From the time Ted Williams drove up to the Sarasota Terrace Hotel in “an old jalopy” as a Boston Red Sox rookie, until the Sox concluded their spring training games in Sarasota, Williams was a popular subject in the local press and community.
Williams had been purchased from the San Diego team when he first joined the Red Sox in 1938. The Sarasota Herald, in a three-page spread to “Boost the Boston Red Sox!” on March 13 of that year, noted that the 19-year-old Theodore Williams was assigned number 16. Two weeks later the paper reported he had been sent to the Minneapolis Millers in Daytona Beach.
When Williams rejoined the Boston team at Payne Park the following year, he was assigned the number 9. The Herald soon quoted manager Joe Cronin, “Ted Williams looked mighty good today. He’s just a kid and his kind often make the best ball players.” For the next three years, he quickly climbed to the rarefied heights of baseball stardom with his 1941 batting average of .406.
With the opening of spring training in 1942, Williams attracted much attention, but some was shrouded in a black cloud. The recent bombing of Pearl Harbor had brought the United States into World War II, and young men were being drafted into military service. Shortly before he was expected in Sarasota, William’s draft status had been changed from 3-A (a deferral because of his dependent mother) to 1-A (eligible for immediate service) back to 3-A. Immediate questions about who requested the change back to 3-A, and why, implied that Williams might be less patriotic and more interested in making big money as a baseball star.
In the 10 days before Williams’ arrival in Sarasota, there was speculation about how he would tell his side of the story. The Herald-Tribune described the scene: “For a couple of days the [Terrace] hotel lobby looked like a convention of professional pallbearers, with a whispering group behind every pillar…waiting for the remains to be hauled in.” Upon arrival, Williams said that he wanted to play out the season so he could earn enough money to provide for his mother and that he would then immediately be in the service.
Williams found a warm welcome in Sarasota. He was given Room 406 at the hotel. Fans cheered him on the field and clamored for his autograph.
Williams and Boston sportswriters had a rocky relationship. The antipathy was absent when the subject was fishing. Red Ermish, sportscaster for Sarasota radio station WKXY in the 1950s, reminisced fondly about his fishing conversations with Williams. In early April 1956, the Sarasota News reported that Williams “entertained (with apparent pleasure) a capacity crowd of fishing enthusiasts” at the Sarasota High School auditorium with fish stories, a question and answer session, and a film showing the “Angular Angler” catching tarpon, bone-fish, small mouth bass and salmon.
Shoppers at Tucker’s Sporting Goods enjoyed seeing Williams at the store trying out fishing equipment. His name had become a powerful marketing tool for a variety of sport-related items and the potential buyer at Tucker’s sometimes purchased equipment the Williams demonstrated. At the beginning of what would be the last training season for the Red Sox at Payne Park, the News announced that Ted Williams, “the fishing tackle magnate,” was expected in Sarasota. He was a man of both sports for the Sarasota community.
Special thanks to Ann A. Shank, former Sarasota County Historian, for her research and time devoted to writing this article.
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