By Blair Lovern
July 9, 2002
One of the most bizarre baseball stories ever might end or begin in a Florida courtroom this week.
The children of Red Sox slugger Ted Williams are fighting for custody for the remains of their father, reportedly taken to Arizona to be frozen. A judge is to hear arguments to decide whether the remains of the baseball great are to be cremated or go into cold storage.
In the eye of the storm is John Henry Williams, the 33-year-old son accused by other family members of allowing the baseball great’s remains to be sent to Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Scottsdale, Ariz., for a deep freeze.
Earlier this year, John Henry Williams decided he wanted to play baseball seriously for the first time since high school. After a 10-day tryout with the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Red Sox, where most of the players are at least a dozen years younger, he made the team as a first baseman.
The GCL limits teams to no more than eight players 20 or older and no more than two players 21 or older. The season began June 20 and lasts until Aug. 28.
“We were already shorthanded, so it wouldn’t be that we were taking something away from a prospect,” said Ryan Richeal, director of the Red Sox operations in Fort Myers, Fla. “At the beginning of the year it’s common to have roster spots open when you’ve got 35 available.”
More spots are open because draft picks haven’t been signed, and college fill-in players haven’t arrived yet, Richeal said.
“It’s a question of timing, he said. “If he had called three weeks later it may have been a different story.”
Richeal said that John Henry Williams, with his father also on the line, called Red Sox owner John Henry about playing baseball in the organization.
During his adult life, John Henry Williams lost money after he steered into rocky business deals. In recent years he ran most of his father’s affairs and encountered family feuds over the control of Ted Williams’ memorabilia. Three days before his father died, he said in an interview with the Tampa Tribune that he reevaluated his life after Sept. 11.
“Things happen for a reason,” he told the paper. “The whole family had gone though a whole year of waiting for Dad to die, and now all of a sudden I’m looking at TV with all these mothers who lost husbands and children whose fathers had died. I realized how lucky I was, to be alive with Dad. What did I want to do? Quickly.”
Richeal said Williams’ talent is raw.
“But minimally he’s got incredible drive,” he said. “He really truly wants to succeed. I was very impressed by his ability to see pitches. His first game with the Gulf Coast team he really laid off the bad pitches and only swung at strikes. You can really see he’s got a really keen eye.”
Some called the tryout nothing but a publicity stunt. But John Henry Williams denied that.
“We even seriously considered using an alias when I first got here,” he said in the Tribune story.
He said that after spending much of the past few years with his father, he finally realized what baseball meant to his dad, and that all he wanted to do was for his father to see him in uniform. That never happened. In two games John Henry Williams went 0-for-6 with one strikeout and one hit-by-pitch, before injuring his ribs crashing into a fence chasing a foul ball. Days later his Hall of Fame father died.
A report last week stated that John Henry Williams would try to come back with the team after the major league all-star break. But Richeal said he has heard of no such plans.
“I don’t know if that’s really been determined, out of respect of what he’s going through,” Richeal said. “I’m sure we’ll address it some point, but I can’t imagine that he’ll be coming back anytime soon. When (Ted Williams died), John Henry was on the disabled list and told by our trainers to do no activity for two weeks, as it was.
“Who knows what’s going to happen now, with the legal battles he’s about to assume.”
According to the lawyer for one of the daughters of Ted Williams, the baseball great asked to be cremated and have the ashes scattered over the Florida Keys.
Last week, Barbara Joyce Williams Ferrell accused her half-brother of having their father’s body frozen, perhaps to sell DNA from it. Ted Williams’ granddaughter, Sherri Mosley, of White House, Tenn., told the Boston Globe that her grandfather’s remains were flown from Florida to Alcor last Friday night.
John Henry Williams was unavailable comment and phone calls to Alcor were not returned.
The Alcor Website states its policy about wills: “Alcor does not require that you have a will in order to become a Member. However, if you already have a will which has provisions contrary to the goals of cryonics (for example, if your will states that you do not want cryonic suspension, or if it requires cremation, burial, or other dispositions of your human remains after your legal death), these will invalidate your Cryonic Suspension Agreement. If you have a will, it is your responsibility to change it through a new codicil or a new will; otherwise your suspension arrangements will not be valid.”
The Williams family saga has put the spotlight on the handful of cryonics companies, all of which are in the United States. Cryonics cools an insulated body with liquid nitrogen, reaching 320 degrees below zero Fahrenheit until physical decay stops. The idea is that science and medicine will someday be able to revive and restore the person to good health.
About 1,000 people signed up for future storage, said Andy Zawacki of the Cryonics Institute, based in Clinton Township, Mich. About 100 people are in cold storage now, he said. Some companies offer to freeze the full body or the head.
The Cryonics Institute only offers a full-body freeze and claims to have the most complete bodies in storage with 41. Zawacki said some states allow the next-of-kin to make arrangements to bring family remains to its lab, even if permission by the person to be frozen was never given when alive.
“I’ve read about what’s going on with the Ted Williams family,” Zawacki said. “We’ve never had a situation like that. That is why we stress everything being signed up ahead of time, get it all down in paper and have the person say, ‘This is what I want to have done.’ We stress being prepared as much as possible. The more you can do ahead of time, the better because you can’t have a lot of delay after the person dies.”
In talking to scientists and researchers, Zawacki said he doesn’t think an attempt to revive a frozen body could happen for at least 50 and 200 years.
“I know that’s a wide range, but it’s difficult to say at this point,” he said. “Repairing the freezing damage is the biggest obstacle, and during the past few years that really has been reduced. We have a new researcher who is working on 100 percent elimination of the freezing damage. It’s been reduced drastically, and we’re getting some real good results. Once that’s done, the rest should be fairly simple compared to that. If you can’t eliminate the damage, we can try to repair it thanks to a new technology called nanotechnology. We may have robots on the cellular level doing cellular repairs.”
Ted Williams was once quoted that he’d like to be remembered by walking down the street and having people say, “There goes the greatest hitter who ever lived.”
Someone just might want to have people say it again.