Ted Williams Museum -- tribute to science of hitting
By Paul C. Smith
HERNANDO, Fla. -- The man who wrote the book on hitting also opened a museum on the same, splendid subject.
The Ted Williams Museum first opened in 1994 and was dedicated to the last Major League player to hit over .400 in a season. The museum is the No. 1 tourist attraction in Citrus County and was built in the same development, Citrus Hills, where Williams lived.
It also is the only museum dedicated to a living sports legend.
"We wanted to build a lasting monument, an architectural tribute to what I think is the most difficult thing in all of sports: Hitting a baseball," said Williams at the time. "We hope the museum will become a place millions of baseball fans will visit and enjoy for years to come."
On that grand opening night in 1994, Williams was joined by many friends, including Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle, Muhammad Ali and Bobby Orr. Williams vowed at that time to make the museum much more than a place for memorabilia about his achievements.
One year later, Williams fulfilled his promise. He opened the Hitters Hall of Fame as an extension to the museum and dedicated, initially, to the 20 greatest hitters of all-time.
Williams could have just included the 20 Major League players with the highest career batting averages. But that's not what Williams valued and that's not what his childhood hero, Babe Ruth, was all about.
"More important than just hits is the ability to get on base any way you can," Williams said. "And when you do hit the ball, hit it with authority -- doubles, triples and home runs."
| About the museum|
The Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame
is a non-profit organization, located about 100 miles north of Tampa and 75 miles west of Orlando.
2455 North Citrus Hills Blvd.
Hernando, Florida 34442
Tues. - Sun., 10 AM - 4 PM
Closed Mondays & Holidays
For more information, visit www.TWMuseum.com
So, in the early 1990's, before anyone really started talking up OPS (on base average plus slugging percentage), Ted Williams already was dedicating a part of his museum to those professionals who had the highest lifetime OPS numbers.
"To be chosen and honored as a hitter by the man considered by many to be the best hitter of all time is truly an honor," said former Phillies third baseman Mike Schmidt.
Schmidt was No. 19 on the list, just ahead of former Pirate slugger Ralph Kiner. Of course, Ruth tops the list, along with Lou Gehrig. And Williams himself would have been in the top three but, being a gentleman, he left himself off.
There is a film shown many times a day at the museum that counts down the list of the top 20 hitters, complete with video highlights and Ted's personal comment about each player.
Williams started adding players to the top 20 the next year, including Negro League legend Josh Gibson in 1996 and Japanese home run king Sadaharu Oh in 1999. Other notables include Johnny Bench in 2000, Yogi Berra in 1999, Roberto Clemente in 2000, Joe Jackson in 1998 and Paul Molitor in 2001.
Williams gives yearly awards for Most Productive Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year and his own special award for the best all-around hitter of the year, the "Splendid Splinter Award."
In addition, Williams honors the newest members of the 3,000 hit club, hands out a lifetime achievement award and has a special "Wall of Great Achievement (for pitchers)."
No one can turn down "The Kid," so every February, just before Spring Training begins, all the honorees make the trek to this rural part of Florida (100 miles north of Tampa) to attend a lavish ceremony all about the splendors of baseball.
"This museum is going to enlighten people about baseball and get people interested in the game," Williams said at the grand opening.
The museum itself is built in the shape of a baseball field and a trip around the bases reveals all you want to know about Ted Williams the man, the baseball player, the military hero and the great sports fisherman.
Out front of the museum is a giant No. 9 painted in Red Sox red. There also are flags flying that represent the American League, the National League, each of the Major League teams, the United States and the Marine Corps.
Two granite slabs lead to the entrance of the museum and they are inlaid with Williams' Hall of Fame speech from 1966 and his lifetime statistics.
Once inside the museum, a visitor is greeted by an infinite array of memorabilia as well as a giant shark overhead caught by Williams on one of his thousands of fishing expeditions.
Eighteen separate galleries include items such as the first contract Williams ever signed, his two Triple Crowns, a couple of authentic Fenway Park seats and many of his game-used bats, each shaved and manicured to a tidy 33 ounces ("Bat speed, man, bat speed.").
At the center of the museum is a statue of Williams created by artist Armand LaMontague of a classic Williams swing.
But nothing takes center stage at this shrine like the days when the "Splendid Splinter" himself stops in for a visit.
"Ted loves to come by and chat with fans," said Museum Executive Director John Kriston. "He just loves to talk about baseball. And his days are still planned around when the games are on TV.
"He watches the games very closely and sometimes wonders why this guy swung at a bad pitch and that guy didn't move the runner over. But mostly, he just loves watching the games and seeing great players develop."
Williams has favorite players and certainly Tony Gwynn, playing in Williams' birthplace of San Diego is one. Their friendship has been well documented. But Williams also has become a fan of 2001 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Paul Molitor, his former teammate Robin Yount and former Padres, Yankees and Twins star Dave Winfield.
Those three were added to Williams' Hitters Hall of Fame in early 2001, and Winfield couldn't get enough of the museum.
"Dave had such a great time, stopping at every exhibit and spending time," said Kriston, "that we had trouble starting the ceremony on time. We almost had to force him outside."
But Winfield wasn't the only one enjoying the tour.
"We're actually Yankee fans but we were told this is a must-see," said Jim Samuelson, who along with his wife Rhonda was visiting from Miramar, Fla. one recent morning during the museum's celebration of the 60th anniversary of Williams hitting .406 in 1941. "It's a bit out of the way but we can't believe how much stuff there is to see. All the old film clips are incredible and there's lots about Ted Williams we didn't know."
Paul C. Smith is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.