Ted Williams: Another Candidate for my Autism Hall of Fame?

I recently heard an interview on Fresh Air of author Ben Bradlee Jr. in which he talked about Ted Williams.

When I was young, Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle were the living legends of baseball. I played Little League ball and every young boy who was interested in baseball dreamed of being a hitter like one of those two.

As I listened to Bradlee talk about “The Kid” I began to pick up on things that I had not been aware of when I was young. Namely, traits that I now associate with my autism.

For example, the words “perfectionist” and “driven” could be used to describe many (if not most) of the autistic people I know. Similarly, the phrases “single-minded” and “in a zone” are often used to describe the intense focus that an autistic person can have when preoccupied with one or another deep interest.

Here’s is some of what Bradlee said to describe Williams:

I think sometimes to excel you have to be single-minded in your determination to succeed, and other things suffer along the way. He was that. He put family life aside and he was absolutely determined to become the greatest hitter that ever lived. He was driven to excel …

Anything he undertook he wanted to do right. He was a perfectionist and he had no tolerance for those who did things in what he felt [was] a shoddy manner. He was in a zone, really, his entire life. When you’re in a zone like that you can break a lot of china along the way.

Now, being driven and being a perfectionist doesn’t identify someone as being autistic, I think it is fair to say. But when you add in some of the other dimensions of his personality that Bradlee mentioned, it begins to complete the profile for me. That last statement about breaking china refers back to statements he made earlier in the interview about Williams being cold (to the point of being callous and even abusive) in his personal and family relationships.

And, again, I don’t mean to imply that all autistic people are cold and abusive, but it is well known that autism is associated with difficulty in navigating the neurotypical social order.

Another thing that struck me was that Williams was evidently insulted by people saying that he had “natural talent” — he felt that such was a dismissal of all the hard work he had done to become the hitter he was. Autistic people are not known for our fine motor skills. I have worked really hard in my life to become good at certain things, such as skiing. I don’t know if anyone is born with “natural talent” but I think there are some who find things they can excel at because of who they are — the way they were built. I can relate, however, to The Kid saying that he had to work hard to be good at what he wanted to do.

All of these clues are just that; they don’t prove that Ted Williams was autistic, but there is enough there that it warrants further thought. Perhaps I will have to read the book and learn more about him in order to see whether I should nominate him to my Autism Hall of Fame.

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