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
1969 | WASHINGTON, D.C. – Ted Williams was lured back to baseball on this date in 1969 to manage the Washington Senators . The greatest hitter of all time was going to lead a struggling expansion franchise that had yet to finish a season with a winning record.
The Senators lost at least 100 games in four of its first eight seasons. Remember this was the new Washington Senators, a 1961 expansion team after the original Senators moved to Minnesota and became the Twins.
Williams knew it would be a difficult task, telling the Associated Press (AP), “This may be a long, hard grind for a while.” And what about when he has to deal with a young player wound as tight as he was in his younger days? Would he tolerate a player with a temper, “If he can hit like Ted Williams, yes.”
Williams’ presence brought immediate results. The franchise had its first winning season in 1969, Williams first year as manager. They finished the season 86-76, but it was back downhill after that.
They lost 92 games in 1970, lost 96 in 1971. Attendance got so bad the team moved to Arlington, Texas in 1972 and became the Rangers.
That first year in Texas the Rangers finished with a record 54-100, the worst year of their history. Williams retired after that season and went back to fishing and hunting.
Chicago Tribune, February 22, 1969, “Ted signs to manage Senators for 5 years”
Washington Senators 1961-1971
Year to year results
FEBRUARY 6, 1958 | BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS • It doesn’t seem like a whole lot today, but 39-year old Ted Williams signed a one year contract with the Boston Red Sox on this date in 1958 for a reported $125,000. It made him the highest paid player in history. Red Sox General Manager Joe Cronin said the raise was much “deserved.” Williams didn’t seem to slow down a bit in ’57. He hit .388.
According to Joe Kelley of the Associated Press (AP) Williams was in such a good mood he sat down for more than an hour and chatted with reporters he’d clashed with many times before. The left fielder said, “I feel wonderful and feel I can do anything I could do five years ago.”
He was asked about doing what many aging players had done defensively, “I don’t know about first base, it wouldn’t look good in left field,” Williams deadpanned. Seriously, he didn’t think it would be that easy to switch from outfield to first base as he approaches his 40’s.
Williams played three more seasons and probably could have played more. He played 113 games in his final season, 1960, and finished with 29 home runs, 72 runs batted in and a .316 batting average.
And, oh what might have been. Williams, like many players of that era, missed three full seasons during World War II when he was in his 20’s. He missed parts of two more seasons during the Korean War. He finished with 521 home runs. If he had played those seasons it’s quite certain he would have hit well over 600 home runs. Theodore Samuel Williams was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1966.
Joe Kelley, Associated Press (AP), Boston, Massachusetts, February 7, 1958