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Ted Williams note provokes many questions

At the height of Ted Williams' career with the Boston Red Sox, legend held that his eyesight was so sharp he could see the seams on a 90-mph fastball.

But in his final years, the Splendid Splinter's extraordinary vision was blurred by a series of strokes. Heart problems dulled the power behind his once mighty swing.

Friends and former caretakers say Williams, like most octogenarians, had good days and bad. He could be alert, coherent and lively one moment, lethargic and forgetful the next.

As the battle over Williams' remains moves closer to a Citrus County courtroom, his physical and mental fitness in the years before his death July 5 becomes increasingly important.

"In a case like this, there will be questions as to the authenticity of the signatures," said Adam Hirsch, a law professor at Florida State Universitywho specializes in trusts and estates. "There will also be questions about what state of mind Ted Williams was in when he signed it."

Williams' younger children this week produced a handwritten note they say proves their father's desire to be cryonically frozen after death.

The pact was allegedly signed by the three Williamses on Nov. 2, 2000, when the slugger was a patient at a Gainesville hospital awaiting surgery to have a pacemaker inserted into his chest.

Through their lawyer, John-Henry and Claudia Williams say the document, scrawled on a piece of scrap paper and stained with oil after being left in the trunk of John-Henry's car, supersedes their father's 1996 will, which states he wanted to be cremated and have his ashes sprinkled over the coast of Florida.

Attorney Robert Goldman said his clients' father was mentally sharp throughout the hospital stay, a claim echoed by Williams' cardiologist.

But an attorney for Bobby-Jo Williams Ferrell, Ted Williams' daughter from an earlier marriage, questioned whether the Hall of Famer was capable of making such a serious decision while suffering from congestive heart failure.

"We're not even sure he would have been able to physically move the pen in that fashion," said John Heer.

Ferrell, 54, believes her father never changed his mind about cremation. She has been fighting to retrieve his remains from Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Arizona, where the body was sent after Williams died.

In a statement released Friday, Ferrell said the stained note "raises far more questions than it answers."

Suspicions aroused

Heer said he has serious doubts about the legitimacy of the document. He questioned whether the "11" in the date, which has a line drawn through the middle, had been changed and if Williams truly understood what he was signing.

Heer said he plans to hire handwriting experts to examine the pact.

"There's all of these circumstances surrounding the creation of the document _ the way it was kept, the way it was later found and produced _ that all arouse our suspicions about it," he said.

Some handwriting experts interviewed Friday by the St. Petersburg Times raised questions about the document.

"I would not authenticate it," said John Reznikoff of University Archives Inc. in Westport, Conn., who is frequently called as an expert witness in court.

"When you are dealing with handwriting, you are dealing with an art, not a science," he said. But several questions arose when he reviewed an electronic copy of the pact.

First, he noticed points in Ted Williams' signature where the writer appeared to hesitate. The dark portion in the "a" in Williams is an example. Hesitation "does happen in authentic signatures, but it's also an earmark when someone is trying to duplicate a signature," he said.

He also looked for similarities in the way individual characters were constructed in John-Henry Williams' and Ted Williams' signatures. His eyes honed in on the "illia" of Williams. "There is an uncanny similarity," he said.

But Drew Max, a forensic document examiner for Authentic Autographs Unlimited in Las Vegas, said the signature appeared to be real. Any anomalies might be explained by Williams' visit to the hospital, he said. The ballplayer might have been on medication and he was preparing for surgery.

Chip Tuttle, a spokesman for Williams' estate, said the accusations of forgery don't jibe with earlier portrayals of John-Henry Williams, who was known as a stickler for authenticity when it came to his father's signature.

"On one day, John-Henry is accused of forcing his father to sign memorabilia until he's tired, and the next day he gets accused of forgery," Tuttle said. "Which accusation is true? John-Henry can't win."

Tuttle said he has no doubts about the note's authenticity. He said Ted Williams was perfectly coherent when he signed it.

"I'm pretty good'

In an interview with the Boston Globe on Nov. 4, 2000, two days after he supposedly signed the pact, Williams dismissed talk that he was declining.

"I'm pretty good," he said. "I don't know where everybody's getting the news that I'm at death's door and all that crap."

Rick Kerensky, Williams' cardiologist at Shands at the University of Florida at Gainesville, said his patient was in good spirits throughout the hospital stay and displayed remarkable energy.

"He was just totally cooperative," said Kerensky, who treated Williams from 1993 until his death. "He was like that _ he would rise to the occasion when he had to undergo something tough."

Williams was not heavily medicated while at Shands. The pacemaker surgery was performed without full anesthesia, and a catheterization did not require anesthesia, Kerensky said.

While the doctor remembers frequent visits between the hitting great and his two youngest children, George Carter, a former aide who was with Williams at Shands, said he never witnessed a meeting of the trio.

"Ted used me as a sounding board. "George, what do you think of this? What do you think of that?' I spent night after night with the guy. This freezing stuff was never, never mentioned," he said.

Just two months after leaving Shands, Williams underwent open-heart surgery in New York.

He was hospitalized with flu-like symptoms in January, seven months before his death.

Carter said his boss, who suffered several strokes, the most serious in 1994, could be forgetful. He questioned whether Williams would have recognized what he was signing when given the pact.

John-Henry would bring memorabilia for his father to sign, but also documents, Carter said. Ted would ask "What is this, John-Henry?" Carter recalled.

"Oh Dad," John-Henry would reply, "it's just a formality, don't worry about it."

_ Times staff researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report


Handwriting experts look for fluid script when examining a signature.+ Dark or heavier lines, called hesitation marks, could indicate the writer was concentrating hard to duplicate another person's signature. In the example below, a document submitted to a judge Thursday, the dark curve in the "a" in Ted Williams' signature could be interpreted as hesitation, as could the dot linking the "d" in Ted and the "w" in Williams.

Williams' document

They also look for similarities in the way individual characters are constructed or slanted. One expert drew attention to the "illia" in John-Henry and Ted's signatures, particularly the letters "ill."

Earlier signature

One could compare previous signatures, known to be genuine, with the document in question. One of the trademarks in Ted Williams' signature, experts say, is that the letters could almost rest on a straight line. The dipping in the signature on the top photo would not appear to follow that pattern, one expert said.

+ Note: Signatures can change over time, experts say. In Williams' case, whether he was on medication or under stress could account for differences in his script. Experts also say that the best way to authenticate a signature is to examine actual documents, not electronic scans or photocopies.

Sources: John Reznikoff, autograph authenticator, University Archives, Westport, Conn.; Larry Rosenbaum, president, EAC Gallery, Roslyn Heights, N.Y.; Drew Max, forensic document examiner, Authentic Autographs Unlimited, Las Vegas.