John Henry Williams

From Academic Kids

John Henry Williams (August 27, 1968 - March 6, 2004) was the only son of baseball legend Ted Williams. His mother was Ted's third wife, Dolores. The couple also had a daughter, Claudia.

He saw little of his father after his parents divorced in 1972. By all accounts, the relationship between Ted and Dolores remained chilly as their children grew. Dolores raised John Henry and Claudia on a 60 acre (243,000 m²) farm near Putney, Vermont. Ted was a sporadic presence in the boy's life by design. Williams could relate well to a bat and a baseball, but his relations with his family were always a bit strained, both from his position as one of the superstars of the game and from a general distance that Williams used to keep all but a few loyal friends at a distance.

Williams' name opened doors for John Henry. He was accepted into the exclusive Bates College, where he spent three semesters before transferring to the University of Maine. He earned a B.S. in marketing 1991, but failed to make the baseball team.

John Henry struggled for many years trying to develop a way to shine on his own. A hat company, which Ted had put seed money into and promoted at a 1991 All-Star game by wearing the cap, failed miserably, losing more than $3 million dollars. John Henry Williams also ran an internet service provider in the Citrus County area under the name hitter.net. The ISP went out of business in 2001.

After Williams long-time girlfriend left in the 1990s, he needed help running the memorabilia business that provided a large chunk of his income in later years.

Critics say John Henry didn't so much care for his father as hijack his life, capitalizing on Ted's legacy to launch business ventures and support a lavish lifestyle. Others, including trainers and his sister Claudia, counter that John Henry Williams spent the majority of his adult life trying to be closer to his father. While some pointed to John Henry's control of the scheduling and marketing as some sign that he was doing this to get Ted's money, there is no evidence that the money went anywhere other than into Ted's personal accounts, and that helping his father in the business may have been one of the son's few success stories.

On a personal level, Ted was much better at dealing with the adult child, John Henry. They found a common bond in baseball. At the tender age of 33, when many a baseball career is ending, John Henry entered the world of professional baseball, with his father pulling favors to get him placed in low Class-A minor league baseball in the Red Sox organization. It was a mutual delusion to bring father and son together that was indulged by the club for one of the true legends of Fenway Park.

John Henry Williams' life would have gone all but unnoticed in the shadow of his famous father had it not been for the controversy that surrounded Ted Williams' death.

The young Williams became the scourge of the sports world after Ted died on July 5, 2002. Announcing there would be no funeral, John Henry had Ted's body flown to the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Scottsdale, Arizona, and placed in cryonic suspension, according, he claimed, to his father's last wishes. John Henry's lawyer produced an informal family pact signed by Ted, John Henry, and Claudia in which they agreed "to be put into biostasis after we die." John Henry's story, verified by his sister, was that they discovered cryonics, and agreed that they would all like that to be their final wishes. In the child-like way in which the whole family dealt with legal issues, the note was as close to a will as they came.

The whole thing might have passed for being a bit odd if it weren't for money. Barbara Joyce (Bobbie Jo) Ferrell, Ted's daughter by his first wife, was told by John Henry that she'd been cut out of the will. She sued John Henry, and lead a loud and very public holy-war in the press against her half-brother.

It was the columnists at Sports Illustrated who banged the drum particularly loudly, calling for John Henry Williams' head. Few sports writers liked the idea of cryonic suspension as the final chapter in the life of one of America's greatest sports heroes. They took and printed as gospel, without verification, Ferrell's accusations. The story spread through the sensationalist sports press of the day and soon became a national scandal.

They got great mileage out of Ferrell's claims that Ted wanted to be cremated, and conveniently ignored that no such intention was ever found in a competing will or any other document. The press dug up friends, distant relatives, and anyone else who could reinforce the heresay that no one had ever heard Ted Williams mention that he wanted his body to be frozen and stored.

In fact, the executor of the Ted Williams estate and several hand writing experts all verified that the signature on the "pact" was that of the legendary Splendid Splinter. This was not good enough for Bobbie Jo or a media that chose not to do its homework. She forced the issue, trying to get a judge to rule the signature to be invalid. A judge did rule later that the signature was genuine, and, without further indication of any final wishes by the late baseball superstar, the note would stand as his final request.

At the same time, the media crusade to get John Henry Williams continued. Sports Illustrated quoted an "informant," who had run the Alcor lab, who told tales of the mistreatment of Ted Williams' remains. The body had to be separated from the head and stored in a different tank. There were cracks forming in Ted Williams' skull. There were ghoulish jokes made in the lab, an alleged "plan" to sell Ted Williams' DNA for possible cloning, and reports that John Henry had not paid the full lab bill.

According to cryonics experts, it is sometimes necessary to store the head of a subject at a different temperature than a body to preserve it better. The ghoulish jokes in the lab were no worse than one might hear in a county morgue. No one could verify the stories about the DNA, and there was more than a touch of irony in the accusations about the lab's practices, as they were made by the only person who was responsible for the lab's policy and practice. Alcor was a very closed and private, some say secretive, place. It is unlikely that John Henry had enough access to any of their dealings to dignify any of these rumors.

Feeding off of the sensationalist journalism of a few, the majority of the media failed to stop and ask if cryonics might really be Williams' final wish. Why did Williams not tell friends or relatives other than his children about cryonics? Sources close to the practice of cryonics say that people choosing this form of treatment (their term) for life ending disease often hide their intentions because of either familial or public disapproval.

"The media tried to ruin (John Henry) with sensationalism and untruths...he was not a villian. He was a real person, with real desire to succeed at an impossible dream," said friend and personal trainer Terry Hardtke.

Other publications that did their homework found that very different John Henry Williams.

"My brother put his dream on hold so he could be next to his father as long as he could and then waited a little bit longer so he could love him through his last days...." said Claudia Williams in a letter that appeared in Minor League News shortly after John Henry's death.

The John Henry Williams portrayed by the half-sister and the major sports media did not line up with the man well. John Henry was not a particularly articulate man. He did not come off as even being especially bright or greedy. He was the last in a long string of Ted Williams' enablers, who indulged the superstar's whims and took care of the details that he, himself, did not wish to handle.

After Williams death, rather than cashing in on his memory, or cloning little Teds as the press had printed as fact, John Henry went into independent baseball playing for pennies for an independent Northern League baseball club.

"(John Henry) lived in my home for seven months trying to squeeze 7 months of hard work into 7 years of experience," said Hardtke. "We worked together for 6 hours per day, 5 days each week. His determination in trying to be a good professional baseball player was relentless. We had several personal discussions regarding everything going on in his life but he was driven (based on his true love of his father) to give it his best."

His final stop, at a bottom-of-the barrel independent ball club in Louisiana, was made with the same commitment to the thing that was driving him: John Henry Williams was a man obsessed with the need to know a father who had been so close to the world, yet so far removed from him.

The controversy died down on December 20 when Ferrell withdrew her objections after a judge agreed that she would get her piece of a $645,000 trust would be distributed equally among the siblings.

It was announced in October 2003 John Henry Williams had been diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia, the same disease that claimed Ted's brother at age 39. He had already started chemotherapy, and underwent a bone marrow transplant with a donation from Claudia. The transplant did not take. He died at UCLA Medical Center, Claudia and Dolores at his bedside. His body was delivered to Alcor in concordance with his wishes.

"In the end, he still, despite discouragement from others, gave baseball a chance (or vice versa)," said sister Claudia. "He may have been closest to his father during the opportunity that the minor leagues gave him."

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