Document raises questions

Carrie Johnson and Alex Leary, St. Petersburg Times - 7/27/2002
INVERNESS -- 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 University who 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."

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.

"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's 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.

In an interview with the Boston Globe on Nov. 4, 2000, two days after he allegedly 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.

Williams was not heavily medicated while at Shands.

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.

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