CRYSTAL RIVER, Fla., July 5 (UPI) -- Ted Williams, who, despite having a career shortened by military service, was considered one of the great hitters in baseball history and was the last man to hit .400 in a season, died Friday. He was 83.
Williams, who suffered a series of strokes and congestive heart failure in recent years, was taken Friday to Citrus Memorial Hospital in Inverness, Fla., where he was pronounced dead of cardiac arrest at 8:49 a.m., said hospital spokeswoman Rebecca Martin. He had undergone open-heart surgery in January 2001 and had a pacemaker inserted in November 2000.
He led the American League in runs scored six times, home runs and RBIs four times, walks eight times, and slugging percentage seven times. He also struck out only 709 times in 7706 career at-bats.
Williams was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1966, receiving an almost unheard of 93.38 percent of the possible votes (282 out of 302) in his first year of eligiblibility.
"I've always loved to hit," Williams said. "And from the first day I set foot in Fenway Park, I wanted to show everyone that I was the kind of hitter who belonged with the best in the game -- names like (Jimmy) Foxx, (Joe) DiMaggio and (Hank) Greenberg."
"It is a sad day," said former Red Sox great Johnny Pesky. "I feel very bad about this.
Pesky told WCVB-TV that he first saw Williams when he was 17 years old in the West Coast League, and that he was, "The greatest hitter that ever lived. It's tough to hit .300, never mind .400.
"I'm glad we got to spend some time with him last fall," Pesky said. "He seemed to be pretty good. Ted was an exceptional guy, a great guy around people."
It was at age 20 that he first said: "All I want out of life is that, when I walk down the street, folks will say, 'There goes the greatest hitter who ever lived.'"
In 1971, Williams wrote "the Science of Hitting," a book baseball coaches still consider the bible of fundamental hitting. Many of baseball's star hitters, like the recently-retired and now broadcaster Tony Gwynn, swear they learned how to properly hit a baseball by taking it from Ted.
"The most important thing about hitting I learned from Rogers Hornsby," Williams said. "And that was to wait for a good ball to hit. It sounds simple, but many players today simply can not or do not wait for a good pitch."
In his youth, Williams was a playground baseball legend who led his high school, Hoover High, to a state championship. The scouts took early notice of the 6-foot-4, 190-pound outfielder.
When the Red Sox signed him, they sent him to play for his hometown San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League. It was there at Lane Field, as legend has it, that Williams hit a home run so far over the right-field fence that it landed in an empty boxcar in a train headed for Los Angeles.
Not too long after, Williams was headed for Boston.
In his rookie season of 1939, he hit .327 with 31 homers and 145 RBIs, easily the top batting statistics ever for a rookie. Quickly, he became a hero in a city known for its dedicated and enthusiastic fans. As the new favorite of Bostonians, young and old, and even the media, he spent many a day tipping his cap to their ovations.
His once-close relationship with baseball writers, who voted on the major awards, probably cost him at least one MVP Award, in 1947, when one Boston sportswriter left him off the ballot completely. Williams lost by one vote.
In 1941, Williams put together one of the finest seasons ever, but it also happened to be the year of the incredible 56-game hitting streak by Joe DiMaggio of the hated New York Yankees.
On the next to the last day of the year, Williams was hitting .3998, which would have rounded up to .400 and been the first time since 1923 that an American League player (Detroit's Harry Heilmann) would have attained that magical number.
Yankee Manager Joe Cronin offered to let Williams sit out a doubleheader on the last day of the season to guarantee the mark. But, after staying up all night thinking about the decision, he said, "The record's no good unless it's made in all the games."
Williams went 6-for-8 in the two games and raised his average to .406.
After a stint in the Navy, where he served in World War II but never made it into battle, he returned to baseball in 1946, hitting a home run in his first at-bat of the season. He was the league's Most Valuable Player that year despite often facing, "the Williams Shift," with the opposing team's defense aligned with most of it players on the right side of the diamond.
Williams, a strong pull hitter, clinched the Red Sox's first pennant in 28 years by hitting an inside-the-park home run to a vacated left field.
He won another batting title in 1948 (.369) and was MVP again in 1949. In 1950, he broke his elbow in the All-Star Game, but still came back to hit 28 homers and drive in 97 runs in 334 at-bats.
In 1952, with the United States in the Korean Conflict, Williams headed back to the military. This time, he was chosen to fly with future astronaut and U.S. Senator John Glenn. Williams was awarded many medals for his 39 missions, but lost some of his hearing because of the gunnery noise.
After leaving the military in 1953, he wasn't sure he wanted to play baseball again, but he was asked to throw out the first pitch at the All-Star Game and the thunderous ovation helped him change his mind.
In 1960, he hit .316 with 29 homers and 72 RBIs. He homered in his final at-bat in Fenway but, despite the urging of the fans, players and even the media, refused to tip his cap.
Later in life, he had two strokes and a broken hip, but still found time to make regular visits to his Hitters Hall of Fame in his new hometown of Hernando, Fla. This year, the well-stocked museum, built in the shape of a baseball diamond, is celebrating the 60th anniversary of Williams hitting .406.
On the 50th anniversary, in 1991, the Red Sox held "Ted Williams Day" at Fenway Park. The legendary hitter gave a speech that mentioned his true love for Boston's fans but that he never really showed his appreciation.
When I finally consented to do this, I started to think, 'What am I going to say?'" Williams said. "Then I thought it might be nice to tip my hat."
Cubs fire Don Baylor
ATLANTA, July 5 (UPI) -- The Chicago Cubs Friday made Don Baylor the latest managerial casualty, firing him in the midst of his third season with the club.
Baylor, 53, had a year-and-a-half left on his contract with the team, which he took over in 2000. The Cubs were 34-49 this year and on pace to lose 90-plus games. They were 187-220 during Baylor's tenure.
Cubs President, Chief Executive Officer and General Manager Andy MacPhail, who also has been named to the owners' negotiating committee, announced the firing.
Baylor struggled this year to motivate the underachieving Cubs, who have ranked last in the Major Leagues in batting most of the season.
In an interview with MLB.com on Wednesday in Miami, Baylor said he hoped to continue to stay at the helm for the second half of the season.
"I'd like to," Baylor said at that time. "I'd like the players to think that just because you have one first half, it doesn't mean the second half has to be that way. The way that we kind of beat ourselves. We've left runners on base, runners on third, we've done a lot of things that we have to do better in the second half. That's my belief."
Baylor becomes the sixth manager in baseball fired this season.
"I don't sit around and think about 'Poor me,'" Baylor said when asked if all the rumors bothered him. "I think about how we can get these losses reduced. We talk about winning a series all the time. We talk about it, but we have to go out and show you can play with everybody in your division. It's kind of Jekyll and Hyde -- one time we do it and the next time we don't."
The Cubs have been among the biggest disappointments in baseball this season and are in fifth place in the National League Central Division with a 34-49 record.
The team announced that Bruce Kimm, who was managing the Cubs' Triple-A affiliate at Iowa of the Pacific Coast League, will take over the managerial duties on an interim basis, beginning on Saturday.
Kimm, who turned 51 on June 29, was in his second season as Iowa's manager and his seventh as a minor league manager. He led Iowa to a 44-45 mark this year, and his career minor league managerial record was 480-449.
The former big league catcher has 12 years as a Major League coach on his resume. He was part of the World Series champion Florida Marlins coaching staff in 1997.
Henman fails again at Wimbledon
LONDON, July 5 (UPI) -- Top-seeded Lleyton Hewitt converted six break points Friday to move into the men's singles final at Wimbledon with a straight sets 7-5, 6-1, 7-5 victory over No. 4 Tim Henman of Britain.
Hewitt, 21, reached his second career Grand Slam final, having captured the 2001 U.S. Open title.
Henman, Britain's best hope of ending its 66-year drought without a men's champion, fell in the semifinals for the fourth time in five years.
In Sunday's final, Hewitt will face either No. 27 Xavier Malisse of Belgium or No. 28 David Nalbandian of Argentina. Nalbandian was leading, 7-6 (7-2), 4-2, when rain interrupted play.
Falcons ink free agent WR Chiaverini
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga., July 5 (UPI) -- The Atlanta Falcons have signed WR Darrin Chiaverini, a veteran of three NFL seasons. He has played with Cleveland and Dallas as a third receiver and part-time starter.
Terms of his contract were not announced.
Chiaverini has totaled 63 receptions for 662 yards with seven touchdowns. The 6-2, 210-pounder spent the 2001 season with the Dallas Cowboys after being traded from the Cleveland Browns on Aug. 28.
He fills a roster spot after the injury to rookie free agent R.J. English, who tore the ACL in his left knee in a workout last week.
"With R.J. going down, it's really a numbers situation and we felt like he was the most logical guy," Coach Dan Reeves told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Chiaverini was waived by the Cowboys on June 14, 2002. He was originally drafted by the Browns in the fifth round in 1999 out of Colorado and played two seasons in Cleveland.
As a rookie in 1999, he finished third on the Browns with 44 receptions for 487 receiving yards and second with four touchdowns. He ranked fifth among NFL rookies in receptions and sixth in receiving yards.
Chiaverini played in all 16 games with eight starting assignments as a rookie. In 2000, he played in 10 games with two starts, missing six games with a lingering knee injury. He finished the year with eight receptions for 68 yards with one touchdown.
Last season with Dallas, Chiaverini played in all 16 games, mainly as the third receiver. He finished the season with 10 receptions for 107 yards and two touchdowns.
Chief of NFL officials to retire
NEW YORK, July 5 (UPI) -- Al Hynes, the NFL Supervisor of Officials who directs the league's scouting program of college officials, will retire in September.
Hynes has directed the league's scouting program, which that recruits Division I officials, since 1996.
"Al has done a wonderful job in coordinating our scouting program as well as our game observer program," said NFL Director of Officiating Mike Pereira. "He set up a top-notch program as evidenced by the quality of first-year officials we have brought into the league in recent years."
The NFL will introduce 15 first-year officials this season. In his six years as supervisor of officials, Hynes has been responsible for the hiring of 56 current NFL officials.
Upon his retirement on Sept. 6, Hynes will remain active with the league as an instant replay assistant and a part-time college scout.
"It has been a great experience," said Hynes, a former football player at Lyndhurst (N.J.) High School and a Rutgers University graduate. "Much work and dedication by everyone goes into preparing for the games on Sunday."
Hynes began his officiating career in 1969 at the high school level in his native New Jersey. He then worked as a college official from 1978-96, including the Army-Navy game in 1989 and '95. He also was an official in the World League of American Football, now the NFL Europe League, in 1991-92.
Hynes was a police officer in Bergen County, N.J. for 27 years (1965-92), and retired as a captain of detectives in the prosecutor's office in 1992.
Harvick wins Pepsi 400 pole
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., July 5 (UPI) -- Kevin Harvick, last year's NASCAR Winston Cup Rookie of the Year, Friday earned the pole position for the Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway.
Harvick, driving a Goodwrench Chevrolet, knocked perennial Daytona favorite Jeff Gordon off the pole with a lap of 48.638 seconds at an average speed of 185.041 miles per hour.
Harvick was the 31st of 45 drivers to attempt to qualify. After posting his time, he watched Tony Stewart, Ricky Rudd and Rusty Wallace all make runs at him, but fall short.
Geoff Bodine, who has made only three starts this year but finished third in the season-opening Daytona 500, finished second with a time of 48.841 seconds. Bodine bumped Gordon back to third.
Robby Gordon, Harvick's Chevrolet teammate, and Dale Jarrett completed the top five.
Saturday's race starts at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time, and will be televised by Fox Sports.
Coach of French World Cup team fired
LYON, France, July 5 (UPI) -- Roger Lemerre, who had held his ground in the face of increased calls for his resignation, Friday was fired by the French Soccer Federation after his team's disastrous showing this year at World Cup.
The defending champion never advanced past the first round, and was the object of fierce backlash in the whole country after playing a scoreless tie with Uruguay and stunning losses to Senegal and Denmark. The 1-0 loss to Senegal was the opening match of the 2002 World Cup in Seoul, and France never recovered.
The 0-2-1 showing was the worst for the French in 24 years and made the French national team the first defending champion to be sent home after group play since Brazil in 1966.
Despite the return of superstar playmaker Zinedine Zidane, the French became the first defending champion in history to go scoreless in a World Cup.
Lemerre also led France to the European championship two years after winning the 1998 World Cup. He had been adamant about not stepping down despite huge criticism.
"Roger Lemerre has been discharged of his mission as the national coach. He will continue to sit on the national coaching management body," said French Soccer Federation President Claude Simonet after a four-hour, closed-door meeting in Lyon.
No successor was named immediately.
"To choose a successor is a heavy task," he said. "He will be selected after consultations and named at a later stage."
Lemerre had no public comment on his firing.
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