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Peregrine flight

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

El Splendid Splinter

As a San Diego native, I thought I knew everything there was to know about the baseball star Ted Williams. I was wrong. According to this fascinating blurb, he hid the fact that his mother was Mexican American.

Born to a white pickle salesman and a Mexican American Salvation Army devotee in San Diego, Williams became what some writers called the "greatest hitter who ever lived."  ... After his sensational 1939 rookie year, Williams returned to San Diego to find around 20 of his Mexican American relatives waiting for him at the train station for a hero's welcome. Williams took one look at them and fled.

This fascinates me. Williams lived on Utah St. in North Park and went to Hoover. My late stepbrother David Fisher lived in the same neighborhood and I was born not too far away. I had no clue he had latino roots.

I did a little more research today and found this in Bill Nowlin's Researching Ted Williams Latino Roots article:

There was one sentence that I read in Ted Williams’ autobiography, My Turn At Bat which set me off on a personal research journey that took me some unexpected places and raised a few eyebrows along the way. It was a 44 word sentence about his mother, which I only focused on the third time I read the book:

“Her maiden name was Venzer, she was part Mexican and part French, and that’s fate for you; if I had 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.”

I was re-reading his autobiography while trying to organize material for the 1997 Masters Press book that I co-authored with Jim Prime: Ted Williams, A Tribute. I hadn’t read My Turn At Bat for maybe 10 or 15 years, but the sentence probably caught my eye that time around because early in the 1990s I had married a woman of Mexican-American ancestry. I wanted to find out more about May Williams’ family background, but her surname was misspelled in Ted’s book (Venzer for Venzor) which stymied further research.

After Jim and my book came out, we heard from one of Ted’s nephews, Manuel Herrera. He was a treasure trove of family lore and put me in touch with Sarah Diaz of Santa Barbara. She was May’s sister — Ted’s aunt. She was 94 years old at the time, but very sharp. Talking with both Manny and Aunt Sarah, I was able to put together a kind of family tree. Both of Ted Williams’ maternal grandparents had come to the United States from Valle de Allende, Chihuahua, Mexico. Pablo Venzor and Natalia Hernandez Venzor entered the US at El Paso around 1890. May Venzor was born in El Paso in 1891. The family ultimately made its way to Santa Barbara.

May met her future husband, Sam Williams, in the Salvation Army. They made their home in San Diego.

I thought this was interesting:

As Al Cassidy, the executor of Ted Williams’ estate, told writer Ben Bradlee about Ted’s early days, “Ted didn’t want anyone to know he was part Mexican. It concerned him. He was afraid they wouldn’t let him play. He’d say, ‘It was an entirely different time back then.’”

More from Wikipedia:

His father was a soldier, sheriff, and photographer from Ardsley, New York, who had served in the U.S. Army and was a veteran of Philippine–American War.while his mother, May Venzor, a Spanish-Mexican-American from El Paso, Texas, was an evangelist and lifelong soldier in the Salvation Army. Williams resented his mother's long hours working in the Salvation Army, and Williams and his brother cringed when she took them to the Army's street-corner revivals. Williams's paternal ancestors were a mix of Welsh, English, and Irish. The maternal, Spanish-Mexican side of Williams's family was quite diverse, having Basque, Russian, and American Indian roots. Of his Mexican ancestry he said that "If I had my mother's name, there is no doubt I would have run into problems in those days, [considering] the prejudices people had in Southern California."

Ted was notoriously reticent, even shy and surly. 

I wonder if this was a part of the reason, not wanting his true ethnic heritage to be known? One of the most important people in my life was my old boss Lou Orrantia. Lou was a baseball phenom at San Diego High School. He lived in Barrio Logan and played with the great Deron Johnson. I wonder if Lou knew that Ted was a fellow Latino? He would have been very proud. 

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