Just in time for the All-Star break, when America’s Pastime tries to snatch back some of the spotlight from the World Cup, Atmosphere Entertainment’s Mark Canton has teamed up with Mandalay Sports Media’s Mike Tollin and Peter Guber to option the Ben Bradlee Jr book The Kid: The Immortal Life Of Ted Williams. They will turn the complex life of baseball’s most prolific hitter into a miniseries they will shop once they hire a writer. Canton, Tollin and Guber will be exec producers, and David Hopwood will be a producer. Guber became an owner of the L.A. Dodgers only to watch that team’s iconic player, Jackie Robinson, get movie treatment from Legendary Pictures (and Pittsburgh Steelers part owner) Thomas Tull. Here, Guber gets another shot with a player with almost as rich a story as Robinson.
Williams is one of those larger-than-life when-men-were-men characters — Frank Sinatra in a baseball uniform. His baseball exploits were legend, and he was a hero on the battlefield as well as the ball field, twice interrupting the prime years of his baseball career to serve as a flight instructor in WWII and a fighter pilot in the Korean War. He also was an ornery, enigmatic man who had a love-hate relationship with Boston Red Sox fans and media, along with several wives, who quickly learned they were third in importance to him after baseball and fishing. He had a long rivalry with the Yankees and its star outfielder Joe DiMaggio, whose team won a bundle of World Series titles while the Red Sox were always the bridesmaids.
Williams’ coarse exterior was shaped by growing up the insecure son of an absentee alcoholic father and a mother who spent all her time volunteering for the Salvation Army. Armed with perfect hand-eye coordination and the sharpest vision this side of Superman (his peepers clocked in at 20/10), Williams reputedly could identify the pitch coming at him by picking up the spin of the seams of the ball. He turned hitting into a science. His career batting average was .344, was a two-time MVP, six-time batting champ and twice won the Triple Crown. Williams is the last player to hit .400 for a full season. On the final day of the 1941 season, his average hovering at the .39955, Williams’ manager urged him to sit because he’d reach the historic mark when his average was rounded off. Williams refused, got six hits in eight tries that final day, and finished at .406 in one of the great hitting displays in baseball history. In the final at bat of his career, Williams homered to finish his career with 521. He later had a successful run as a baseball manager and was an accomplished outdoorsman. Bradlee, an award-winning Boston Globe reporter and editor, spent a decade writing the book.
Tollin, who has made several sports-themed films over the years, got to meet Williams in his first job on the TV anthology show Greatest Sports Legends. He was assigned to collect Williams for his on-air interview with Tom Seaver. “I was the kid, they sent me to pick him up, and Ted comes to the door in his boxer shorts,” Tollin recalled. “He’s 6’4”, 250, and it’s like I’m looking up at John Wayne. I got to sit there, over steaks and red wine, and listen to Williams and Seaver debating things like the aerodynamics that make a baseball curve.” Tollin said the day ended with Williams taking to the field with a bat. He saw one pitch, made the ball disappear far over the fence, and then nonchalantly walked off the field and Tollin drove him back. “That was a pretty good day,” Tollin understated.
The mini won’t be hero worship; it will discuss why Williams had such a hard time building personal relationships and not being beloved by the Fenway Park contingent. This despite his outsized statistics and a generosity he inherited from his mother that prompted him to be a big booster of the Jimmy Fund and Salvation Army. What won’t be in the mini will be the indignities that followed Williams’ death, when his remains were sent to a cryogenic facility. “We plan to focus on his amazing life, not his death,” Tollin said.