SPORTS

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August 2, 2002

Williams fiasco may be final act to freeze out fans

Well, I thought I had missed my opportunity to write about Ted Williams's passing on. He would have made an excellent topic, and was a well-known and respected baseball player—some say he was the best hitter ever—but before I knew it, the nation's attention had moved on to sundry lesser shenanigans; the 11-inning All-Star tie, the trading deadline, and of course the strike. But Ted Williams' craziest offspring, the ludicrous John Henry Williams, shoved his father back to the top of the docket when he started a courtroom campaign to cryogenically freeze him.

I guess that means I owe a debt to John Henry Williams for giving me another chance to honor his father with an article, but, when all is said and done, I'd much rather not have to write this. Ted Williams was great enough to be memorialized all over the media. He will be missed, and would have been missed no matter what happened after he died. If the world were a better place, no one would ever put the words "cryogenic," "Ted," and "Williams" into one sentence, unless that sentence was "Good thing no one wanted to cryogenically freeze Ted Williams."

It remains an open question whether anyone should have the right to cryogenically freeze anyone else. Certain sorts of people, we can say definitively, must not be frozen: treacherous cult leaders, serial killers, and Cleveland GM Mark Shapiro. Morally speaking, regular old middle-management types can probably be consensually frozen, but it's not really an issue since the process is (presumably) obscenely expensive. Professional athletes such as Ted Williams, I assert, should not be frozen, for the following reasons:

It would be a nightmare for statisticians if reanimated baseball players started breaking career records.

It would give Michael Jordan another way to retire and come back, and the sports world can't withstand that.

Sports writers survive on unanswerable cross-era comparisons like Williams vs. Pedro, so I might not have a job.

It's creepy as hell.

More important than any of this, though, is the fact that TED WILLIAMS WANTED TO BE CREMATED. The legal battle that has ensued from the efforts of the demonstrably insane John Henry Williams has been one of those court cases, like the O.J. Simpson trial, whose outcome was clear long before the proceedings even began. Ted Williams was a public figure, and people know a fair amount about him. He was a fabulous baseball player, of course. Off the field, he was first an opponent of war, and later a decorated fighter pilot. He loved fishing. He was stubborn, with a massive ego, but found a way to be endearing. In short, there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever to suggest that Ted Williams liked cryogenic freezing in any form. Also, he wrote in his will that he wanted to be cremated.

Nevertheless, the Ted Williams and O.J. Simpson trials were also akin in that the obvious bad guys won in both cases. Here, enter John Henry Williams, already a prominent figure in the Boston area for his insistence on using his father's fame for his own ends. Ted had a great many friends in the Red Sox organization, and John Henry abused those friends in order, among other things, to get playing time in the Red Sox minor league system. He did not deserve his playing time or any of the other absurd favors he demanded of his father's friends. In the aftermath of his father's death, John Henry produced a document, signed by the man himself, stating that Ted Williams wanted to be cryogenically frozen postmortem. In conjunction with allegations from various other sources that Ted radically changed his mind after writing his will, it looks like a reasonably convincing case.

But it isn't. Ted Williams also has a daughter (not crazy) who believes that her father never, ever wanted to be cryogenically frozen, before or after death. And the document has come under considerable scrutiny because it might be a forgery. Shouldn't it be obvious? What else do irresponsible, crazy children do when they want to abuse the privileges given to them by their parents? They forge signatures. This phenomenon is well established, and there is no reason why John Henry Williams should be an exception. Moreover—and this, to me, is the kicker—Ted Williams never made any public statements about his freezing.

Consider the circumstances: this is a man who has spent his entire life in the public eye, who has an intimate relationship with many members of the media, both in Boston and nationally. In what everyone knew would be the final years of his life, he made frequent public appearances. Rarely has there been a figure so available to the media even in his failing health. If he had really decided, contrary to what was written in the document with exclusive control over his posthumous treatment, that instead of being traditionally cremated, he was going to be FROZEN INDEFINITELY IN A CHAMBER UNDERGROUND***, isn't it at all possible to suppose that he might, just maybe, have said a single thing about it to someone, anyone, in the media?

Whatever. According to certain people who have more influence than I, Ted Williams changed his mind, and ultimately he wished to be cryogenically frozen. So, it appears, that is what is going to happen. These people, these alleged familiars of Ted Williams, are the people who are killing baseball. Steroids, disputes over exorbitant amounts of money that are ultimately insignificant, poorly planned media stunts, and now cryogenic freezing are killing one of America's most prominent symbols. I can't stand it. I am absolutely torn down the middle by an obsessive-compulsive need for an amazing sport and a desire to give comeuppance to those money-lusting people who have been poisoning it. Half of me wants to turn in my baseball fan union cards and never go back to the ballpark ever again in my life, and the other half could subsist on nothing but hot dogs and season tickets. One thing is sure, though: if it weren't for the likes of John Henry Williams, I would never have to choose.