With daughter episode, maybe Bird, the legend, shows he's human, too

February 16, 1993|By Dan Shaughnessy | Dan Shaughnessy,Boston Globe

Boston's winter of 1948 was bitterly cold. Slugger Ted Williams went south to fish. On Jan. 28, while Ted was fishing in Florida, Doris Williams gave birth to a daughter, Barbara Joyce Williams. The baby was early. Ted was late.

The Globe's Harold Kaese wrote, "Everyone knows where Moses was when the lights went out. And apparently everybody knows where Ted Williams was when his baby was born Tuesday. He was fishing."

In his biography, "My Turn at Bat," Williams wrote, "Well, Bobby Jo was the most important thing in my life from the moment she was born . . . but I sure wasn't going to apologize for something that didn't concern anybody but Doris and me."

Williams and Larry Bird now have something else to talk about next time they get together for a television talk show.

John Gearan of the Worcester Telegram got the ball rolling with an article quoting Bird's 15-year-old daughter, a child from his first marriage, which ended in divorce. Corrie Bird said she had written to her dad asking to come up here for his big night a couple of weeks back. She said she never heard from him. She said there hadn't been much contact with her dad.

The Globe repeated the item and The Herald ran a story on Page One, with pictures, "Larry's forgotten fan: Celtics legend Bird has little time for biggest booster -- his teen daughter."

People sure wanted to talk about it. Radio Free Larry (a k a WEEI) gave us hour after hour of people who had decided that: (1) Larry wasn't such a good guy after all, or (2) this was none of our business -- a creation of sensationalistic media.

Bird isn't likely to be talking about this soon. He told the Globe's Bob Ryan that people can write and say what they want. He plans to ride out the storm.

In his autobiography, this is what Bird wrote about Corrie: "I can't honestly say I've had that much to do with her life because of my differences with Janet [Corrie's mother]. I think about Corrie all the time, but what can I really do now? I can't go back and relive the first five or six years of her life. Corrie is a fine and beautiful young lady. Her mother has done a great job bringing her up in the best way possible. Corrie is also very athletic. She's good at everything she does and I'm really proud of her. To tell you the truth, I've never really known how to handle the situation, but I love her and anytime Corrie needs anything, I will be there for her."

There isn't much more information. If this revelation changes your opinion about Bird, he's not about to defend himself. Like Ted Williams, he feels it concerns nobody but his daughter, his ex-wife and himself.

But what a sour note after a week of sweet symphony. What would Bird say now if he were standing on the parquet, microphone in hand, bidding goodbye to the fans who cheered him all these years?

The canonization of Bird was without dissent. The Globe put out a 26-page section that told you more than you could retain about the life and times of Larry Joe Bird. There was a similar section in The Herald. Channel 25 gave us a full-hour docu-Larry. WEEI was all Larry, all the time. Finally, the ceremony went 2 1/2 hours and the fans wanted more.

Three days later, a little story surfaced and we are left with the reminder that everybody's life is complicated. All of us make mistakes. A great ballplayer can't be expected to avoid the land mines of life.

But to say that this is not newsworthy is to erase all of the positive "personal stuff" we've learned about Bird. It was Red Auerbach on Thursday who said, "Enough about Larry Bird the basketball player, let's talk about Larry Bird the man."

This newspaper last week felt that Bird's adoption of a newborn baby girl was worthy of a front-page story. It showed the human side of a great ballplayer. Now we have another human side. It's not as pleasant. But if we sanitize the Larry Legend, none of the personality profiles mean anything.

Bird in the past has talked about subjects that many public figures would avoid. He has talked about his father's suicide. He's talked about what it felt like to grow up without the best clothes. But he keeps some things to himself. When he wrote his autobiography, there were two subjects Bird would not discuss: his on-court fight with Julius Erving and his barroom brawl at Chelsea's in downtown Boston. These were two embarrassing episodes. And now there is another.

Ted Williams was fishing when his daughter was born. Larry Bird has a daughter who says her dad didn't respond to her requests to attend his retirement ceremony. It isn't easy being a living legend. Sometimes life gets in the way.

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