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Today in Sports History: July 5th

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7/05/2002 - Ted Williams dies at 83

After several years of failing health, Ted Williams dies from cardiac arrest at the age of 83. Williams was one of the most respected ballplayers of all time and was frequently called "the greatest hitter that ever lived." In 1941, he finished the year with a .406 batting average, and he died as the last player to reach that hallowed plateau.

Williams' death became notable in the long run because of the controversy surrounding his corpse. Honoring what was deemed to be his last wish, Williams' body was sent to the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Scottsdale, Arizona just a few hours after his death. His only son, John Henry Williams, produced a hand-written note from Ted saying that he wanted to be cryogenically frozen, in the hope that one day science could reanimate him.

Ted's daughter from his first wife, Barbara Joyce, contended that Williams' signature had been coaxed out of him and that he had really wanted to be cremated; she was able to produce a will Ted had signed indicating that he wanted to have his ashes scattered. The two family members battled in court and it was eventually determined that Ted had indeed signed the note -- truncating the will and allowing him to remain at Alcor.

Shortly after the courts denied Barbara's request, Sports Illustrated published an article that many baseball fans found both disheartening and disturbing. It was revealed that as a part of Alcor's life extension process, Williams' head had been completely removed from his body and was stored in a tank separate from the rest of him. Besides being decapitated, several DNA samples from his body had also been lost, and drill marks had been etched into his shaved head, which had suffered several cracks from mishandling.

Almost overnight, jokes about Ted William's frozen head became commonplace. The Bisbee-Douglas Copper Kings of minor league baseball capitalized on the spectacle with a well-timed promotion: Ted Williams Popsicle Night. It was a sad end to one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century, as what should have been an honorable goodbye was replaced with, in many people's opinions, a total laughingstock.