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Squabble infects celebration

They came to Fenway Park on a sultry summer night, some old ballplayers, an old Marine fighter pilot, an old broadcaster, to celebrate Ted Williams' life, to detail his accomplishments, to laud his work ethic, to tell stories about what kind of man he really was.

They came to praise him _ and, in some cases, to plead with his children to bury the controversy surrounding his remains.

"I am saddened by his passing," former teammate and close friend Dom DiMaggio said, "but I am considerably more saddened at the turmoil of the current controversy.

"I hope and pray" _ applause now rippled through the ballpark _ "I hope and pray this controversy will end as abruptly as it began, and that the family will do the right thing by honoring Ted's final wishes, and may he finally rest in peace."

Former U.S. Sen. John Glenn, who flew with Williams as U.S. Marine fighter pilots, maintained that the messy controversy (over whether to cremate Williams and spread his ashes off the coast of Florida, as he specified in his will, or to allow his body to be cryonically preserved, as his son John-Henry Williams claimed he later agreed to) would not tarnish his legend.

"I'm sure they're going to get it worked out, and I hope it's worked out shortly," Glenn said before the ceremony. "That's up to them. But the answer is no, I don't think (it will tarnish his image)."

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig was hopeful, but not as sure.

"Ted Williams' legend is so good, so great," Selig said. "I can't imagine (the controversy) can diminish anything that he did."

Former teammate Johnny Pesky, who with DiMaggio visited Williams at his Citrus County home in the fall, said the controversy has shocked him.

"I can't understand it," Pesky said. "I know that Teddy told (others) he wanted to be cremated. But maybe his will changed.

"All I want is for him to have a night like this, with dignity."

Though little else seems for sure in this matter, Williams specified in his will he didn't want any type of memorial service. The Red Sox went instead with a tribute entitled: Ted Williams _ An American Hero. (The feuding children declined invitations to attend.)

"He would understand, I really believe that," Selig said. "I know he didn't want any of this, but this is Fenway Park. This is Boston. This is where he was the Splendid Splinter."

About 12,000 filed past the Green Monster in the morning, and more than 20,000 paid $9, $18 or $27 to attend the two-hour, nine-inning evening ceremony, with proceeds going to The Jimmy Fund, one of Williams' favorite charities.

About two dozen former Red Sox players, from greats such as Carl Yastrzemski to near-greats to some who seemed to be here because they were available, participated. Wade Boggs was said to be invited but unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict.

Most of the talk was about how good Williams was at anything he did, from flying a plane to catching a fish to hitting a baseball.

Glenn spoke. Nomar Garciaparra spoke. Filmmaker Ken Burns spoke and spoke and spoke. Selig, conveniently paired with the heroic Glenn during the processional, did not, probably a good thing as he was booed lustily upon introduction. Curt Gowdy, who broadcast Williams' final game on Sept. 28, 1960, narrated clips of the historic day, including the home run Williams hit in his final at-bat.

The ballpark was turned into a shrine, with a massive American flag draped over the Green Monster, with signs proclaiming Williams "An American Patriot" and "The greatest Red Sox player of them all." Above the wall, the signature phrase: "There goes the greatest hitter who ever lived." There was memorabilia, artifacts, photos and Williams' Hall of Fame plaque. On the infield was stenciled .406 (his average in 1941), the letters USMC and 521 (his home run total). Members of the Marine Corps band played.

As the ceremony concluded, the players, in the uniforms of their day, took their positions on the field, then gathered in leftfield around the large No. 9, where a spotlight shone on an empty patch.

The famous scoreboard, for the final time, read:

AT BAT

9

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