McCain Loved to Tell Stories. Here’s the One About Ted Williams.

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Among his many passions, the late Senator John McCain was an avid sports fan with a special love of boxing and baseball. My favorite McCain story involved a tale he once told me about Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox.

We were flying back to Washington on a small plane on May 20, 2002 from a commencement address he'd given at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. We hit some scary turbulence.

McCain saw the panicked look on my face and asked what was wrong. I confessed to being a nervous flier.

"I've crashed four of these," he cracked. It didn't put me at ease.

Then the celebrated former naval aviator, who acquired a reputation as a daredevil years before he was shot down over North Vietnam in 1967 and then spent five-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war, recalled that whenever jet jockeys got together they would share old war stories.

The best one was about Ted Williams.

Williams, a Marine aviator during World War II, was called back into military service during the Korean War at the peak of his baseball career. He usually flew in formation with John Glenn, the future astronaut and senator. On one of his initial solo flights, Williams's plane caught fire. He approached the airbase and crash landed, then jumped out just before the plane exploded.

For years, McCain had heard this story and wanted to ask Williams why he didn't parachute out of the burning plane. When he finally met the baseball great, Williams explained that he was then 34 years old and figured that if he bailed out, he might break his knees and never play baseball again.

On that bumpy flight from North Carolina all those years later, McCain gleefully remembered Williams's typically foul-mouthed answer:

"So I said, screw it, let's bring it in." (Except that he didn't exactly say "screw it.")

McCain loved the story, no doubt because it recalled his own derring do. He spent the rest of the flight talking about Williams, the intrepid fighter pilot and the fabulous hitter with perfect eyesight. More sports stories followed.

I forgot that I was scared.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering politics and policy. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.

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