day 9: teddy ballgame

Today is nine days, which is one week and two days of the omer: gevurah she’big’vurah.*

Even if Red Sox right fielder Ted Williams hadn’t worn #9, I would have considered him for the day of gevurah she’big’vurah. There’s no way this outsize figure could be the pick for anything other than a double sefirah day.

I will first admit that I find these double sefirot days a bit tricky. For the last one (Day 1), I chose to interpret hesed she’b’hesed as a double portion of hesed: just a whole lot of love.

Williams, as always, is a little bit different. I wouldn’t describe him as a player overcome by discipline — or even disciplined about his discipline. As one of his biographers wrote: He was “a player and a man who was not any single adjective but was, instead, all the adjectives, cruel and generous, furious and jovial, aloof and friendly, cynical and naive, self-pitying and heroic. . . . He was a little kid. Always. In a million ways. That was what made him fascinating.”

Yogi Berra tags out Ted Williams at home plate, 1951. (AP Images)

He wanted fame but not celebrity — which Richard Ben Kramer points out “is a bitch of a line to draw in America’s dust. . . . In this epic battle, as in the million smaller face-offs that are his history, his instinct called for exertion, for a show of force that would shut those bastards up.”

In some ways Williams was always fighting. So his match with today’s sefirot may well be his drive for the power to circumscribe everyone and everything else. In an interview, Willie Mays talked about Williams’ determination to dominate: “Ted Williams was the best pure hitter I ever saw. But Ted was stubborn. When they shifted on him, everybody to the right side, he still kept trying to pull the ball for hits.” Instead of hitting to the opposite field, Williams drove the ball right into his opponents.

If, as Rabbi Art Green writes, “[G]evurah represents our awe before the majesty and magnificence of the cosmos,” Williams’ goal was to be the cosmos that the rest of us were in awe of.

And he was easy to be in awe of. As his Hall of Fame plaque says: “Led A.L. in batting 6 times; slugging percentage 9 times; total bases 6 times; runs scored 6 times; total hits 2,654 included 521 home runs. Lifetime batting average .344; lifetime slugging average .654. Most valuable A.L. player 1946 & 1949. Played in 18 All-Star games, named player of the decade 1951-1960.”

At the end of the 1941 season, Williams was in a 3-for-15 slump, but he was not interested in going into the record books as a .400 hitter who actually hit .39955. He refused his manager’s offer to sit out the season-ending doubleheader in Philadelphia. Williams then went 4-for-5 in the first game and 2-for-3 in the second to finish the year at a more respectable .406.

“There goes the greatest hitter who ever lived”: Let’s count Day 9 in honor of Teddy Ballgame.

*Please note the spelling change in the second instance of gevruah, in the Hebrew and in transliteration, for the same reason that the name of the month of Sh’vat changes in the holiday name Tu Bishvat.)









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