Theodore Samuel "Ted" Williams (August 30, 1918 – July 5, 2002) also nicknamed The Kid, the Splendid Splinter, Teddy Ballgame and The Thumper, was an American left fielder in Major League Baseball. He played 19 seasons, twice interrupted by military service as a Marine Corps pilot, with the Boston Red Sox. He is widely considered to be one of the greatest hitters in the history of baseball.
Williams was a two-time American League Most Valuable Player (MVP) winner, led the league in batting six times, and won the Triple Crown twice. He had a career batting average of .344, with 521 home runs, and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1966. He is the last player in Major League Baseball to bat over .400 in a single season (.406 in 1941). Williams holds the highest career batting average of anyone with 500 or more home runs. His career year was 1941, when he hit .406 with 37 HR, 120 RBI, and 135 runs scored. His .551 on base percentage set a record that stood for 61 years. An avid sport fisherman, he hosted a television show about fishing and was inducted into the IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame.
Major league career
Williams moved up to the major-league Red Sox in 1939, immediately making an impact as he led the American League in RBIs and finishing 4th in MVP balloting. Williams quickly became known as one of the most potent left-handed hitters in the MLB. In 1941, he entered the last day of the season with a batting average of .39955. This would have been rounded up to .400, making him the first man to hit .400 since Bill Terry in 1930. Manager Joe Cronin left the decision whether to play up to him. Williams opted to play in both games of the day's doubleheader and risk losing his record. He got 6 hits in 8 at bats, raising his season average to .406. Williams also hit .400 in 1952 (although he only played in 6 games) and .407 in 1953 (37 Games), both partial seasons; nobody has hit over .400 in a season since Williams.
In his book, Williams acknowledges "There was some great batting done that year" and mentions Joe D (as below) and Cecil Travis who hit .359. Ted went on "I think, surely, to hit .400 you have to be an outstanding hitter having everything go just right, and in my case the hitter was a guy who lived to hit, who worked at it so hard he matured at the bat at a time when he was near his peak physically. The peaks met".
At the time, this achievement was overshadowed by Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak in the same season. Their rivalry was played up by the press; Williams always felt himself slightly better as a hitter, but acknowledged that DiMaggio was the better all-around player. Also in 1941, Williams set a major-league record for on-base percentage in a season at .551. That record would last until 2002, when Barry Bonds upped this mark to .582. A lesser-known accomplishment is Williams' 1949 record feat of reaching base for the most consecutive games, 84. In addition, Williams holds the third longest such streak of 69 in 1941. In 1957, Williams reached base in 16 consecutive plate appearances, also a major-league record.
Ted Williams pitched once during his career on Aug. 24, 1940. He pitched the last two innings in a 12-1 loss to Detroit allowing one earned run, three hits, and striking out one batter, Rudy York. His ERA was 4.50 in his lone pitching appearance.
One of Williams' other memorable accomplishments was his home run off Rip Sewell's notorious eephus pitch during the 1946 All-Star Game in Fenway Park. He challenged Sewell to throw the pitch. The first time he threw it, it was a strike. Williams challenged Sewell again and this time hit a home run. In that game, he went 4 for 4 with two home runs and five RBIs, as the AL beat the NL, 12-0.
Among the few blemishes on Williams's playing record was his performance in his lone post-season appearance, the 1946 World Series. Williams managed just 5 singles in 25 at-bats, with just 1 RBI, as the Red Sox lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games. Much of Williams' lack of production was due to his stubborn insistence into hitting into the Cardinals' defensive shift, which frequently involved five or six of the Cardinals' fielders positioned to the right of second base. This shift was a version of the Boudreau Shift, popularized by Cleveland Indians manager Lou Boudreau in an attempt to reduce Williams's effectiveness.
Williams was also playing with a sore elbow that he injured during a pre-World Series exhibition game, while the Cardinals and Brooklyn Dodgers were playing a best-of-three series to determine the National League champion. However, Williams refused to use the injury as an excuse for his sub-par play.
Williams was an obsessive student of batting, famously using a lighter bat than most sluggers because it generated more speed and stepping out of the batter's box when a cloud would pass over the stadium to ensure he could see the ball properly. David Halberstam's Summer of '49 recalls him warning teammates not to leave their bats on the ground as they would absorb moisture and become heavier. His devotion allowed him to hit for power and average while maintaining extraordinary plate discipline. In 1970 he wrote a book on the subject, The Science of Hitting (revised 1986), which is still read by many baseball players, and he was known to enthusiastically discuss hitting with active players up until the time of his death. He lacked foot speed, as attested by his 16-year career total of only 24 stolen bases, one inside-the-park home run, and one occasion of hitting for the cycle. (Ironically, despite his slowness on the basepaths, he is one of only three players in history - along with noted speedsters Tim Raines and Rickey Henderson - to have stolen a base in four different decades.) He felt that with more speed he could have raised his average considerably and hit .400 over at least one more season.
Despite Williams's lack of interest in fielding, he was considered a sure fielder with a good throwing arm, although he occasionally expressed regret that he had not worked harder on his fielding.
When Pumpsie Green became the first black player on the Boston Red Sox in 1959, it was Williams who made Green feel welcome on the team.
In a climactic ending to his career, he hit a home run in his very last at bat on September 28, 1960. The classic John Updike essay "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu" chronicles this event and is usually mentioned among the greatest pieces of sports writing in American journalism.
Williams's two MVP Awards and two Triple Crowns came in four different years. Williams, Lou Gehrig, and Chuck Klein are the only players since the establishment of the MVP award to win the Triple Crown and not be named league MVP in that season.
Ted Williams won the Triple Crown not once, but twice - in 1942, and again in 1947 after missing three years to WWII. In 1949, Williams led the league in home runs (with 43) and RBI (with 159, tied with Red Sox shortstop Vern Stephens), but lost the batting race to Detroit third-baseman George Kell. Kell had 179 hits in 522 at-bats, for a batting average of .3429, while Williams went 194-566, for an average of .3428. A single hit either way would have changed the outcome.
Because Williams's hitting was so feared, and it was known that he was a dead pull hitter, opponents frequently employed the radical, defensive "Williams Shift" against him, leaving only one fielder on the third-base half of the field. Rather than bunting the ball into the open space, the proud Williams batted as usual against the defense. The defensive tactic was later used against left-handed sluggers such as Willie McCovey and Barry Bonds, and is still used to this day against players such as Jason Giambi, Carlos Delgado, and David Ortiz who are also considered dead-pull hitters, and is appropriately called the infield shift.
Ted Williams retired from the game in 1960 and hit a home run in his final at-bat, on September 28, 1960, in front of only 10,454 fans at Fenway Park. This home run, a solo shot hit off Baltimore pitcher Jack Fisher in the 8th inning that reduced the Orioles' lead to 4-3—was immortalized in The New Yorker essay "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu", by John Updike.
Renowned NBC sportscaster Bob Costas, reflecting on Williams unparalleled success as ball player, wingman, and fisherman, once asked Williams if he realized he was in real life the type of American hero John Wayne sought to portray in his movies. Replied Williams, "Yeah, I know."
At the time of his retirement, Williams ranked third all-time in home runs (behind Babe Ruth and Jimmie Foxx), seventh in RBIs (after Ruth, Cap Anson, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb, Foxx, and Mel Ott; Stan Musial would pass Williams in 1962), and seventh in batting average (behind Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Lefty O'Doul, Ed Delahanty and Tris Speaker). His career batting average is the highest of any player who played his entire career in the post-1920 live-ball era.
Williams was also second to Ruth in career slugging percentage, where he remains today, and first in on-base percentage. He was also second to Ruth in career walks, but has since dropped to fourth place behind Barry Bonds and Rickey Henderson. Williams remains the career leader in walks per plate appearance.
Most modern statistical analyses place Williams, along with Ruth and Bonds, among the three most potent hitters to have played the game. Williams' 1941 season is often considered favorably with the greatest seasons of Ruth and Bonds in terms of various offensive statistical measures such as slugging, on-base and "offensive winning percentage." As a further indication, of the ten best seasons for OPS, short for On-Base Plus Slugging Percentage, a popular modern measure of offensive productivity, four each were achieved by Ruth and Bonds, and two by Williams.
In 1999, Williams was ranked as Number 8 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players, where he was the highest-ranking left fielder.