Mrs. Yawkey made Williams' Hall sculpture happen
Red Sox owner made certain franchise legend got his due next to Ruth
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- It's hardly a coincidence that there are matching sculptures of Babe Ruth and Ted Williams in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
Anything but, actually.
Ted Spencer, the Hall's curator emeritus, remembers clearly when Red Sox owner Jean Yawkey, the widow of Tom Yawkey, discovered the wooden sculpture of the Yankees' Ruth.
"We were given the Babe Ruth wooden sculpture that is there in the gallery," Spencer said. "Mrs. Yawkey saw that and said, 'Ted Williams has to have one.'"
Yawkey commissioned a work by Armand LaMontagne, who had made the Ruth sculpture working from photos. Williams agreed to pose for the work.
"She commissioned it, and Ted Williams went down to Armand's studio to pose for it," Spencer said during the Hall's 75th anniversary celebration. "But [Williams] never saw the finished product until we had it here."
When the sculpture was unveiled in 1985, LaMontagne shared how Williams had visited his Boston studio five times to pose or help with details about his swing and likeness. He's caught at the moment that he has smashed a fastball, with his torso twisted and muscles bulging in his neck. His head and eyes are still and looking straight ahead, seemingly as he watched a ball head toward the seats at Fenway Park.
Spencer remembers Williams' uncharacteristically emotional reaction at the unveiling.
"When he pulled the rope, it went over the railing and came down, the thing was unveiled," Spencer said. "He had not seen it until that moment. When he saw it, he just broke down. All the cameras went off. The next day, in the Boston papers, [there were] all these pictures of Ted Williams crying."
That was the last thing anyone expected.
"It's my opinion that it changed the public perspective, impression of Ted Williams," Spencer said. "He was a hard case, not warm and fuzzy. … He certainly became -- at least publicly -- more warm and fuzzy. I was lucky to have breakfast with him and just four other people in '87, just a couple years later, in Florida. He came in and sat down. He dominated the room but dominated it in a positive way."
Baltimore sportswriter Jim Henneman was at the Hall when the Williams sculpture was unveiled. He remembers thinking that LaMontagne had made a mistake, because the artist had Williams choking up on the bat.
"When I first saw that statue, I noticed he was this far up off the knob of the bat," said Henneman, who also attended the anniversary celebration. "I thought that the sculptor made a mistake. I brought it up to Ted. He got all excited. He said depending on who was pitching, [his hands were] one-quarter to one-half inch up on the bat. [Williams] made [LaMontagne] change it. [Williams] originally had his hand down on the bat and he made [LaMontagne] go change it. You go look at it, [Williams'] hands are up on the bat, just a little."
LaMontagne has confirmed that in interviews about the sculpture.
That might seem like a small detail, even to the Yawkey family and those who have owned the Red Sox since then, but it was a big thing to Williams -- just as having his likeness alongside that of Ruth was a big thing to Jean Yawkey.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.