Portraying two very different sports legends

July 21, 2018

The best biographies and documentaries tell you things you never knew. The “American Masters” (8 p.m., PBS, check local listings) presentation “Ted Williams: The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived” begins with some well-known facts. Williams had a supernatural discipline and a focus on batting that fans and fellow players found mystifying. He also lost five years of playing time due to service in World War II and the Korean War.

Williams posted a .406 batting average in 1941, the last player to ever hit over .400. “Ted Williams” also focuses on his upbringing, with an often-absent dad and a mother who was an avid missionary for the Salvation Army who spent far more time saving souls than nurturing her son.

Williams spent his life distancing himself from his past and denying his mother’s Mexican-American heritage. All of this made for a cantankerous character, whose passion for batting seemed breathtaking to some and slightly eccentric if not frightening to others. As one expert here muses, what better way to channel rage than focus on hitting?

Jon Hamm (“Mad Men”) narrates this film.

Also, Ted Williams’ five-year service in the American military puts his sports career in some perspective. The “POV” (9 p.m., PBS, check local listings) documentary “The War to Be Her” shows how mere sports shed light on war itself.

• Born in the mountainous Waziristan region, Maria Toorpakai would become one of Pakistan’s best female squash players and rank among the world’s elite in her sport.

But her home region has been under siege from the Taliban, extremists who consider female athletes an affront to God. “A woman cannot walk without a shawl, cannot walk without a man beside her,” explains Maria. She would continue to play squash by disguising herself as a boy, nicknamed Genghis Khan. But not even that stopped the death threats. Directed by Erin Heidenreich, “War” offers a thoughtful take on religion and gender as well as a portrait of an indomitable spirit. Something to think about the next time you hear exaggerated talk about sports “heroes.”

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