Photo reprint of Ted Williams from the cover of SPORT magazine, April 1948
Theodore Samuel Williams (August 30, 1918 – July 5, 2002) was an American professional baseball player and manager. He played his entire 19-year Major League Baseball (MLB) career as a left fielder for the Boston Red Sox from 1939–1942 and 1946–1960, excepting service time during World War II and the Korean War. Nicknamed “The Kid”, “The Splendid Splinter”, “Teddy Ballgame”, “The Thumper” and “The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived”, Williams is regarded as one of the greatest players in baseball history. Williams was also an outstanding fielder, especially in the difficult left field of Fenway Park in Boston, where he played his entire Major League career at that position.
Williams was a seventeen-time All-Star, a two-time recipient of the American League (AL) Most Valuable Player Award, a six-time AL batting champion, and a two-time Triple Crown winner. He finished his playing career with a .344 batting average, 521 home runs, and a 0.482 on-base percentage, the highest of all time. His batting average is the highest of any MLB player with 302 or more home runs.
Born and raised in San Diego, Williams played baseball throughout his youth. Joining the Red Sox in 1939, he immediately emerged as one of the sport’s best hitters. In 1941, Williams posted a .406 batting average, making him the last MLB player to bat over .400 in a season. He followed this up by winning his first Triple Crown in 1942. Williams interrupted his baseball career in 1943 to serve three years in the US Navy and US Marine Corps during World War II. Upon returning to MLB in 1946, Williams won his first AL MVP Award and played in his only World Series. In 1947, he won his second Triple Crown. Williams was returned to active military duty for portions of the 1952 and 1953 seasons to serve as a Marine combat aviator in the Korean War. In 1957 and 1958 at the ages of 39 and 40, respectively, he was the AL batting champion for the fifth and sixth time.
Williams retired from playing in 1960. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1966, in his first year of eligibility. Williams managed the Washington Senators/Texas Rangers franchise from 1969 to 1972. An avid sport fisherman, he hosted a television program about fishing, and was inducted into the IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame. Williams’ involvement in the Jimmy Fund helped raise millions in dollars for
cancer care and research. In 1991 President George H. W. Bush presented Williams with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award bestowed by the United States government. He was selected for the Major League Baseball All-Time Team in 1997 and the Major League Baseball All-Century Team in 1999.
Ted Williams was born Theodore Samuel Williams (after former President Theodore Roosevelt and his father, Samuel Stuart Williams) in San Diego, California, At some later date he amended his birth certificate, removing his middle name, which he claimed originated from a maternal uncle (whose actual name was Daniel Venzor), who had been killed in World War I. His father was a soldier, sheriff, and photographer from New York, while his mother, May Venzor, a Mexican-American from El Paso, Texas, was an evangelist and lifelong soldier in the Salvation Army. Williams resented his mother’s long hours working in the Salvation Army, and Williams and his brother cringed when she took them to the Army’s street-corner revivals.
Williams’ paternal ancestors were a mix of Welsh and Irish. The maternal, Mexican side of Williams’ family was quite diverse, having Spanish (Basque), Russian, and American Indian roots. Of his Mexican ancestry he said that “If I had my mother’s name, there is no doubt I would have run into problems in those days, considering the prejudices people had in Southern California”.
Williams lived in San Diego’s North Park neighborhood (4121 Utah Street). At the age of eight, he was taught how to throw a baseball by his uncle, Saul Venzor. Saul was one of his mother’s four brothers, as well as a former semi-professional baseball player who had pitched against Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Joe Gordon in an exhibition game. As a child, Williams’ heroes were Pepper Martin of the St. Louis Cardinals and Bill Terry of the New York Giants. Williams graduated from Herbert Hoover High School in San Diego, where he played baseball as a pitcher and was the star of the team. Though he had offers from the St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Yankees while he was still in high school, his mother thought he was too young to leave home, so he signed up with the local minor league club, the San Diego Padres.
Minor leagues (1936–1938)
Williams played back-up behind Vince DiMaggio and Ivey Shiver on the (then) Pacific Coast League San Diego Padres. While in the Pacific Coast League in 1936, Williams met future teammates and friends Dom DiMaggio and Bobby Doerr, who were on the Pacific Coast League’s San Francisco Seals. When Shiver announced he was quitting to become a football coach at the University of Georgia, the job, by default, was open for Williams. Williams posted a .271 batting average on 107 at bats in 42 games for the Padres in 1936. Unknown to Williams, he had caught the eye of the Boston Red Sox’s general manager, Eddie Collins, while Collins was scouting Bobby Doerr and the shortstop George Myatt in August 1936. Collins later explained, “It wasn’t hard to find Ted Williams. He stood out like a brown cow in a field of white cows.” In the 1937 season, after graduating from Hoover High in the winter, Williams finally broke into the line-up on June 22, when he hit an inside-the-park home run to help the Padres win 3-2. The Padres ended up winning the PCL title, while Williams ended up hitting .291 with 23 home runs. Meanwhile, Collins kept in touch with Padres general manager Bill Lane, calling him two times throughout the season. In December 1937, during the winter meetings, the deal was made between Lane and Collins, sending Williams to the Boston Red Sox and giving Lane $35,000 and two major leaguers, Dom D’Allessandro and Al Niemiec, and two other minor leaguers.
In 1938, the nineteen-year-old Williams was ten days late to spring training camp in Sarasota, Florida, because of a flood in California blocking the railroads. Williams had to borrow $200 from a bank to make the trip from San Diego to Sarasota. Also during spring training Williams was nicknamed “The Kid” by Red Sox equipment manager Johnny Orlando, who after Williams arrived to Sarasota for the first time, said, “‘The Kid’ has arrived”. Orlando still called Williams “The Kid” twenty years later, and the nickname stuck with Williams the rest of his life. Williams remained in major league spring training for about a week. Williams was then sent to the Double-A-league Minneapolis Millers. While in the training camp of the Millers camp for the springtime, Williams met Rogers Hornsby, who had hit over .400 three times, including a .424 average in 1924, who was a coach for the Millers for the spring. Hornsby told Williams useful advice, including to “get a good pitch to hit”. Talking with the game’s greats would become a pattern for Williams, who talked with Hugh Duffy who hit .438 in 1894, Bill Terry who hit .401 in 1930, and Ty Cobb against whom he would argue that a batter should hit up on the ball, opposed to Cobb’s view that a batter should hit down on the ball.
While in Minnesota, Williams quickly became the team’s star. He collected his first hit on the Millers’ first game of the season, as well as his first and second home runs during his third game. Both were inside-the-park home runs, with the second traveling an estimated five-hundred feet on the fly to a five-hundred and twelve foot center field fence. Williams later had a twenty-two game hitting streak that lasted from
Memorial Day through mid-June. While the Millers ended up sixth place in an eight-team race, Williams ended up hitting .366 with 46 home runs and 142 RBIs. He received the American Association’s Triple Crown and finished second in the voting for Most Valuable Player.
Major leagues (1939–1942, 1946–1960)
Williams came to spring training three days late in 1939, thanks to Williams driving from California to Florida and respiratory problems, the latter of which would plague Williams for the rest of his career. In the winter, the Red Sox traded right fielder Ben Chapman to the Cleveland Indians to make room for Williams on the roster, even though Chapman had hit .340 in the previous season. This led Boston Globe sports
journalist Gerry Moore to quip, “Not since Joe DiMaggio broke in with the Yankees by “five for five” in St. Petersburg in 1936 has any baseball rookie received the nationwide publicity that has been accorded this spring to Theodore Francis Williams”. Williams inherited Chapman’s number 9 on his uniform as opposed to Williams’ number 5 in the previous spring training. He made his major league debut against the
New York Yankees on April 20, going 1-for-4 against Yankee pitcher Red Ruffing. This was the only game which featured both Williams and Lou Gehrig playing against one another. In his first series at Fenway Park, Williams hit a double, a home run, and a triple, the first two against Cotton Pippen, who gave Williams his first strikeout as a professional while Williams had been in San Diego. By July, Williams was hitting just .280, but leading the league in RBIs. Johnny Orlando, now Williams’ friend, then gave Williams a quick pep talk, telling Williams that he should hit .335 with 35 home runs and he would drive in 150 runs. Williams said he would buy Orlando a Cadillac if this all came true. Williams ended up hitting .327 with 31 home runs and 145 RBIs, leading the league in the latter category, the first rookie to lead the league in runs batted in. and finishing fourth in MVP voting. He also led the AL in walks, with 107, a rookie record. Even though there was not a Rookie of the Year award yet in 1939, Babe Ruth declared Williams to be the Rookie of the Year, to which Williams later said was “good enough for me”.
Williams’ pay doubled in 1940, going from $5,000 to $10,000. With the addition of a new bullpen in right field of Fenway Park, which reduced the distance from home plate from 400 feet to 380 feet, the bullpen was nicknamed “Williamsburg”, because the new addition was “obviously designed for Williams”. Williams was then switched from right field to left field, as there would be less sun in his eyes, and it would give
Dom DiMaggio a chance to play. Finally, Williams was flip-flopped in the order with the great slugger Jimmie Foxx, with the idea that Williams would get more pitches to hit. Pitchers, though, were not afraid to walk him to get to the 33-year-old Foxx, and after that the 34-year-old Joe Cronin, the player-manager. Williams also made his first of sixteen All-Star Game appearances in 1940, going 0-for-2. Although Williams hit .344, his power and runs batted in were down from the previous season, with 23 home runs and 113 RBIs. Williams also caused a controversy in mid-August when he called his salary “peanuts”, along with saying he hated the city of Boston and reporters, leading reporters to lash back at him, saying that he should be traded. Williams said that the “only real fun” he had in 1940 was being able to pitch once on August 24, when he pitched the last two innings in a 12 – 1 loss to the Detroit Tigers, allowing one earned run on three hits, while striking out one batter, Rudy York.
In the second week of spring training in 1941, Williams broke a bone in his right ankle, limiting him to pinch hitting for the first two weeks of the season. Bobby Doerr later claimed that the injury would be the foundation of Williams’ season, as it forced him to put less pressure on his right foot for the rest of the season. Against the Chicago White Sox on May 7, in extra innings, Williams told the Red Sox pitcher,
Charlie Wagner, to hold the White Sox, since he was going to hit a home run. In the 11th inning, Williams’ prediction came true, as he hit a big blast to help the Red Sox win. The home run is still considered to be the longest home run ever hit in the old Comiskey Park, some saying that it went 600 feet (183 meters). Williams’ average slowly climbed in the first half of May, and on May 15, he started a 22-game hitting
streak. From May 17 to June 1, Williams batted .536, with his season average going above .400 on May 25 and then continuing up to .430. By the All-Star break, Williams was hitting .406 with 62 RBIs and 16 home runs.
In the 1941 All-Star Game, Williams batted fourth behind Joe DiMaggio, who was in the midst of his record-breaking hitting streak, having hit safely in 48 consecutive games. In the fourth inning Williams doubled to drive in a run. With the National League (NL) leading 5-2 in the eighth inning, Williams struck out in the middle of an American League (AL) rally. In the ninth inning the AL still trailed 5-3; Ken Keltner and Joe Gordon singled, and Cecil Travis walked to load the bases. DiMaggio grounded to the infield and Billy Herman, attempting to complete a double play, threw wide of first base, allowing Keltner to score. With the score 5-4 and runners on first and third, Williams homered with his eyes closed to secure a 7-5 AL win. Williams later said that that game-winning home run “remains to this day the most thrilling hit of my life”.
In late August, Williams was hitting .402. Williams said that “just about everybody was rooting for me” to hit .400 in the season, including Yankee fans, who gave pitcher Lefty Gomez a “hell of a boo” after walking Williams with the bases loaded after Williams had gotten three straight hits one game in September. In mid-September, Williams was hitting .413, but dropped a point a game from then on. Before the final two games on September 28, a doubleheader against the Philadelphia Athletics, he was batting .39955, which would have been officially rounded up to .400. Red Sox manager Joe Cronin offered him the chance to sit out the final day, but he declined. “If I’m going to be a .400 hitter”, he said at the time, “I want more than my toenails on the line.” Williams went 6-for-8 on the day, finishing the season at .406. (Sacrifice flies were counted as at-bats in 1941; under today’s rules, Williams would have hit between .411 and .419, based on contemporaneous game accounts.) Philadelphia fans ran out on the field to surround Williams after the game, forcing him to protect his hat from being stolen; he was helped into the clubhouse by his teammates. Along with his .406 average, Williams also hit 37 home runs and batted in 120 runs, missing the triple crown by five RBI.
Williams’ 1941 season is often considered to be the best offensive season of all time, though the MVP award would go to DiMaggio. The .406 batting average—his first of six batting championships—is still the highest single-season average in Red Sox history and the highest batting average in the major leagues since 1924, and the last time any major league player has hit over .400 for a season after averaging at least 3.1 plate appearances per game. (“If I had known hitting .400 was going to be such a big deal”, he quipped in 1991, “I would have done it again.”) Williams’ on-base percentage of .553 and slugging percentage of .735 that season are both also the highest single-season averages in Red Sox history. The .553 OBP stood as a major league record until it was broken by Barry Bonds in 2002 and his .735 slugging percentage was highest mark in the major leagues between 1932 and 1994. His OPS of 1.287 that year, a Red Sox record, was the highest in the major leagues between 1923 and 2001. Williams led the league with 135 runs scored and 37 home runs, and he finished third with 335 total bases, the most home runs, runs scored, and total bases by a Red Sox player since Jimmie Foxx’s in 1938. Williams placed second in MVP voting; DiMaggio won, 291 votes to 254, on the strength of his record-breaking 56-game hitting streak and league-leading 125 RBI.
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, bringing the United States into World War II.
U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps
In January 1942, Williams was drafted into the military, being put into Class 1-A. A friend of Williams suggested that Williams see the advisor of the Governor’s Selective Service Appeal Agent, since Williams was the sole support of his mother, arguing that Williams should not have been placed in Class 1-A, and said Williams should be reclassified to Class 3-A. The attorney took the case to the Appeals Board and the board rejected the case. Angry, the attorney took the case to the Presidential Board. Williams was reclassified to 3-A ten days later. Afterwards, the public reaction was extremely negative. Quaker Oats stopped sponsoring Williams, and Williams, who previously had eaten Quaker products “all the time”, never “ate one since” the company stopped sponsoring him.
Despite the trouble with the draft board, Williams had a new salary of $30,000 in 1942. In the season, Williams won the Triple Crown, with a .356 batting average, 36 home runs, and 137 RBIs. On May 21, Williams also hit his 100th career home run. He was the third Red Sox player to hit 100 home runs with the team, following his teammates Jimmie Foxx and Joe Cronin. Despite winning the Triple Crown, Williams came in second in the MVP voting, losing to Joe Gordon of the Yankees. Williams felt that he should have gotten a “little more consideration” because of winning the Triple Crown, and he thought that “the reason I didn’t get more consideration was because of the trouble I had with the draft boards”.
Williams joined the Navy Reserve on May 22, 1942, went on active duty in 1943, and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps as a Naval Aviator on May 2, 1944. Williams also played on the baseball team in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, along with his Red Sox teammate Johnny Pesky in pre-flight training, after eight weeks in Amherst, Massachusetts, and the Civilian Pilot Training Course. While on the baseball team, Williams was sent back to Fenway Park on July 12, 1943 to play on an All-Star team managed by Babe Ruth. The newspapers reported that Babe Ruth said when finally meeting Williams, “Hiya, kid. You remind me a lot of myself. I love to hit. You’re one of the most natural ballplayers I’ve ever seen. And if my record is broken, I hope you’re the one to do it”. Williams later said he was “flabbergasted” by the incident, as “after all, it was Babe Ruth”. In the game, Williams hit a 425-foot home run to help give the American League All-Stars a 9-8 win.
On August 18, 1945, following the atomic bomb drops on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Lt. Williams was sent to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. While in Pearl Harbor, Williams played baseball in the Army League. Also in that eight-team league were Joe DiMaggio, Joe Gordon, and Stan Musial. The Service World Series with the Army versus the Navy attracted crowds of 40,000 for each game. The players said it was even better than the actual World Series being played between the Detroit Tigers and Chicago Cubs that year.
Williams was discharged by the Marine Corps on January 28, 1946, in time to begin preparations for the upcoming pro baseball season. He joined the Red Sox again in 1946, signing a $37,500 contract. On July 14, after Williams hit three home runs and eight RBIs in the first game of a doubleheader, Lou Boudreau, inspired by Williams’ consistent pull hitting to right field, created what would later be known as the Boudreau shift (also Williams shift) against Williams, having only one player on the left side of second base (the left fielder). Ignoring the shift, Williams walked twice and grounded out to second base. Also during 1946, the All-Star Game was held in Fenway Park. In the game, Williams homered in the fourth inning against Kirby Higbe, singled in a run in the fifth inning, singled in the seventh inning, and hit a three-run home run against Rip Sewell’s notorious “eephus pitch” in the eighth inning to help the American League win 12 – 0.
For the 1946 baseball season, Williams hit .342 with 38 home runs and 123 RBIs, helping the Red Sox win the pennant on September 13, hitting the only inside-the-park home run in his Major League career in a 1-0 win against Cleveland. Williams ran away as the winner in the MVP voting. During an exhibition game in Fenway Park against an All-Star team during early October, Williams was hit on the elbow by a curveball by the Washington Senators’ pitcher Mickey Haefner. Williams was immediately taken out of the game, and X-rays of his arm showed no damage, but his arm was “swelled up like a boiled egg”, according to Williams. Williams could not swing a bat again until four days later, one day before the World Series, when he reported the arm as “sore”. During the series, Williams batted .200, going 5-for-25 with no home runs and just one RBI. The Red Sox lost in seven games, with Williams going 0-for-4 in the last game. Fifty years later when asked what one thing he would have done different in his life, Williams replied, “I’d have done better in the ’46 World Series. God, I would”. The 1946 World Series was the only World Series Williams ever appeared in.
In the off-season between the 1946 and 1947 season, Williams was offered a three-year, $300,000 dollar contract to play for the Mexican League, which Williams declined. Williams later signed a $70,000 contract in 1947. Williams was also almost traded for Joe DiMaggio in 1947. In late April, Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey and Yankees owner Dan Topping agreed to swap the players, but a day later canceled the deal when Yawkey requested that Yogi Berra come with DiMaggio. In May, Williams was hitting .337. Williams also won the Triple Crown in 1947, but lost the MVP award to Joe DiMaggio, with 201 votes compared to DiMaggio’s 202 votes. One writer (whom Williams thought was Mel Webb, who Williams called a “grouchy old guy”, although the identity of the writer remains unknown) completely left Williams off his ballot, who would have tied DiMaggio or won if one writer who had voted Williams as second had voted him first.
Through 2011, Williams was one of seven major league players to have had at least four 30-home run and 100-RBI seasons in their first five years, along with Chuck Klein, Joe DiMaggio, Ralph Kiner, Mark Teixeira, Albert Pujols, and Ryan Braun. In 1948, under their new manager Joe McCarthy (manager), Williams hit a league-leading .369 with 25 home runs and 127 RBIs, and was third in MVP voting. On April 29, Williams hit his 200th career home run. He became just the second player to hit 200 home runs in a Red Sox uniform, joining his former teammate Jimmie Foxx. On October 2, against the Yankees, Williams hit his 222nd career home run, tying Foxx for the Red Sox all-time record. In the Red Sox final two games against the Yankees to force a one-game playoff against the Cleveland Indians, Williams got on base eight times out of ten plate appearances. In the playoff, Williams went 1-for-4, with the Red Sox losing 8–3 due to McCarthy’s decision to start Denny Galehouse over southpaw Mel Parnell.
In 1949, Williams got a new salary of $100,000 ($1,007,000 in current dollar terms). He hit .343 (losing the AL batting title by just .0002 to the Tigers’ George Kell, thus missing the Triple Crown that year), hitting 43 home runs, his career high, and driving in 159 runs, tied for highest in the league, and at one point, he got on base in 84 straight games, an MLB record that still stands today, helping him win the MVP trophy. On April 28, Williams hit his 223rd career home run, breaking the record for most home runs in a Red Sox uniform, passing Jimmie Foxx. Williams is still the Red Sox career home run leader. However, despite being ahead of the Yankees by one game right before the series, the Red Sox lost both games they had to play against the Yankees. The Yankees won the first of what would be five straight World Series titles in 1949. For the rest of Williams’ career, the Yankees won eight pennants and five World Series titles, while the Red Sox never finished better than third place.
In 1950, Williams was playing in his eighth All-Star Game. In the first inning, Williams caught a line drive by Ralph Kiner, slamming into the Comiskey Park scoreboard and breaking his left arm. Williams played the rest of the game, and he even singled in a run to give the American League the lead in the eighth inning, but by that time Williams’ arm was a “balloon” and he was in great pain, so he left the game. Both of the doctors who X-rayed Williams held little hope for a full recovery. The doctors operated on Williams for two hours. When Williams took his cast off, he could only extend the arm to within four inches of his right arm. Williams only played 89 games in 1950. After the baseball season, Williams’ elbow hurt so much he considered retirement, since he thought he would never be able to hit again. Tom Yawkey, the Red Sox owner, then sent Jack Fadden to Williams’ Florida home to talk to Williams. Williams later thanked Fadden for saving his career.
In 1951, Williams “struggled” to hit .318, with his elbow still hurting. Williams also played in 148 games, sixty more than Williams had played the previous season, 30 home runs, two more than he had hit in 1950, and 126 RBIs, twenty-nine more than 1950. Despite his lower-than-usual production at bat, Williams made the All-Star team. On May 15, 1951, Williams became the 11th player in major league history to hit 300 career home runs. On May 21, Williams passed Chuck Klein for 10th place, on May 25 Williams passed Rogers Hornsby for 9th place, and on July 5 Williams passed Al Simmons for 8th place all-time in career home runs. After the season, manager Steve O’Neill was fired, with Lou Boudreau replacing him. Boudreau’s first announcement as manager was that all Red Sox players were “expendable”, including Williams.
U.S. Marine Corps, Korea (1952–1953)
Williams name was called from a list of inactive reserves to serve on active duty in the Korean War on January 9, 1952. Williams, who was livid at his recalling, had a physical scheduled for April 2. Williams passed his physical and in May, after only playing in six major league games, began refresher flight training and qualification prior to service in Korea. Right before he left for Korea, the Red Sox had a “Ted
Williams Day” in Fenway Park. Friends of Williams gave him a Cadillac, and the Red Sox gave Williams a memory book that was signed by 400,000 fans. The Governor of Massachusetts and Mayor of Boston were there, along with a Korean War veteran named Frederick Wolf in a wheelchair. At the end of the ceremony, everyone in the park held hands and sang “Auld Lang Syne” to Williams, a moment which he later said “moved me quite a bit”. Private Wolf, Injured Korean veteran from Brooklyn presented gifts from wounded veterans to Ted Williams. Ted choked and was only able to say,”…ok kid…” The Red Sox went on to win the game 5-3 thanks to a two-run home run by Williams in the seventh inning. After he returned from the Korean War in August 1953, Williams practiced with the Red Sox for ten days before playing in his first game, garnering a large ovation from the crowd and hitting a home run in the eighth inning. In the season, Williams ended up hitting .407 with 13 home runs and 34 RBIs in 37 games and 110 at bats (not nearly enough plate appearances to qualify for that season’s batting title). On September 6, Williams hit his 332nd career home run, passing Hank Greenberg for seventh all-time.
On the first day of spring training in 1954, Williams broke his collarbone running after a line drive. Williams was out for six weeks, and in April he wrote an article with Joe Reichler of the Saturday Evening Post saying that he intended to retire at the end of the season. Williams returned to the Red Sox lineup on May 7, and he hit .345 with 386 at bats in 117 games, although Bobby Ávila, who had hit .341, won the
batting championship. This was because it was required then that a batter needed 400 at bats, despite Lou Boudreau’s attempt to bat Williams second in the lineup to get more at-bats. Williams led the league in base on balls with 136 which kept him from qualifying under the rules at the time. By today’s standards (plate appearances) he would have been the champion. The rule was changed shortly thereafter to keep this from happening again. On August 25, Williams passed Johnny Mize for sixth place, and on September 3, Williams passed Joe DiMaggio for fifth all- time in career home runs with his 362nd career home run. He finished the season with 366 career home runs. On September 26, Williams “retired” after the Red Sox’s final game of the season.
During the off-season of 1954, Williams was offered the chance to be manager of the Red Sox. Williams declined, and he suggested that Pinky Higgins, who had previously played on the 1946 Red Sox team as the third baseman, become the manager of the team. Higgins later was hired as the Red Sox manager in 1955. Williams sat out the first month of the 1955 season due to a divorce settlement with his wife, Doris. When Williams returned, he signed a $98,000 contract on May 13. On his first game back, Williams hit a home run, and he batted .356 in 320 at bats on the season, lacking enough at bats to win the batting title over Al Kaline, who batted .340 in 1955, while hitting 28 home runs and driving in 83 runs, while being named the “Comeback Player of the Year”.
On July 17, 1956, Williams became the fifth player to hit 400 home runs, following Mel Ott in 1941, Jimmie Foxx in 1938, Lou Gehrig in 1936, and Babe Ruth in 1927. On August 7, 1956, after Williams was booed for dropping a fly ball from Mickey Mantle, Williams spat at one of the fans that was taunting him on the top of the dugout. Williams was fined $5,000 for the incident. The next day against Baltimore, Williams was greeted by a large ovation, and received an even larger ovation when he hit a home run in the sixth inning to break a 2 – 2 tie. In The Boston Globe, the publishers ran a “What Globe Readers Say About Ted” section made out of letters about Williams, which were either the sportswriters or the “loud mouths” in the stands. Williams explained years later, “From ’56 on, I realized that people were for me. The writers had written that the fans should show me they didn’t want me, and I got the biggest ovation yet”. Williams lost the batting title to Mickey Mantle in 1956, batting .345 to Mantle’s .353, with Mantle on his way to winning the Triple Crown.
In 1957, Williams batted .388 to lead the Major Leagues, and remarkably at the age of 40 in 1958, he led the American League with a .328 batting average.
When Pumpsie Green became the first black player on the Boston Red Sox in 1959 — the last major league team to integrate its team — Williams openly welcomed Green.
Williams ended his career dramatically, hitting a home run in his very last at-bat on September 28, 1960. A classic essay written by John Updike the following month for The New Yorker, “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu”, chronicles this event and is often mentioned among the greatest pieces of sports writing in American journalism.
Williams is one of only 29 players in baseball history to date to have appeared in Major League games in four decades. He is also one of only four players to hit a home run in each of four different decades, the others being Willie McCovey (who, like Williams, also retired with 521 career home runs), Rickey Henderson and Omar Vizquel.
World War II
Williams served as a Naval Aviator during World War II and the Korean War. Unlike many other major league players, he did not spend all of his war-time playing on service teams. Williams had been classified 3-A by Selective Service prior to the war, a dependency deferment because he was his mother’s sole means of financial support. When his classification was changed to 1-A following the American entry into World War II, Williams appealed to his local draft board. The draft board ruled that his draft status should not have been changed. He made a public statement that once he had built up his mother’s trust fund, he intended to enlist. Even so, criticism in the media, including withdrawal of an endorsement contract by Quaker Oats, resulted in his enlistment in the U.S. Navy Reserve on May 22, 1942.
Williams did not opt for an easy assignment playing baseball for the Navy, but rather joined the V-5 program to become a Naval aviator. Williams was first sent to the Navy’s Preliminary Ground School at Amherst College for six months of academic instruction in various subjects including math and navigation, where he achieved a 3.85 grade point average.
Williams was talented as a pilot, and so enjoyed it that he had to be ordered by the Navy to leave training to personally accept his American League 1942 Major League Baseball Triple Crown. Williams’ Red Sox teammate, Johnny Pesky, who went into the same aviation training program, said this about Williams: “He mastered intricate problems in fifteen minutes which took the average cadet an hour, and half of the other cadets there were college grads.” Pesky again described Williams’ acumen in the advance training, for which Pesky personally did not qualify: “I heard Ted literally tore the sleeve target to shreds with his angle dives. He’d shoot from wingovers, zooms, and barrel rolls, and after a few passes the sleeve was ribbons. At any rate, I know he broke the all-time record for hits.” Ted went to Jacksonville for a course in aerial gunnery, the combat pilot’s payoff test, and broke all the records in reflexes, coordination, and visual-reaction time. “From what I heard. Ted could make a plane and its six ‘pianos’ (machine guns) play like a symphony orchestra”, Pesky says. “From what they said, his reflexes, coordination, and visual reaction made him a built-in part of the machine.”
Williams completed pre-flight training in Athens, Georgia, his primary training at NAS Bunker Hill, Indiana, and his advanced flight training at NAS Pensacola. He received his gold Naval Aviator wings and his commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps on May 2, 1944.
Williams served as a flight instructor at the Naval Air Station Pensacola teaching young pilots to fly the complicated F4U Corsair fighter plane. Williams was in Pearl Harbor awaiting orders to join the Fleet in the Western Pacific when the War in the Pacific ended. He finished the war in Hawaii, and then he was released from active duty on January 12, 1946, but he did remain in the Marine Corps Reserve.
On May 1, 1952, 14 months after his promotion to Captain in the Marine Corps Reserve, Williams was recalled to active duty for service in the Korean War. He had not flown any aircraft for eight years but he turned down all offers to sit out the war in comfort as a member of a service baseball team. Nevertheless, Williams was resentful of being called up, which he admitted years later, particularly regarding the Navy’s policy of calling up Inactive Reservists rather than members of the Active Reserve.
After eight weeks of refresher flight training and qualification in the F9F Panther jet fighter at the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, Williams was assigned to VMF-311, Marine Aircraft Group 33 (MAG-33), based at the K-3 airfield in Pohang, South Korea.
On February 16, 1953, Williams was part of a 35-plane raid against a tank and infantry training school just south of Pyongyang, North Korea. During the mission, a piece of flak knocked out his hydraulics and electrical systems, causing Williams to have to “limp” his plane back to K-13, a U.S. Air Force airfield close to the front lines. For his actions of this day, he was awarded the Air Medal.
Williams stayed on K-13 for several days while his plane was being repaired. Because he was so popular, GIs and airmen from all around the base came to see him and his plane. After it was repaired, Williams flew his plane back to his Marine Corps airfield.
Williams flew 39 combat missions in Korea, earning the Air Medal with two Gold Stars in lieu of second and third awards, before being withdrawn from flight status in June 1953 after a hospitalization for pneumonia. This resulted in the discovery of an inner ear infection that disqualified him from flight status. During the Korean War, Williams also served in the same Marine Corps unit with John Glenn; the future
astronaut described Williams as one of the best pilots he knew, while his wife Annie described him as the most profane man she ever met. In the last half of his missions, Williams was flying as Glenn’s wingman.
Williams likely would have approached or exceeded Babe Ruth’s home run record if he had not served in the military, and might have set the record for career RBIs as well, exceeding Hank Aaron’s total. While the absences in the Marine Corps took almost five years out of his baseball career, he never publicly complained about the time devoted to service in the Marine Corps. His biographer, Leigh Montville, argued
that Williams was not happy about being pressed into service in South Korea, but he did what he thought was his patriotic duty.
Following his return to the United States in August 1953, he resigned his Reserve commission to resume his baseball career.
On May 4, 1944, Williams married Doris Soule, daughter of his hunting guide. Their daughter, Barbara Joyce (“Bobbi Jo”), was born on January 28, 1948, while Williams was fishing in Florida. They divorced in 1954. Williams married the socialite model Lee Howard on September 10, 1961 and they were divorced in 1967.
Williams married Dolores Wettach, a former Miss Vermont and Vogue model, in 1968. Their son John-Henry was born on August 27, 1968, followed by daughter Claudia, on October 8, 1971. They were divorced in 1972.
Williams lived with Louise Kaufman for twenty years until her death in 1993. In his book, Cramer called her the love of Williams’s life. After his death, her sons filed suit to recover her furniture from Williams’s condominium as well as a half-interest in the condominium they claimed he gave her.
Williams had a strong respect for General Douglas MacArthur, referring to him as his “idol”. For Williams’ 40th birthday, MacArthur sent him an oil painting of himself with the inscription “To Ted Williams — not only America’s greatest baseball player, but a great American who served his country. Your friend, Douglas MacArthur. General U.S. Army.”
Williams’s son, John-Henry, and brother, Danny, both died of leukemia.
In his last years, Williams suffered from cardiomyopathy. He had a pacemaker implanted in November 2000 and he underwent open-heart surgery in January 2001. After suffering a series of strokes and congestive heart failure, he died of cardiac arrest at the age of 83 on July 5, 2002, at Citrus Memorial Hospital, Inverness, Florida, near his home in Citrus Hills, Florida.