Book excerpt: Florida's Fishing Legends and Pioneers by Doug Kelly

Editor's note: 83 Degrees periodically publishes excerpts from books by local Tampa Bay Area authors. Here is an excerpt from Florida's Fishing Legends and Pioneers by Journalist Doug Kelly of Clearwater. The book is published by University Press of Florida, ISBN 978-0-8130-3576-5.

TED WILLIAMS, 1918 - 2002

Although Sam Snead was one of Ted Williams’ best friends and a business partner in a fishing tackle venture, the legendary golfer didn’t want to hear about the Splendid Splinter at times.

I was about 16 years old when a member of the gallery at the Doral Open golf tournament in Miami. Snead strode to the tee box at the 11th hole and by coincidence stood next to me, both hands on the grip of his driver while another player teed it up.

Snead’s eyes met mine for a moment and he was expressionless. Knowing his love for fishing and a long friendship with Ted Williams, I nervously blurted out a question about whether they’d fished together recently.
He winced as if goosed with a two-iron. “You gotta be kidding?” he growled incredulously, the eyes narrowing and head shaking side to side. “I can’t make a goddamn putt today and you want to talk about him?”

Taken aback, I said nothing and as he moved away to hit his drive, I figured that was that. About an hour later, however, I’m standing behind the tee box at the 16th hole as his group walked up. He scanned the gallery until his eyes stopped directly at me. After hitting his drive he sauntered over. 
“Listen here, kid” he rasped in his heavy Virginian accent. “Would you go to a ball park and in the middle of the game when Ted Williams just struck out three times ask him if he’s fished with Sam Snead lately?”

“Um, probably not,” I answered, amazed that it was still eating at his mind.
“Good,” he snapped. “Then keep your little mouth shut about Williams or anyone else while I’m out here hacking my way around the course.” With that Snead did a 180 and walked away while muttering a comparison of me to a certain bodily opening.

I was to retell that incident to Williams years later in my long phone chat with him. I’d reached him after setting up an interview through several intermediaries while Editor at Sport Fishing magazine. I was told the conversation would last 15 minutes, but instead we talked for 45. The high pitch and forcefulness of his voice took me by surprise even though I’d heard it years before as a boy at a seminar. I think Williams talked longer than expected because I never once mentioned his baseball career — we just talked fishing.

Back to my reference to Snead, Williams laughed. “Oh, don’t be so sensitive,” he said. “Sam’s bark is worse than his bite — kind of like me.

“Listen, I don’t like it when people see me fishing in the middle of a flat and obviously looking for bonefish, and they bring their boat over to mine to talk. Hell, I want to fish, not discuss a game they saw me play in 1958 or be handed things to autograph. When I get upset about interruptions like that, the people I’m venting to forevermore think I’m nasty and a mean SOB instead of realizing their rudeness. Hey, if people walked in my shoes or Sam’s for a day, they’d better understand.”

Williams further explained the fundaments of sporting success. “If you’re reasonably coordinated -- which I am -- and you have at least average strength -- which I do -- and you’re committed to excellence -- and I flat-ass would never accept anything other than that -- then anyone can rise and shine. You might not be as good as some others, but you’ll be better than most.”

Williams added that he took his talents and practiced, practiced, practiced even when he wanted to stop. “When I got to where I wanted to quit practicing, I’d practice another hour,” he said. “It became a game with me within a game, pushing my limits and overcoming the tendency to say ‘that’s enough.’ Yes, sometimes that becomes self-punishment, but that’s the ingredient to going beyond the competition.”

To purchase Kelly's book, visit the University Press of Florida.

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