After winning four straight AL home run crowns from 1918-21, Babe Ruth
was dethroned by St. Louis Browns outfielder Ken Williams in 1922. Williams, one of the more underrated players of all time,
would not win another homerun title, but he was one of the premier sluggers during the infancy of the live ball era.
Born Kenneth Roy Williams on June 28, 1890 in Grants Pass, OR, the 25-year-old
broke into the big leagues in 1915 with the Cincinnati Reds. After parts of two seasons, which included 246 homerless at bats,
he returned to the minor leagues in 1917.
Williams, who batted left and threw right, caught on with the St. Louis
Browns in 1918, playing in just two games. The lowly Browns gave him another shot in 1919, and he showed some promise, hitting
.300 with 6 homeruns in 65 games. The much traveled outfielder finally found a home.
After hitting .307 with 10 homeruns and 72 RBI in 1920, his first season
as a regular, Williams was primed to become a star. In 1921, the Oregon native posted a .347 average, finished second to Ruth
with 24 homers, and drove in 117 runs. The best was yet to come.
Williams' 1922 season would define his career. The emerging slugger teamed
up with Baby Doll Jacobson and Jack Tobin to form one of the greatest outfields of all time. The trio led the Browns into
a surprise pennant race with the juggernaut Yankees. Although they would finish just one game short of a pennant, Williams
etched his name into the hearts of the Browns fans.
In that magical season, the 6'0", 170 lb. outfielder topped the league
with 39 home runs and stole 37 bases, making him the first 30/30 man in history. He also hit .332 and paced the circuit with
155 RBI and 367 total bases. Despite his heroics, Williams did not receive a single MVP vote.
Williams maintained a high level of play for the next three seasons. In
1923 he hit a career high .357 with 29 long balls (second to Ruth). He followed that with a .324 campaign in 1924. In 1925
Williams hit 25 homeruns (again second to Ruth) while batting .331 with 105 RBI and leading the league with a .613 slugging
While Williams would remain a productive player (hitting .280 and .322
in 1926 and 1927 with 17 homers each season), he would never again reach the 20 homerun plateau. Following the 1927 season,
the Browns sold the 37-year-old to the Boston Red Sox.
In Boston, Williams posted two .300 + seasons, but his power was gone.
In 1930, he was claimed off waivers by the New York Yankees ironically, as insurance for Babe Ruth, who was holding out. When
the Bambimo finally signed, Williams was released.
Williams then returned to his native Oregon where he played two more season
with Portland of the Pacific Coast League. With his playing days over, Williams retired in Grants Pass where he died on January
22, 1959 at the age of 68.
In his major league career, Ken Williams posted a .319 average with 196
homeruns, 913 RBI, a .393 on-base-percentage, and 1,552 hits.
-David Zingler, August 2004