Ted Williams: The First Modern Sports Superstar
Last semester, I took a class at school called “America Through Baseball”. Essentially, it was a sociological view of America by looking at baseball. It was really interesting stuff.
Part of the class was a term paper on a famous baseball player. More than a biography, it was supposed to be a profile on the player, his accomplishments, and his greater impact on sports and life in general.
Everyone was assigned a player by the professor. Naturally, I got assigned Ted Williams.
As today is the 10th anniversary of the death of Ted Williams, I now present to you my final paper from the class “Ted Williams: The First Modern Sports Superstar”
The social status of “superstar” is an achieved goal that many wish to achieve but only few reach. It is not just enough to be a celebrity to be a superstar. Celebrities are simply famous for reasons either great or bad. To become greater than a celebrity, a superstar, one must possess talent greater than anyone else in their profession, they must have great public admiration, and they should be able to command a higher salary then many of their peers. Becoming a superstar means that one is at the top of their game and that few are like them in popular culture.
In American society, the idea of the superstar has changed dramatically from its earliest days. One place where this is highly evident is in our following of professional sports. Early superstars such as Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, and Cy Young are romanticized with mythical stories seemingly reserved for the ancient gods of Greece or Rome. There is the story of Babe Ruth in the 1932 World Series where in Game 3 where it was claimed that he pointed his bat to dead centerfield with a two strike count, seemingly saying “I am going to hit the ball there”. Babe Ruth hit what ended up being the game-winning homerun on the very next swing. No one knows exactly what Babe Ruth did before the swing, but the story of the “Called Shot” has been mythicized into baseball, and American lore (Montville, 311).
Over the years, the idea of the American Superstar in popular culture has shifted from the romantic, to the fanatic following of their each and every move. Now today’s society has websites such as Deadspin and TMZ devoted to following superstars every move. The twenty-four hour news cycle and networks such as the Cable News Network and ESPN allow us as consumers to know what societies superstars are doing at all times. Superstars are also less romanticized then they were in the past. Anything, good or bad about a person can be discovered and be featured as the lead-story on MSNBC within minutes, and the results can be life-altering. It can be someone like professional golfer Tiger Woods, at one time one of the most popular people in the world, whose life changed following a car accident on November 27th, 2009 after the fall-out from the accident showed that he was having numerous extramarital affairs (Corrigan). The results of being a modern day celebrity caused a complete public transformation of the persona of Tiger Woods. No longer did people feel as if they knew Tiger Woods and the modern twenty-four hour news cycle was a big part of the changing of the Tiger Woods “brand”.
It is not as if superstars have acted differently over the years. In fact, the previously highly romanticized baseball superstar Babe Ruth divorced his first wife because of his own admitted infidelities and a daughter that never knew who her natural mother during her entire life (NYT). Yet, despite what would be considered “character-flaws” in today’s society and force us as the public to reexamine how we view Babe Ruth as a person and athlete, Babe Ruth is still romanticized though stories and film into the modern day.
At some point in American history, the idea of the superstar had to change from the “old” idea of what a superstar is and how we examine them, into the twenty-four hour news cycle of the “modern” superstar and the public following their every move.