A friend recently asked me to explain the Ted Williams phenomenon. Perhaps the greatest baseball hitter of all time, Williams was famously endowed with unparalleled eyesight, astounding coordination and a "natural" swing.
It's a nice story, but as I've said before, when you look closer, these tales always turn out to be much more interesting. In his own 1969 autobiography, Williams wrote: "They used to write a lot of bull about my eyesight. How I could read license numbers on cars before another guy could see the license....Sure, I think I had good eyesight, maybe exceptional eyesight, but not superhuman eyesight. A lot of people have 20/10 vision. The reason I saw things was that I was so intense...it was discipline, not super eyesight."
A more recent Williams biography by Leigh Montville identifies Williams' obsession with improvement as his defining characteristic, and chronicles his over-the-top dedication to perfect his swing -- his "scientific" approach. Montville explicitly and painstakingly debunks the sportswriter-created legend of Williams' "natural" ability.
To me, learning these details makes Williams' feats even more spectacular. Built-in ability is nice, but acquired ability is inspirational.
Please send me your favorite born-genius story. I'd like to collect, and examine, all the best legends out there.