There’s a story I heard once… don’t know if it’s true. I want it to be true.
The basics of the story seem true. You know that John Glenn and Ted Williams were lifelong friends. They flew together as Marines in Korea; Williams was often John Glenn’s wingman. It was years before Glenn joined the Mercury Seven, years before he became the first American to orbit the earth, years before he became a friend of the Kennedys, years before he was elected a four-time Senator. But John Glenn was still John Glenn. He was filled with what Tom Wolfe would call The Righteous Stuff. In Korea, they called him “Magnet Ass” for the way he would draw enemy fire. Ted Williams was in awe. And it took a lot to draw awe from Teddy Ballgame.
Anyway, the story I heard … you know Ted Williams was the biggest man in every room he ever entered. He was big in stature — 6-foot-3 at his height — and he had a big voice, but more than any of that, he was just big. He stomped around life being the greatest at everything, the greatest baseball hitter who ever lived, the greatest fisherman who ever lived, the greatest hunter who ever lived, the greatest patriot who ever lived, the greatest curser who ever lived and whatever else that mattered. He liked talking to people who knew their business because he liked learning stuff, but sooner or later he was going to tell any and all of them that they were full of bleep because, well, they were full of bleep.
And as the story goes, the one guy who Ted Williams never called “full of bleep” was John Glenn.
Supposedly they were once at an event of some sort, and Williams was off after a while ranting about something or other. When Ted got ranting about whatever the topic — whether it was baseball, fishing or the decline of the United States of America — there was no stopping him, no slowing him down. He was a runaway freight train, and whatever or whoever got in his way just got run over. That’s because Ted Williams was the biggest man in every room he ever entered …
“Ted,” John Glenn said at some point as the conversation grew a bit too loud and profane and fierce.
“Listen here I’m trying to finish this,” Williams said. “When I …”
“Ted,” John Glenn said again, this time with a little bit of bite in his voice.
And Ted Williams looked at his old friend. John Glenn was a few inches shorter than Williams, and his voice was considerably softer, and if he ever swore it sure as heck wasn’t in public. He was a square guy from Ohio who married his high school sweetheart, who once told the Mercury Astronauts to stop messing around on their wives, who once said after flying “To look out at this creation and not believe in God is, to me, impossible.”
Ted Williams looked at ol’ Magnet Ass, and he just stopped. He understood. For once, he was looking at the biggest man in the room.
“Awright,” he said quietly as he settled down. “I can’t compete with a bleeping American hero.”