David Shapiro
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By David Shapiro

Saturday, July 17, 1999

Be a witness to
greatness when you can

SOME co-workers were talking about baseball legend Ted Williams' appearance at the all-star game this week when I boasted that I had once seen Williams blast a long home run.

OK, so it was only an exhibition game against a minor league team toward the end of his career, but it was still a Ted Williams home run.

His Boston Red Sox were playing the Hollywood Stars at Gilmore Field near Farmer's Market. His first time up, Williams made some young pitcher's life by fanning with a few indifferent swings. Next time up, Ted scowled at the pitcher and the exaggerated infield shift they put on him. He waited for his pitch and drove the ball far over the right field fence.

Info Box My dad was ecstatic. He had brought me to the game just to see Williams play. "Never pass up a chance to see greatness," he said. As Williams circled the bases, he punctuated his point. "Remember that swing. You just saw the greatest hitter who ever lived."

Maybe. If you don't count a hitter named Babe Ruth. But I do remember that swing.

My co-workers started talking about old Washington Senators slugger Frank Howard and I could boast some more. "I once caught one of his home runs," I said.

OK, so it was only a batting practice home run and it bounced off some seats and rolled a ways before I caught it, but it was still a Frank Howard home run.

My dad took me to see him when he was a rookie with the Dodgers. "Watch that big clumsy kid," he said. "He's going to break Ruth's records some day." Howard did go on to hit a lot of monstrous home runs -- including an incredible 10 in six games -- but never threatened Ruth.

Dad's advice about greatness stuck with me and has filled my life with rich memories. As they introduced the 41 living baseball legends before the all-star game, I realized I've seen most of them play, as well as many greats who weren't there.

I saw Willie Mays and Stan Musial battle for a pennant in the Polo Grounds. I watched Warren Spahn in his 40s match young Don Drysdale pitch for pitch for 14 innings. I saw Sandy Koufax go mano a mano with Juan Marichal.

I saw Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle play the season they were chasing Ruth. I've seen home runs by Henry Aaron, Frank Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Ernie Banks, Harmon Killebrew, Reggie Jackson and George Brett.

I attended World Series games in both Baltimore and Philadelphia the year Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken and their Orioles took on Mike Schmidt, Joe Morgan, Steve Carlton and their Phillies.

One of my greatest thrills was seeing Tony Gwynn and his Padres play Dennis Eckersley and his Cardinals right here in Aloha Stadium in 1997.

My appreciation of greatness goes beyond sports. I've made special effort to see such diverse artists as Thelonious Monk, Bob Dylan, Bill Monroe and Jerry Lewis perform well past their primes just because they were among the best at what they did.

My dad would have been 78 this week. He was two years younger than Williams when he took me to see Teddy Ballgame hit one deep into the Hollywood night. Take his advice and never pass up a chance to see greatness. If you have kids, drag them with you. They'll remember you gratefully all of their lives.

David Shapiro is managing editor of the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached by e-mail at

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