With the Boston Red Sox in town for the final exhibition game before opening day, Washington Nationals Manager Davey Johnson was asked about Ted Williams, who 10 years after his death remains among the most iconic figures in baseball history and holds a special place in the history of both franchises.
Williams played his entire 21-year with the Red Sox, and he managed the Washington Senators from 1969 to 1971. The Hall of Famer batted .344 lifetime with 521 home runs and 2,654 hits while twice winning the Triple Crown and capturing six batting titles.
Because of Williams’s association with both franchises, memorabilia from his playing days and beyond is on display at the Stars and Stripes Club at Nationals Park. All of the items are up for auction, and the entire collection could fetch in the seven figures, according to Hunt Auctions.
Although Johnson and Williams were never teammates, Johnson recalled an early meeting with the player considered perhaps the greatest hitter who ever lived. It came one spring in Miami when Johnson was two seasons into his big league career.
“I think three cameras followed him down the right field line, and I went up to Ted, and I said, ‘Mister Williams, could I ask you about a question about hitting?’ Johnnson said. “He said, ‘Sure Davey.’ I said, ‘Did you really squeeze the bat like you were squeezing the sawdust out of it?’
“And he explained to me he held it like he held a fish or a bird. Didn’t want it to get away but didn’t want to kill it, and about 40 minutes later, we’re still talking hitting, and the cameraman was shut off.”
Johnson said he would speak with Williams regularly following that initial meeting, and although Johnson batted .261 over his career, he said whenever he played against Williams’ managed teams, he felt as if he could hit .400.
Johnson spent 13 seasons in the majors, including his first eight with the Baltimore Orioles. Johnson started at second base for the Orioles between 1965 and ‘72, when the club won two World Series and four AL pennants.
“I can recall every conversation I ever had with that man,” Johnson said. “He loved to talk hitting. I used to go sit in his living room, and we’d talk hitting in the winter as he’s plying me with drink. And we had some good exhibitions. He was really adamant, even at 10 o’clock in the morning. He was fun to talk to, and I learned a lot from him.”