Memories of “The Kid”
A Long Friendship and Love of Baseball
One never knows when or where a story may materialize. In this case, it began on a winter morning in the baked-goods aisle at ShopRite on Black Rock Turnpike.
A casual conversation between a congenial elderly gentleman wearing a Boston Red Sox cap and a certain Fairfield-based writer led to this revelation: said elderly gentleman, Chris Cashavelly, is a lifelong Red Sox fan who had the good fortune to enjoy a friendship with Ted Williams during the final two decades of the Hall of Famer’s life.
Yes, the Ted Williams, the Splendid Splinter, The Kid, Teddy Ballgame, The Thumper, the man who may have been the greatest hitter who ever lived.
“We played golf together quite a few times,” says Cashavelly, who marked his 90th birthday on August 7. “I was a nine handicap and Williams was a 14. He never beat me.”
On the one occasion Williams came close, Cashavelly asked him to sign their scorecard. Williams scowled and grumbled, then finally relented, “Give me the goddamned scorecard,” he said. The scorecard, replete with Williams’ signature and good-natured expletive, hangs in the Red Sox memorabilia-filled den in the condominium Cashavelly shares with Cynthia, his wife of 53 years.
So how did Cashavelly, who earned his livelihood as a gun designer with Southport-based Sturm Ruger, forge a friendship with the great Williams? Give some of the credit to Bobby Doerr, the Red Sox second baseman and one of Williams’ closest friends on the team. Doerr had befriended Cashavelly a few years earlier.
One evening some 30 years ago, the phone rang in the Cashavelly household on Fairfield’s Eastfield Drive. The caller was Williams. “I just got back from a two-week fishing trip with Bobby Doerr, and all I heard about was you, Chris,” said the booming voice. “So, who the heck are you?”
Williams must have liked what he learned because he invited Cashavelly to visit him at his home in Citrus Hills, Florida. Thus a friendship was launched, and soon Cynthia was accompanying her husband on trips to the slugger’s house. When the Cashavellys built a home on Pasadena Golf Course in Gulfport, Florida, they made the short drive upstate by car.
Williams, who enjoyed needling people, once asked Cynthia: “How does a beautiful, intelligent woman like you marry a guy like this?”
Up north, Chris and Cynthia relished the time spent with Williams, Doerr, and two other Red Sox stars of yore, Dom DiMaggio and Johnny Pesky, at fundraising dinners in Boston and at Fenway Park special events.
On one such occasion, Cashavelly introduced himself to John Glenn, the astronaut, who had been Williams’ squadron leader during the Korean War. “You want the best pilot to be your wingman,” Glenn explained, “and that’s why I selected Ted.”
Cashavelly doesn’t recall the year—it must have been in the mid-1980s—but he once gave Williams and his son, John-Henry, a tour of the Sturm Ruger plant. “The people in the office couldn’t believe they were seeing Ted Williams,” he remembers “Ted took some shots in our firing range with an automatic 9mm pistol. Then several of us from the company took them out to dinner at the Peppermill in Westport. It was a great time.”
When Cashavelly retired from Sturm Ruger after a 40-year career in 1988, Doerr flew in from his home in Junction City, Oregon, for the retirement dinner. Williams, who had a schedule conflict, sent a telegram.
Williams could be gruff and vulgar, cold and aloof, and Cashavelly occasionally saw that side of the man. But he also witnessed Williams’ warmth, his kindness to children, and his unrelenting dedication to the Jimmy Fund, which raises monies for adult and pediatric cancer care and research at Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Then there was the time he observed Williams’ act of generosity to a former star down on his luck. “I took the call from this once-great player and Hall of Famer and I handed the phone to Ted. He told Ted he was broke,” Cashavelly related. “The next day Ted sent him a signed blank check.”