Few people knew Red Sox great Ted Williams had Mexican ancestry. That’s because he didn’t tell them.
Teddy Samuel Williams was born Aug. 30, 1918, named after his father, Samuel Stuart Williams, and Teddy Roosevelt. His mother, May Venzor, was a Mexican-American from El Paso, Texas.
His ambition from childhood was to be the greatest hitter in baseball. During his 19 seasons with the Boston Red Sox, he did it.
He was the John Wayne of sports, the last player to bat .400, a 17 time All-Star, two-time Most Valuable Player, two-time Triple Crown winner. Ted Williams did all that despite two interruptions to his career: World War II and the Korean War. During those conflicts he flew fighter jets in the Marines.
He also warred with sportswriters and fans, swore profusely, made it into the Fishing Hall of Fame, raised millions for the Jimmy Fund, helped young players with their hitting, went through three wives and routinely hit the cover off the ball.
Ted Williams, The Kid
Perhaps his burning ambition to be the greatest stemmed from his resentment of his mother. She was fanatically devoted to the Salvation Army and neglected her sons. They hated it when she took them to street corner revivals.
He was called up to the majors in 1939, eight years before Jackie Robinson. Nicknamed The Kid, he was advised to keep his Mexican heritage secret because it might hurt his career. After his outstanding rookie year, Williams took the train home to San Diego. He looked out the window and was horrified to see a crowd of his Mexican relatives waiting to welcome him. He sneaked off the train through a different car.
Ted Williams never learned to speak Spanish. He didn’t disclose his Mexican ancestry until 1970, when he briefly mentioned it in his autobiography.
Well after his baseball career was over, he said, “If I had my mother’s name, there is no doubt I would have run into problems in those days, the prejudices people had in Southern California.”
Ahead on Civil Rights
Ted Williams was far ahead of the baseball establishment on matters of race.
He wrote Jackie Robinson a letter to congratulate him when he broke the Major League color barrier. He befriended Larry Doby, the first black player in the American League. And he went out of his way to make friends with Pumpsie Green, the Red Sox first African-American player.
Williams was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. He shocked his audience with his speech on July 25, 1966, calling for the Hall of Fame to include Negro League greats.
“I’ve been a very lucky guy to have worn a baseball uniform,” he said, “and I hope some day the names of Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson in some way can be added as a symbol of the great Negro players who are not here only because they weren’t given a chance.”
If you enjoyed this story about Ted Williams, you might also want to read about Babe Ruth here. This story was updated in 2019.