It was perhaps the biggest baseball ‘scoop’ in Washington, DC history: Ted Williams to return to baseball in 1969 as manager of the Washington Senators.
The story behind the story is even more delicious. Russ White, a young baseball beat reporter for the third paper in town, the now-defunct Washington Daily News, landed the story exclusively, trouncing both the Post and the afternoon Evening Star in the process.
Ted Williams on the cover of Sports Illustrated
Bob Short, the new owner of the Senators, had dropped some thinly-veiled hints that he wanted a “big name” as manager, someone to rival the legendary Vince Lombardi who had just been named head coach of the Washington Redskins.
White tried to figure out who that might be and quickly narrowed the list to two: famed former Boston Red Sox slugger Williams and Joe DiMaggio. He made repeated phone calls to his sources and quickly ruled out the Yankee Clipper.
A fishing guide in Islamorada in the Florida Keys, where Williams lived, told him “Ted’s going to take it,” according to a fascinating account in Leigh Montville’s 2004 classic biography of Ted Williams.
But White still needed confirmation. He managed to track down Williams’ home number in Islamorada. “With a sudden burst of inspiration, he left a message: ‘Hi Ted, this is Bob Short. Can you call me at once at this number.” Then he gave his own number in McLean.
White’s phone rang in the den of his home. Ted Williams said” “Hi Bob.”
What to do now? “Don’t hang up,” White said. “This isn’t Bob.” Images of Williams’ stormy relationship with press raced through Russ White’s mind. “How mad is this guy going to be? Will he tear my head off?” Would this be the end of a young career in journalism?
White decided to bluff, introduced himself and said he knew Williams was the Senators’ manager.
“You cover the team?,” Williams asked. “What kind of hitter is Mike Epstein? What kind of pitcher is Darold Knowles? Does he have a curveball?”
As Montville tells it, the “interview” became an interview in reverse with Williams asking all the questions and White giving all the answers.
Was Ted going to take the job? Of course. The tabloid Daily News splashed the story on its front page with huge headlines.
The Post and the Star both printed official denials. On the second day, the Post came back with its own ‘scoop’ that Nellie Fox, the former Chicago White Sox pepperpot second baseman, would be the manager in Washington.
White followed his first story with a second one saying Williams would also be named a team vice president. The Post denied that one too.
On the third day, the Post finally agreed with White. Ted Williams would return to baseball as the manager of the Washington Senators.
Until this remarkable season, that 1969 team, managed by Ted Williams, was the last Washington baseball team to have a winning record.