He Could Do More Than Just “Play Ball”

by Bob Sparrow

Williams, throws right, bats left

I have heard that baseball season is well underway.  I must admit my interest in baseball has waned over the years, not unlike most Americans, who haven’t voted baseball as America’s #1 Pastime since 1960!  But I do like the history of the game and particularly some of the stories of the great characters of the game.  One of those characters is Ted Williams, a southern California boy from San Diego, whose life was quite interesting.

His real name was Teddy Williams, named after Teddy Roosevelt, but he later legally changed it to ‘Theodore’ so he could just be called ‘Ted’.  He was 6’3” and 205 pounds and nicknamed. “The Splendid Splinter”.  What most people don’t know about him, is that his mother was Hispanic, a fact that he kept from the public as he knew he wouldn’t be offered the same opportunities, if they knew he was part Hispanic.

He was a great high school baseball player and had offers out of high school from the St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Yankees, but his mother thought he was too young to leave home, so he signed with a local minor league team, the San Diego Padres.  After one season with the Padres, he was pick up by the Boston Red Sox at 19 years old . . . and the rest is history!

Marine Corps Captain Ted Williams

In his first four seasons (1939 – 1942) at age 20-23, he made the All-Star team three years and had two second place finished for the MVP of the league and one 4th place finish.  On the last day of the 1941 season, he had a batting average of .400 and was asked by his manager if he wanted to sit out the last day of baseball, a double header against the Athletics, so he could remain at .400 for the season; he declined to sit out and went 6 for 8 in his final at bats and finished with a .406 average – which was the last time a major league player hit .400 or over!  As a point of reference, only 11 players in the 2023 season hit .300 or better!!

After his fourth season, America was involved in World War II, and although at the time a college degree was required to become a pilot, and Ted had only a high school diploma, during WWII exceptions were made, so Williams was allowed in the Navy/Marine Corps pilot training program.  His tremendous reflexes and hand-eye coordination (he had 20/10 vision!) made him an outstanding pilot (as well as an outstanding hitter), so they made him an instructor, and by the time he was eventually sent for combat duty, the war was over.

After the war, he rejoined the Red Sox and became the MVP in the league in his first year back.  For the next six years he was on the All-Star Team every year, won two MVP Awards and had a batting average of .339.

F-9 Panther

In 1950 the U.S. was once again at war, this time in Korea, and Ted was recalled by the Marine Corp and sent to South Korea where he flew the F-9 Panther jet in 39 combat missions where he was asked by future astronaut, John Glenn to be his wingman.  His plane was hit by enemy fire on three occasions and on one of those he had to make a crash landing.

He returned to full-time baseball in 1954 and spent the next seven years compiling a career of award:


  • Three-time American League Most Valuable Player
  • Eight-time Golden Glove Award (for best defensive player at his position)
  • Six-time American League batting champion – the last two at age 39 and 40.
  • 19-time All Star Team
  • Two Triple Crown Award (best batting average, most RBIs and most Home Runs in the league)
  • Lifetime batting average of .344
  • Only Hall of Famer to serve in two wars

All that after missing nearly five full seasons due to military service.  Now, that’s a baseball player!



I love it when a confluence of interests come together, and such was the case for me last week when I learned something new about Benjamin Franklin that also involved Ludwig van Beethoven.  I wrote about Franklin last July 4th, not only due to his involvement in the founding of the country, but also because he was a peculiar, but talented, Rennaissance man.  Last week I began watching the new Apple TV series, “Franklin”, starring Michael Douglas.  I wanted to fact-check something I saw and that led me down the primrose path that I’m writing about this week.  First, I have to say, I’ve only watched the first episode of the series and it appears to be quite well done.  That said, whenever I see Douglas on screen, I can’t help but think of Gordon Gekko and his famous, “Greed is good” line.  I find it very distracting.  Secondly, much of the dialogue is sub-titled.  I’m all for authenticity (which is why they all speak French), but when you’re trying to do something else, in my case, knit, I hate it when I miss the gist of what’s going on because I missed reading the subtitles.  Anyway, it you don’t mind subtitles – or you don’t knit – you may thoroughly enjoy the story.

Franklin’s armonica

In doing my fact-check I discovered that among the items Franklin invented is the armonica.  No, not harmonica, like Stevie Wonder.  The armonica consists of a series of glass bowls that make different sounds.  Franklin got his inspiration after he saw an Englishman, Edward Delaval, playing water-filled wine glasses.  And haven’t we all done that at a dinner party? Franklin worked with London glassblower Charles James to build his new instrument and it had its world premiere in early 1762.  His armonica consisted of 37 glass bowls of varying sizes, arranged concentrically to eliminate the need for water and mounted on a rounded rod. The rod was moved by a foot pedal, and the glass bowls were played by rubbing one’s fingers along their edges. It was meant to produce tones similar to “singing” glasses. Franklin wrote from London in 1762 about his musical instrument: “The advantages of this instrument are, that its tones are incomparably sweet beyond those of any other; that they may be swelled and softened at pleasure by stronger or weaker pressure of the finger, and that the instrument being well-tuned, never again needs tuning.”

The armonica was an instant sensation. Marie Antoinette took lessons, Thomas Jefferson was a fan, and Ludwig van Beethoven and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart both composed music for the novel instrument. As I recounted here in January, one of my goals for 2024 is to learn Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” by the end of the year, so I’ve been studying a bit about Beethoven as well.  He only wrote one major piece for the armonica (and thank God it wasn’t “Moonlight Sonata”.  But I do enjoy learning that two historical people that I admire also admired each other.

Despite its initial popularity, the armonica fell out of favor by the 1820s, due in part to its purported negative effects on mental health — attributed at first to the instrument’s ethereal tones, but later thought to be due to lead poisoning from the paint applied to the bowls. There was never any scientific proof of lead poisoning, but even without the sensation of social media, false stories spread about it and in some cities, it was banned as a safety precaution.

Franklin at his invention

Today, the armonica is used by some niche musicians, a second life that would surely please Franklin, who said the instrument had brought him “the most personal satisfaction.” An original Franklin armonica is in the archives at the Franklin Institute in Philidelphia, having been donated in 1956 by Franklin’s descendants after the children took great delight in breaking the bowls with spoons during family gatherings. It is only placed on display for special occasions, such as Franklin’s birthday.

I walked away from learning about this with two thoughts: first, I’d like to think that Ben and Ludwig are somewhere rocking out together on the armonica and second, I think the Franklin family gatherings might have been a lot of fun.


The Interesting Month of April

Ogden Nash

April has been the subject of many great writers from Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, Robert Browning, T.S. Eliot to Edna St. Vicent Millay, to name a few.  But, for me, the zany Ogden Nash, summed April up best with his poem, Always Marry an April Girl (which I did!):

“Praise the spell and bless the charms,

I found in my April arms.

April golden, April cloudy,

Gracious, cruel, tender, rowdy;

April soft in flowered languor,

April cold with sudden anger,

                                                            Ever changing, ever true —

                                                        I love April, I love you.”

Nash is famous for his short poems and observations; the one that speaks to me the loudest is:

“You are only young once, but you can stay immature indefinitely.”

He also came up with:

“Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.”

And, he also offers up some really good poetic marital advice:

“To keep your marriage brimming with love in the loving cup,

Whenever you’re wrong admit it, whenever you’re right shut up.”


“There is only one way to have a happy marriage, and as soon as I learn what it is, I’ll get married again.”

Here’s one he wrote many years ago, but is apt today:

“I hope that someday we will be able to put away our fears and prejudices and just laugh at people”

Lots of other things happened in April, but before we leave Mr. Nash, an interesting factoid is that the city of Nashville, is named after his forebearers.

Many famous and infamous people were born in April, from William Shakespeare to Adoff Hitler; and of course, the most famous to me, my wife, Linda!

RMS Titanic

But what I really wanted to write about this week, was a great historic event that occurred exactly 112 years ago, on April 15, 1912, the sinking of the Titanic.  It took over 70 years to find her as she lies 12,600 feet under water.  Of the 2,224 passengers on board, 1,496 died, in part because the ship was supposed to have 64 lifeboats on board, but only had 20, and those ended up being filled to only 60% capacity!

Aside from the 13 couples who were celebrating their honeymoon on board, there were several famous people who died, John Jacob Astor, the wealthiest man on board and Benjamin Guggenheim, along with several other titans of industry in the day.  The luckiest people were those who purchased a ticket for the Titanic’s maiden voyage, but ended up having a conflict that kept them from getting on board – Milton Hershey, who gave us the Hershey Bar, J.P. Morgan and George Vanderbilt to name just a few of the eight very wealthy men who luckily didn’t make it on board.

Not the iceberg’s fault?  Recent evidence has shown that a fire of 1800 degrees had burned in the ship’s hull for three weeks prior to the ship’s departure, thus weakening the hull and ultimately was responsible for the hull splitting when it hit the iceberg.

The longest living survivor of the disaster was Millvina Dean, who was the youngest survivor on the Titanic at two months old. She died at the age of 97 in 2009.

Hoping your April is more Nutty Nash than Tragic Titanic!



Okay, first of all, my brother’s post last week was an April Fool’s Day joke.  You cannot get rid of us that easily!  But a surprising number of people didn’t even read through the first paragraph to learn he was fooling us.  I just want to say that these people might want to start reading the fine print, lest they be taken advantage of by people more nefarious than my brother!  Anyway, we’re here again on a Monday morning with a perspective on some history that was new to me, and perhaps will be to you as well.  As a life-long student of WWII history I’ve read hundreds of books about the war and the people who fought it.  But last week I came across an article that was a surprise and once again illustrated why the British were known as masters of spy craft.

Clayton Hutton, the mastermind

When the first British airmen were captured by the Germans in 1940, the British intelligence services established a new section, MI9, specifically to help captured Allied prisoners of war escape. Intelligence officer Clayton Hutton was put in charge of masterminding a plan that would be both effective and foolproof. He came up with a plan to devise some “toys” that could be introduced into the POW camps in an innocuous – and continuous – manner.   Hutton seized upon the fact that the Germans liked to see games in the prisoner’s care packages, as they thought that prisoners concentrating playing games wouldn’t be concentrating on plotting an escape. The prisoners, for their part, liked playing familiar, ordinary games as a welcome pastime to help them forget the realities of war, if even for a short time.  So, Hutton conspired with the U.K. Monopoly manufacturer, Waddington’s, to produce special Monopoly boards that could be distributed as part of larger aid packages.  In addition to the standard thimble and dog game pieces, each board contained metal “playing pieces” that were actually escape tools, such as a file and magnetic compass.  He also invented a sort of Swiss Army Knife piece, but with wire cutters and lock breakers along with the traditional screwdrivers and bottle openers.

The games were always sent via private, often fictitious, organizations, like the Licensed Victuallers Prisoner Relief Fund. No escape aids were enclosed in the Red Cross parcels so that the Germans would have no justification for stopping these much-needed parcels from reaching the prisoners. Unique clues, known only to the British, were included in the return addresses and on the game board itself. Each version also contained silk maps packed into the game’s hotels which could be unfolded discreetly without drawing attention, as silk made no noise as it was being pulled from the game piece or a pocket. The silk escape maps were probably the most important part of the secret version of Monopoly, as they provided logistics for European countries such as Norway, Sweden, Germany, France, and Italy.  These “special editions” of the game also hid German, Italian, and French currency under the fake Monopoly money for use in bribing guards.

           British POWs in Germany

Once the games were being sent on a steady basis, soldiers were told that, should they be captured, they should be on the lookout for the special Monopoly sets. Reportedly, 35,000 prisoners of war managed to escape prison camps in Nazi-occupied Europe, and it is believed that nearly 20,000 of them had a silk map, compasses, and other supplies that had been hidden inside the Monopoly boxes.  The success of the Monopoly ruse eventually led British intelligence to conceal maps inside chess sets and packs of cards.

Unfortunately, there are no surviving boards or pieces from those special Monopoly games, as once the escape aids were removed, the games were destroyed lest they fell into German hands. The games destined for POW camps were custom made, and the few that remained after the war were destroyed to keep the practice secret in case it was needed again.  Clayton Hutton passed away in 1965 when much of this information was still classified. He was never credited for his brilliant inventions and ideas until recently, when his work came to light.  Thankfully Hutton is no longer an unsung hero of WWII.

Sadly This Will Be Our Last Blog

by Bob Sparrow

Suzanne and I have made a tough decision, based on personal factors, after nearly 13 years of first, Morning News in Verse, which appeared every Tuesday and Friday from August 2011 to March 2012, then From A Bird’s Eye View, which has appeared every Monday morning from March 2012 until today, that this will be our last blog . . . this week.

 OK, when I haven’t been traveling, the history of the most current holiday seems to attract my attention, and this week, rather than try to explain why we celebrated the resurrection of Christ by hiding colorful bunny eggs, I decided to explore April Fool’s Day.  I know it’s not really a holiday, it’s a . . . well, I’m not sure what it is!!  But, I’m sure you are sitting on pins and needles wondering, “What the heck is the incredible history of this crazy day?”  Well, wonder no more.

Or maybe you better keep wondering, as April Fool’s Day’s true origin is unknown and probably unknowable.  What you may not know is that the day is celebrated around the world, in many different ways.  To wit . . .

In Ireland, it is traditional to entrust the victim with an “important letter” to be given to a named person. That person would read the letter, then ask the victim to take it to someone else, and so on. The letter when opened contained the words “send the fool further”.

Danes, Finns, Icelanders, Norwegians and Swedes celebrate April Fools’ Day with most news media outlets publishing one false story on the front page of their local newspaper.

In Poland, April 1 has been a traditional day of pranks, where very sophisticated hoaxes are perpetrated by people, media and even public institutions.  Serious activities are usually avoided; every word said on April 1st could be untrue, as a day of pranks is a centuries-long tradition, but it only lasts until noon.

In France where the fool was called an ‘April Fish’ instead of an ‘April Fool’; due to the prank of taping a paper fish to someone’s back without them knowing it. (Replaced by ‘Kick Me’ in the U.S.)  On a possible historic note, in France, in 1564, Charles IX decreed that the new year would no longer begin on Easter, as had been common throughout Christendom, but rather on January 1. Because Easter was a lunar and therefore moveable date, those who clung to the old ways were the “April Fools.”

In Scotland, the day is Gowkie Day, a day for fools and may have been associated at one time with sexual license.  The PG rating for our blogs prevents me from any further explanation.

In England there is reference to April 1st in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, where the rooster, Chauntecleer is tricked by the fox.  Also in England, on April 1st, starting in 1698, people were tricked into going to the Tower of London to “see the Lions washed”.

Hope you had a Happy Easter, and if you were duped on April 1, you’ve joined a worldwide brotherhood of ‘Fools’.   And sorry for those who had hopes of not having our drivel pop up in their email every Monday morning, but we’re not increasing our prices!