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Ted Williams

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Boston Red Sox 
1939-42; 1946-60

Since Ted Williams death on July 5th, the fight over the fate of his remains has been front-page news.  This unique, somewhat disturbing saga has captivated the nation, tapping into our morbid side.  The fact that Ted Williams is one of the games greatest all time players, however, should not take a backseat during this family squabble.  Lets take a moment to look back at the remarkable life of Ted Williams.


Theodore Samuel Williams was born on August 30, 1918 in San Diego, CA.  His obsession for hitting began as a young age.  A playground legend, Williams first taste of glory came when he led Hoover High to a state championship.  Of course, the scouts the noticed and the Red Sox signed the 6-4 190 lb string bean outfielder in December of 1937.  He was assigned to the San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League.


After a year of seasoning, Williams broke in with the Red Sox in 1939.  To say his rookie season was a success would be an understatement.  All he did was hit .327, with 31 home runs, a 145 RBI, and finished fourth in the AL MVP voting.  Had there been a Rookie of the Year award then, Williams would have won it.


After another splendid season in 1940 (.344, 23 HR, 113 RBI), Williams burst into the national conscience in 1941.  As the nation stubbornly kept its distance from the War, Williams and Joe Dimaggio captivated the country.  Dimaggio, of course, launched a 56 game hitting streak and Williams hit .406.  No has hit .400 since.


Despite posting superior numbers (Williams: .406, 36HR, 120RBI  - Dimaggio: .357, 30HR, 125 RBI), Williams finished second to Dimaggio in the MVP voting.


All Williams did for an encore was win the AL Triple Crown, hitting .356 with 36 homeruns and 137 in 1942, but it was not good enough for an MVP - a travesty.  Yankees second baseman Joe Gordon won the award hitting .322 with 18 home runs and 103 RBI.   Williams stormy relationship with the press was blamed.


Following the 1942 season Williams enlisted in the Marines and became a top-notch pilot.  Players of Williams era had a sense of responsibility that seems lost today.  Its safe to say we wont see Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, or Jason Giambi in boot camp anytime soon.  Williams sacrificed three seasons during the prime of his career, and never once complained about it.


Williams returned in 1946 and didnt miss a beat.  He hit .342, belted 37 homeruns, drove in 120 runs, won his first MVP, and won his led Boston to its first World Series since 1918.  The Red Sox lost a hard fought Series in seven games, Williams took much of the heat hitting only .200 with one RBI. 


Boston dipped to third place in 1947, but Williams won his second Triple Crown (.343, 32HR, 114 RBI).  In 1948 the Red Sox found themselves the midst of another pennant race.  With former Yankees skipper Joe McCarthy at the helm, the Red Sox finished with a 96-59 record good, but not good enough - Boston finished just one game behind the eventual World Champion Cleveland Indians. 


The Red Sox suffered the same agonizing fate in 1949, posting a 96-58 record one game behind the hated Yankees.  Williams did get his second MVP as a consolation prize.  In 1950, injuries limited the Splendid Splinter to just 89 games.  He bounced back to play in 148 contests in 1951, but soon after duty called and Williams left the game again to serve his country.


During his tour in Korea, Williams legend grew.  In February of 1953, Williams went on a bombing run over Korea.  During the run his plane was hit, and a series of explosions forced him to land the plane on one wheel.  Williams always downplayed the incident, but it became legend nonetheless. 


After effectively missing two seasons (he played in just 6 games in 1952 and 37 in 1953), Williams returned to action in 1954.  He posted the usual Ted Williams type numbers, .345, 29 HR, 89 RBI, playing in 117 games.  Hitting a baseball was like riding a bike to this guy. 


An injury suffered during the All Star Game limited Williams to 98 games in 1955, but he still belted 28 homeruns.  After another typical season in 1956 (.345, 24HR, 82 RBI), Williams had possibly his most extraordinary season. 


In 1957, at the age of 39, Ted Williams posted .388 average (best in league), hit 38 homeruns (2nd in the AL), and reached base at a .526 clip (also best).  Many believe Williams would have hit .400 again that season, had he been able to beat out just a few infield hits.  Sixteen big league seasons and two tours in the military had taken their toll on his legs.


Williams hit .328 in a 129 games in 1958, but slumped to an unthinkable .254 (in a 103 games) in 1959.  Williams reportedly volunteered to play at a reduced rate in 1960, just prove that 1959 was a fluke and to go out in style in 1960.   Teddy Ballgame did just that; the 42 year old hit .316 with 29 home runs, and homered in his final at bat.  Ted Williams went out just like he did everything else - his way.


Baseball wasnt out of Williams' blood though; he managed the Washington Senators/Texas Rangers franchise from 1969-72.  Although he won Manager of the Year in 1969, guiding the lowly Senators to a 86-76 record, Williams wasnt cut out for the job.  His players could never live up to his standard, and his communication skills were often gruff.  He finished with 273-364 record as a skipper.


Williams final numbers are impressive: a .344 average (7th all time), 2,654 hits, a .634 slugging percentage (2nd only to Babe Ruth), and 521 home runs (12th all time).  While he is regarded as the greatest hitter of all time, one can only wonder what kind of numbers he would have posted had he not missed nearly 5 seasons serving his country.  3,000 hits would be a cinch, as would 600 home runs - in fact Hank Aaron may have been chasing Ted Williams, not Babe Ruth in his quest for baseballs all time homerun record.


We lost a true American Original when Ted Williams past away in July.  He embodied the American spirit - self sufficient, stubborn, driven, heroic - we will never see another like him.


-David Zingler, August 2002

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