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Their Relationship Often Has Been Icy

Williams: Son John Henry's dominating style angered family members, even before dispute over body.

July 11, 2002|LANCE PUGMIRE and DAVID WHARTON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

John Henry Williams didn't surprise some members of his family by whisking away the body of his deceased Hall of Fame father and having it delivered to a cryonics laboratory for freezing.

Sherri Mosley, granddaughter of baseball great Ted Williams, said Wednesday that John Henry first mentioned his controversial plan to family members 17 months ago, following a tour of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Alcor Life Extension Foundation while his father was still in a San Diego hospital recovering from open-heart surgery.

With his abrasive, dominating style, John Henry had offended his relatives before. But the idea of freezing his father's remains and perhaps someday selling his DNA for the purposes of cloning put an unprecedented strain on family ties.

Mosley said her mother, Bobby-Jo Ferrell, "absolutely didn't agree" and "wouldn't even speak" about it to her half brother.

The family didn't go public with John Henry's plan, she added, because they weren't convinced he would follow through. Now that he has, they are talking.

"[Ferrell] told him she would go to the press, but he didn't believe her," Mosley said in a telephone interview from her White House, Tenn., home. "We wanted everyone to understand how crazy and immoral this is, especially because it's not what [Ted Williams] wanted. He would never agree to this."

John Henry, 33, has not conducted an interview since his father's death at age 83 Friday. He was a no-show at a pregame ceremony honoring "Teddy Ballgame," baseball's last .400 hitter, before Tuesday's All-Star game in Milwaukee.

Mosley said John Henry is with his sister, Claudia, but has disconnected the phone at the Inverness, Fla., home he used to share with his father.

Mosley, 33, contends John Henry's decision to disobey his father's wish to be cremated--Ferrell contends the request is written in the former Boston Red Sox great's will--continues his pattern of manipulation and dominance.

John Henry is one of two children Ted Williams had with Dolores Wettach, a former Vogue model and one of his three wives. He studied business at the University of Maine and began conducting his father's business affairs in the early 1990s after a failed venture in which Ted Williams lost nearly $40,000 in cash in a memorabilia deal with a convicted felon.

Most recently, John Henry was signed--as a favor to his father--by the Red Sox, who assigned him to their lowest-level minor league team, in Fort Myers, Fla. He'd failed in two previous tries to catch on with professional baseball teams.

John Henry was mending a broken rib--sustained when he awkwardly crashed into a railing--when his father died of heart failure.

John Henry's parents split when he was 6. His mother relocated to a spread in Vermont. John Henry told Sports Illustrated in a 1996 article that he was able to visit his father once a year until he reached high school, when he'd spend summers with "The Splendid Splinter."

Despite John Henry's business education, some of his strategies failed.

In 1992, after Williams had struck a $2-million deal with Upper Deck Authenticated, John Henry, who had created a clearinghouse company of his father's photos, autographs and jerseys called Grand Slam Marketing, started a company that competed with Upper Deck.

Instead of encouraging his father to sign memorabilia for Upper Deck, John Henry arranged for him to autograph products associated with his own venture, Ted Williams Card Company. A 1995 court settlement dissolved the company.

The Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame opened in Hernando, Fla., in February 1994. A month later, following his father's third stroke, John Henry closed the Ted Williams Store he owned in Chestnut Hill, Mass., and moved into his father's home.

"John Henry obviously handles Ted Williams' affairs, everything goes through him, and he's a tough businessman, but I say that in a complimentary way," said Bill Williams (no relation), the executive director of the six-year-old Louisville Slugger Museum.

"When we opened our museum, we were scheduled to have 18 Hall of Famers. When I asked John Henry if Ted could come, he said no, that 'Dad doesn't travel after that last stroke.' But then he called back and said, 'Dad said he'll be there, that he'll do anything for [Louisville Slugger founders] Hillerich and Bradsby.' "

Bill Williams said he is in the process of negotiating a deal with John Henry that will allow for full-size replicas of Ted Williams' Louisville Sluggers to be sold in the museum's gift store.

"Usually, these deals we've done with [Mickey] Mantle's family and [Roger] Maris' family have taken a couple weeks," Bill Williams said. "This one with John Henry is working on six months. He's stronger than a rope. I think John Henry feels his family has been ripped off, so he has clamped down. He's very, very strict."

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