NOVEMBER 18, 1980 | KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI – This was an easy one. In 1980 Kansas City Royals’ 3rd baseman George Brett was the last American Leaguer since Ted Williams in the 1940’s to flirt with a .400 batting average since. So, who else but Brett should be awarded the American League’s Most Valuable Player award for that year?
Brett didn’t start out gang-busters in 1980. The first two months of the season his average hovered around .260 . As far into the season as May 22nd he was hitting only .255.
George Brett kicked it into gear in June and July, topping out at .390 July 31st. Brett eclipsed .400 (.401 to be exact) on August 17th, going 4 for 4 with 5 RBI.
Fans all over the country followed his march toward the first .400 average since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941 for the Boston Red Sox.
Brett was hitting .406 on August 20th, .407 on August 26th. Brett’s batting average was over .400 16 of the final 35 days of the regular season, but not the last day. He finished the 1980 season with a .390 average with 24 home runs and 118 runs batted in.
Brett’s .390 remains the second highest batting average in the Major Leagues since 1941. Tony Gwynn hit .394 in 1994 for the San Diego Padres.
The highest averages since Brett and Gwynn are:
Larry Walker of the Colorado Rockies who hit .379 in 1999, and Nomar Garciaparra of the Boston Red Sox and Todd Helton of the Colorado Rockies both hit .372 in 2000.
Will we ever see a .400 batting average again? The Cubs won the World Series in 2016, so anything is possible.
Single season batting average leaders
July 19, 1946 | Boston, Massachusetts – Fourteen Chicago White Sox players were kicked out of a game against the Red Sox in mass ejections at Fenway Park. It all started when White Sox pitcher Joe Haynes put Red Sox slugger Ted Williams on his fanny, the result of a pitch too far inside.
Umpire Red Jones gave Haynes a warning not to throw at Red Sox hitters. Here’s how the Associated Press described what happened next:
“A chorus of yammering from the Chicago bench resulted in [Umpire] Jones ordering four White Sox players from the bench – Ralph Hodgin, Dario Lodigiani, Ed Smith and Bling Miller.” The “yammerin” didn’t stop.”
Before the game was over 14 White Sox were ordered from the dugout for making derisive comments about Jones’ vision and judgment.
The Red Sox went on to win easily 9-2, and increase their lead against the second place New York Yankees to 11½ games.
A YAMMERING VENTRILOQUIST?
A story surfaced some days after the mass ejections at Fenway that it wasn’t the players doing the yammering. It was, get this, a ventriloquist in the stands. If you read John Branch‘s 2006 story from the New York Times you’ll find that the facts kind of get in the way of a good story.
The Red Sox went on to win the American League pennant in 1946 (this was before division play) before losing to the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.
New York Times, July 6, 2006
The Associated Press (AP), July 20, 1946, Boston, MA
1946 | BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – World War II is over. The all-star game is back – after a one-year hiatus – so is Ted Williams.
It was fitting that the mid-summer classic was played in Boston on this date in 1946. Seven Red Sox were on the American League squad, and they did not disappoint the home town crowd, especially Williams.
Like many players, “Teddy Ball-game,” as he was known, was in his first full season back after serving in World War II as a Marine fighter pilot.
Williams went 4 for 4 with two home runs and 5 RBI on this day. The most memorable moment was Williams clobbering Rip Sewell’s eephus pitch into the right-center field bullpen.
The American League crushed the National League on that day 12-0.
1946 All-star game box score
History of the All-star game
1939 | DETROIT, MICHIGAN – The skinny rookie from San Diego can hit the ball, and he can hit it far. On this date in 1939, Ted Williams hit a ball that cleared the right field roof of Tiger Stadium – first player to do it. That was his second home run of the day.
Ted Williams hit 521 home runs in his career, not bad, but 19 other guys hit more. He was more a hitter than a slugger, or was he? Maybe he was both? Would Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, have been chasing Williams’ home run title?
Consider this; Teddy Ballgame averaged 29 home runs a season during his career. During World War II he missed all of 1943, 1944 and 1945 when he was 24, 25 and 26 years old. He missed at least another full season during the Korean War. So, he accumulated zero major league statistics for roughly 4 seasons.
He averaged 33 home runs during the 1940’s. So, let’s conservatively assume he would have hit 30 home runs a year during the time he was in the service. He’d have 641 home runs. At the time that would have put him 2nd on the all-time list. He could probably have averaged 40 home runs those years – he hit more than 40 four times out of seven during the 1940’s. Maybe he wouldn’t have caught Ruth, but he could have been stayed right behind him even to this day.
Teddy Ballgame was still going strong at age 41. In 1960, he opened his last season with a 475-foot home run to right-center field at Washington’s Griffith Stadium.
Ted Williams clears the roof at Tiger Stadium
Ted Williams stats
Los Angeles Times (Associated Press-AP), May 5, 1939
1939 | NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK – A skinny 20-year old kid from San Diego by the name of Theodore Samuel Williams played his first major league game for the Boston Red Sox on this date in 1939. The first of Ted Wlliams’ 2,654 hits was a 400-foot double in the vast outfield of Yankee Stadium as the Red Sox lost 2-0.
Ted Williams’ career spanned 19 seasons and 4 decades – interrupted twice by military duty. He amassed some of the greatest offensive numbers of all time:
• .344 lifetime batting average
• 521 home runs
• 1,839 RBI
• 2-time Triple Crown winner (1942, 1947)
• 2-time MVP (1946, 1949)
… this despite missing three full seasons – 1943 to 45 – to serve in World War II, and playing only 43 games during the 1952 and 1953 seasons because of the Korean War.
Take a close look at the stats above. Williams’ 2 MVP years and 2 Triple Crown years do not overlap. They’re 4 separate seasons. How he could win the Triple Crown and not be MVP is a mystery, but it is what it is.
And consider this; there was a 45-year stretch (1967-Carl Yastrzemski to 2012-Miguel Cabrera) where no one won the Triple Crown (lead either league in home runs, runs batted in and batting average). Williams won it twice in five years. In addition, “Teddy Ballgame” won the batting crown at the age of 40.
Williams was truly larger than life; a Hall of Famer, a decorated fighter pilot, a tireless champion of charity and the loudest guy in the room almost until his death July 5, 2002.
The Boston Globe, New York, New York, April 21, 1939
The Triple Crown