BY RICH FOLEY
I suppose there are worse things to happen to a father than having a son like John Henry Williams, but I sure can’t think of any examples offhand. John Henry, only son of the late baseball legend Ted Williams, was always a controversial figure in the sports collectibles field. Since his father’s passing, his fame, or more properly notoriety, has spread into the mainstream.
Luckily, I had the opportunity to meet Ted Williams before his son took over management of his business interests.
About ten or so years ago, Ted made a autograph appearance in Toledo. Considering that we’re talking about arguably the greatest hitter of all time, autograph tickets were surprisingly affordable.
The only downside to the day was that shortly before my ticket number came up, the promoters called a halt in the signing to take Ted to lunch. But what the heck, the guy was past 70 years old. I’d get hungry sitting at a table writing, too, no matter how much I was getting paid.
When he returned, Ted sat down and immediately went back to his task. When my turn came, there was a question as to the proper pen to use to sign my baseballs. Williams, ever the perfectionist, perused the 20 or so pens on his table, selected one he liked and asked for my approval. I gave it and he went to work.
Not having enough technical baseball knowledge to ask any intelligent questions, but also not wanting to just stand there, I asked Williams where he had been taken to lunch. Ted put down his pen between baseballs and started to describe the direction in which the Italian restaurant was located.
Ted couldn’t remember the name of the restaurant, but one of the promoters provided it. I was rewarded with a Ted Williams restaurant review in some detail. The man certainly seemed to be a connoisseur of spaghetti.
Williams finally signed the second ball, I thanked him and left. As it turned out, it was one of the last shows Williams did before his autograph prices jumped and limits and restrictions on his signature got much tighter.
Once John Henry, Ted’s only child from his second marriage, took over as his business manager, getting Ted’s autograph became a sometimes harrowing experience. John Henry would often go to memorabilia shows and declare items bearing his father’s signature to be fakes.
One dealer who received this treatment told John Henry if that was true, then John Henry was the crook as the dealer had purchased the items from him.
John Henry was involved in several lawsuits over the years, often over alleged non-delivery of autographed items. One article claimed many more people would have pursued legal action against John Henry, but didn’t out of respect for Ted. John Henry owned several companies that closed or went bankrupt, but income from his father’s signature always was there to cushion his fall.
Once his father’s health began to fail, stories began to emerge telling of John Henry’s attempts to stockpile as many of his father’s autographs as possible before his death.
Maids and nurse aids tending to Williams were allegedly offered one dollar for each autograph the could get Ted to sign. One hobby publication estimated that John Henry had well over 10,000 autographed items stored away.
That number could very well be accurate. The New York Times reported that before his father’s death, John Henry sued his half-sister Claudia who was attempting to sell 2,000 autographed bats given to her by her father some time ago. John Henry claimed he should have the right to buy them. The intended buyer has sued John Henry.
Since Ted’s death, of course, we’ve been treated to the bizarre story that John Henry has had his father’s body, or perhaps just his head, frozen in order to sell his DNA. The Times quotes John Henry’s other half-sister, Barbara, that John Henry told her, “We can sell Dad’s DNA and people will buy it because they’d love to have little Ted Williamses.”
I immediately thought of my autographed baseballs that have been sealed in plastic holders ever since I met Ted. Those of you who watch crime shows know that investigators can get DNA from almost anything. I was thinking that my baseball holders must be virtual petri dishes full of Williams’ DNA.
My next thought invalidates this whole “Buy Ted’s DNA” business. More than 30 years ago, Ted himself volunteered some of his DNA to produce a little Ted Williams. What he got instead was, of course, John Henry. Anyone who considers the result of the first DNA experiment will be extremely unlikely to pay to try a second one.– July 17, 2002