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Public Papers - 1991 - July

Remarks on Presenting Presidential Citations to Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams


The President. Welcome to the Rose Garden. And may I salute, first of all, the Members of Congress that are down here. One of them, former big leaguer, Jim Bunning, now a Congressman who you may know. And probably you hit them over the fence off this guy. But, nevertheless -- [laughter] -- welcome, all you fellows. And two Senators here and, of course, our commissioner, Fay Vincent, and especially to Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams.

And before I get started I want to single out the LSU Tigers championship baseball team. We're proud of them. And I'm sorry that your coach couldn't be up here, Skip Bertman, because of surgery. But I just can't tell you how welcome you are here in the Rose Garden. I hope you'll have a good tour around Washington, DC. [Laughter]

Now, Sandra Bertman is here somewhere. Right there. Welcome, Sandra.

Well, this year that ball club -- I don't know if you all know this -- won 55 games to tie a university record. And they also played in their fifth college world series in the last 6 years. So, they're dominating college baseball. And it's most appropriate that we have so many members of the Louisiana congressional delegation here to honor them.

Let me just ask the team to stand up so we can at least identify you guys. Welcome, welcome, welcome.

And now to the other honored guests, Number 5 and Number 9. Looking at these two greats -- standing next to them -- I have a confession. I didn't think that I'd get to meet royalty so soon after the Queen's visit. But, nevertheless, here they are.

I don't want to reminisce too much, but I was 17 years old during their famous 1941 season, 50 years ago. And like many American kids in those days and today, I followed those box scores closely, watched the magnificent season unfurl. In those days I was, Joe, a Red Sox fan, and my brother though, a Yankee fan. And 50 years later, that '41 season just remains a season of dreams.

Half a century ago, with much of the world already at war, baseball staged one of its greatest seasons. Brooklyn won its first pennant in 21 years and clashed with its crosstown rival, the Yankees, in a memorable World Series. The Yanks took the series, but our guests, in their own ways, really carried the entire season.

Who, even now, does not marvel at the Splendid Splinter and the Yankee Clipper? These genuine heroes thrilled Americans with real deeds. Both on the scene loomed larger than life, on the baseball fields and then onto the battlefields. And both men put off their baseball careers to serve their countries.

Their service deprived them -- I think every baseball lover will tell you -- of even greater statistics, but also enhanced their greatness in the eyes of their countrymen. Today, as we remember them, we honor them.

Next week, we'll witness the 50th anniversary, of what many consider baseball's greatest feat, Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak. No one has gotten really close to that before or since.

In a song of the era, ``Joe, Joe DiMaggio, we want you on our side,'' well, I think everybody felt that way then and now -- and this entire Nation did. That's for sure. Decades later, he was named baseball's Greatest Living Ballplayer.

Like Joe, today's other guest displayed a special kind of magnetism on the baseball diamond. Ted Williams, people will tell you, has many sides. He's an ardent conservationist, an avid fisherman, a pilot who served in both World War II and Korea. And I'm going to ask him to help me with my press relations. Do you remember how all that used to work out there in baseball? But I can learn from him. He told it as it was.

But he is also, perhaps, the greatest hitter in baseball history. Fifty years ago, he did what no one has done since, he eclipsed .400 in the regular season. Most of you know how he finished off that campaign -- entering a season doubleheader. Ending the season there was this doubleheader. Ted was hitting .3995, statistical equivalent of .400 -- of an even .400. And to protect that average, his manager wanted him to sit it out. He refused. He went 6 for 8, and he finished at .406. That kind of courage and determination, frankly, made him one of our all-time greats.

Joe DiMaggio won the honors as the Most Valuable Player in '41. He batted .325 in his career, and amazingly, retired with almost as many home runs as strikeouts. And, of course, throughout it all he displayed his famous grace and modesty that set such a great example for our country.

Ted won six batting titles. And in 1960, at 42, he retired as only a deity could. He stroked a home run -- number 521 -- in his final at bat.

We'll think of these men tonight as we watch the 62d All-Star Game in Toronto, Canada, and we'll remember, too. We'll remember how Joe played in 11 All-Star Games. We'll recall how 50 years ago this month, Ted gave the Mid-Summer Classic one of its most dramatic moments -- a 3-run, ninth-inning wallop in Detroit that gave the American League a 7 - 5 victory.

As we leave for Toronto, just in a little bit, let me speak for the old guys here: May God bless these heroes of our youth. Again, my congratulations to LSU, the heroes of tomorrow in the pro leagues, I'm sure. We welcome you here. We welcome you for what you stand for as the NCAA Champions over these past years. And we're very grateful to have you here.

And so, let me leave you with no further ado before embarrassing Ted and Joe to say a word, if they will -- play ball. It's all yours, Ted.

Ted Williams. I've always realized what a lucky guy I've been in my life. I was born in America. I was a marine and served my country, and I'm very, very proud of that. I got to play baseball and had a chance to hit. I owe so very, very much to this game that I love so much. I want to thank you, Mr. President. I think you're doing a tremendous job. And I want you to know you're looking at one of the greatest supporters you'll ever have. Thank you.

The President. Joe, you have the last word -- --

Joe DiMaggio. Thank you, Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen. I'm honored. Thank you so much. And to you LSU players out there, congratulations on your championship. I know the feeling. I've been in one or two myself. It's nice to be here with you. And thank you again.

The President. And now may I ask Major Bonwit to read the citations, please.

[At this point, the citations were read.]

Thank you all for coming. Thank you all for coming to the White House.

Note: The President spoke at 2:04 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent; Sandra Bertman, wife of Skip Bertman, the coach of the Louisiana State University baseball team; the Splendid Splinter, Ted Williams; the Yankee Clipper, Joe DiMaggio; and Maj. David Bonwit, Marine Corps Aide to the President. Later in the afternoon, the President traveled to Toronto, Canada.

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