Yeah. Anyway, it's just the sheer numbers that get us young superstars in the end. There are so few of us and so freakin' many nobodies."
"Easy young fella. I've really always been one of those nobodies myself; and at age eleven you're far from out of the woods yet yourself."
When GHT was twelve and absolutely dominating in Little League, influential local politician Ed soon arranged for him to play most of his baseball—and do all of his pitching—in the 13—to 15-year-old Babe Ruth League, on full size ballfields. (None of even the best twelve-year-old hitters claimed to miss the challenge of trying to hit his seventy-eight mile an hour fastball from only forty-six-feet away.)
At age twelve, GHT is bigger than most thirteen year olds, and close to the size of an average fourteen year old. He enjoys modest success pitching in the 13—to 15-year-old league, from the standard 60 feet 6 inches. Of course, he'd have done somewhat better if his father hadn't absolutely forbidden him from throwing any breaking balls until he turned thirteen.
When he had his first-ever bad game—knocked out in the third inning by the top team in the league—Ed came down to the bench and said, "Don't ever let me see you throw that glove again. I sprang for an expensive glove befitting a serious teenage ballplayer, so act accordingly. Now get your chin up for the rest of the night, or we'll go right the hell home after the game and skip Friendlies."
When GHT was returned to the game out in right field for the last inning, he made a hustling, diving catch of a sinking line drive, then jumping up to make a strong throw to double the runner off first, helping to seal the comeback win against a stronger team.
Coming off the field he said to his dad with a wry grin, "Pop, I had an inspirational vision of a traditional post-game hot fudge sundae fueling my mad dash to that liner."
At Friendlies, Ed said, "That's an essential lesson, son. Learn from it—and then put it aside."
"What I'm learning, Pop, is that being ordinary sucks, at any age. I only pitched two innings tonight, and I'm supposed to play short tomorrow in the little kid league. Maybe I could pitch my other four innings there, to make sure I still got it."
"You know the answer to that—that's not the deal. Why step back now? Push back at your disappointment by hitting a few home runs tomorrow; and then by pitching better your next time out in this league. Still no curves, but keep working hard on that straight change—and especially on hitting your spots."
"Yeah, right; I bet I do both, Dad." (And he later would. Including hitting a legendary home run at the Little League field, high over the 225-foot fence and surrounding bushes, across the busy bordering street on the fly, well into the adjoining parking lot, and bouncing right up to the door of that very same Friendlies.)
And that night he also spent a little extra time and care oiling his beloved new mitt, then taking it to his father, and saying, "Feel how soft he is, Pop. And clean as new, with a better pocket than ever. He's over his hurt feelings now. Best glove any twelve year old ever had."
In fifth grade, GHT garnered some early academic attention by turning an assignment to write a brief essay about someone in his family into a lengthy paper on his paternal grandfather's experience fighting in the Pacific in World War 2 and then returning to post-war American society, eventually opening a neighborhood hardware store, contrasted with his father's baseball career ending and transitioning into life as a car salesman—and as a father. These are stories that young GHT had previously heard just bits and pieces of, with his curiosity then whetted by always being told that he was too young to really understand.
He's still only provided sanitized highlights of his grandfather's intense experiences in World War 2—but he's fascinated by the stories and the history anyway, presses the issue with relentless questions, and enthusiastically works many late nights writing a startlingly insightful paper for a fifth grader.
The teacher, Mrs. Brooks, said to young GHT, "Absolutely great job, and A++, easily the best fifth grade paper I've seen yet. But Teddy, these days we don't refer to the Japanese as the 'Damn Japs.' They're our friends now."
"My granddad was wounded and almost died in that war, and now my dad sells GM cars. The 'Damn Japs' aren't any friends of mine."
Mrs. Brooks laughed, and said, "I see your point quite clearly, young Mr. Williams. But you know right well that you'll be best served soft peddling that kind of talk in the future."
Later Ed said to his father and to his wife, with a notable catch in his voice, "Wow, did you read that thing? I thought I was close to the bouncy little maniac, and I heard all the questions and saw the time spent, but I still had no idea all that was going on in his head. We just might have something special here."
His father said, even more emotionally, "Might? Aren't ya seein' him?"
"Not clear enough, I guess. Early on, Ellie was always on me about not pushing him too hard, not trying to live through him. Forget pushing him—I'm worn out just watching him."
The school principal has previously talked to Ed and Ellie about possibly advancing GHT a grade—and this performance prompts her to do so again. But Ed—perhaps even considering GHT's future opportunities to play middle- and high school baseball, even if he'd never admit that—just opines firmly that the social training in school is almost as important as the academics, and that GHT would be best served if he wasn't rushed ahead in everything.
Excerpted from MANDATE: A MAN FOR THE TIMES by Michael A. Connelly Copyright © 2012 by Michael A. Connelly. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.