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- The Early Years
- MLB Career: 1939-1945
- MLB Career: 1946-1960
- What Williams' career might have looked like if not for WWII and Korea
Theodore Samuel Williams (August 30, 1918 – July 5, 2002), best known as Ted Williams, nicknamed The Kid, the Splendid Splinter, Teddy Ballgame and The Thumper, was an American left fielder in Major League Baseball who played 19 seasons, twice interrupted by military service as a Marine Corps pilot, with the Boston Red Sox. It has been argued that he is the greatest hitter 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). An avid sport fisherman, he hosted a television show about fishing, and was inducted into the Fishing Hall of Fame.
Williams was born in San Diego, California as Teddy Samuel Williams, after his father Samuel Willliams and Teddy Roosevelt. At some point, the name and date of birth on his birth certificate was changed to Theodore, but his mother and his closest friends always called him Teddy. His father Samuel was a soldier, sheriff, and photographer from New York and greatly admired the late president. His mother May was a Salvation Army worker of Spanish-Basque descent whose parents came from Mexico.
Williams played high-school baseball at Herbert Hoover High School in San Diego and lived at 4121 Utah Street in the North Park area of the city. After graduation, he turned professional and had minor league stints for his hometown San Diego Padres and the Minneapolis Millers.
Early in his career, he stated that he wished to be remembered as the "greatest hitter who ever lived", an honor that he indeed achieved in many eyes by the end of his career.
In the major leagues
Williams moved up to the major-league Red Sox in 1939, immediately making an impact as he led the American League in RBI and finishing 4th in MVP balloting. 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. His manager 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; no one has reached .400 since.
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' feat of reaching base for the most consecutive games, 84. In addition, Williams holds the third- and fourth-longest such streaks. In 1957, Williams reached base in 16 consecutive plate appearances, also a major-league record.
One of Williams' other memorable accomplishments was his game-winning home run off Rip Sewell's notorious eephus pitch during the 1946 All-Star Game. Archival footage shows a delighted Williams hopping around the bases, clapping; he later said this was his greatest thrill in baseball.
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 the 8th inning of the seventh game. Much of this 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 may also have been playing with an elbow 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.
An obsessive student of batting, Williams hit for both power and average. In 1970 he wrote a book on the subject, The Science of Hitting (revised 1986), which is still read by many baseball players. He lacked foot speed, as attested by his career total of 24 stolen bases, one inside-the-park home run, and one occasion of hitting for the cycle. 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 fielding range, 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.
Williams served as a US Marine pilot during both World War II and the Korean War, serving in the same unit (VMF-311) during both wars. During WWII he flew propeller driven (F4U Corsair) aircraft; after being recalled for active duty for Korea, he transitioned to jet (F9F Panther) aircraft. During the Korean War, John Glenn served in the same unit as Williams. While these absences, which took almost five years out of the heart of a great career, significantly limited his career totals, he never complained about the time devoted to military service.
Summary of career
Williams's two MVP Awards and two Triple Crowns came in four different years. Along with Rogers Hornsby, he is one of only two players to win the Triple Crown twice, but he did not win the MVP award in either of his Triple Crown seasons. 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.
Williams's hitting was so feared, and it was known that he was a dead pull hitter, that 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 contrived defense. The defensive tactic is still used to this day, and is appropriately called the infield shift. Interestingly, it is often used against David Ortiz, Jason Giambi, Jim Thome and Travis Hafner.
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.
Relationship with Boston media and fans
Ted Williams was on uncomfortable terms with the Boston newspapers for nearly twenty years, as he felt they liked to discuss his personal life as much as his baseball performance. Insecure about his upbringing, stubborn because of the immense confidence in his beliefs, Williams made up his mind that the "knights of the keyboard" were against him and treated most of them accordingly, as he describes in his memoir, My Turn at Bat.
He also had an uneasy relationship with the Boston fans, though he could be very cordial one-on-one. Williams felt at times a good deal of gratitude for their passion and their knowledge of the game. On the other hand, Williams was temperamental, high-strung, and at times tactless. He gave generously to those in need, and demanded loyalty to those around him. He could not forgive the fickle nature of the fans—booing a player for booting a ground ball, then turning around and roaring approval of the same player for hitting a home run. Despite the cheers and adulation of most of his fans, the occasional boos directed at him in Fenway Park led Williams to refuse to ever tip his cap after a home run. He also won many fans both in and out of baseball by twice serving his country in time of war, risking his life by flying combat missions in the Marine Corps.
A Red Smith profile from 1956 describes one Boston writer trying to convince Ted Williams that first cheering and then booing a ballplayer was no different from a moviegoer applauding a "western" movie actor one day and saying the next "He stinks! Whatever gave me the idea he could act?" But Williams rejected this; when he liked a western actor like Hoot Gibson, he liked him in every picture, and would not think of booing him.
After his famous home run in his last at-bat, Williams characteristically refused either to tip his cap as he circled the bases or to respond to prolonged cheers of "We want Ted!" from the crowd. Williams also refused to tip his cap as he was replaced in left field by Carroll Hardy to start the 9th inning, although he continued to receive warm cheers.
Williams's aloof attitude led Updike to wryly observe that "Gods do not answer letters." Williams's final home run did not take place during the final game of the 1960 season, but rather the Red Sox' last home game. The Red Sox played three more games on the road in New York; however, Williams did not appear in any of them, and it became clear that Williams's final home at-bat would be the last of his career.
Hall of Fame induction speech
In his induction speech in 1966, Williams included a statement calling for the recognition of the great Negro Leagues players Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson, who were not given the opportunity to play in the Major Leagues before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947. This powerful statement made by one of the game's greatest players was instrumental in the Hall of Fame eventually inducting Negro League players beginning with Paige in 1971.
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.
After retirement from play, Williams served as manager of the Washington Senators, continuing with the team when they became the Texas Rangers after the 1971 season. Williams's best season as a manager was 1969 when he led the expansion Senators to an 86-76 record in their only winning season in Washington. He was chosen manager of the year after that season. Like many great players, Williams became impatient with ordinary athletes' abilities and attitudes, and his managerial career was short and largely unsuccessful. Before and after leaving Texas (which would be his only manager job), he occasionally appeared at Red Sox spring training as a guest hitting instructor.
He was much more successful in fishing. An avid and expert fly fisherman and deep-sea fisherman, he spent many summers after baseball fishing the Miramichi River, in Miramichi, New Brunswick, Canada. Williams was named to the International Game Fish Association Hall of Fame in 2000. Some opined that Williams was a rare individual who might have been the best in the world in three different disciplines: baseball hitter, fighter jet pilot, and fly fisherman. Shortly after Williams's death, conservative pundit Steve Sailer called him "possibly the most technically proficient American of the 20th Century, as his mastery of three highly different callings demonstrates." 
Williams reached an extensive deal with Sears, lending his name and talent toward marketing, developing, and endorsing a line of in-house sports equipment - specifically fishing, hunting and baseball equipment. He was also extensively involved in the Jimmy Fund, ironically later losing a brother to leukemia, and spent much of his spare time, effort, and money in support of the cancer organization.
In his later years, Williams became a fixture at autograph shows and card shows after his son (by his third wife), John Henry Williams, took control of his career, becoming his de facto manager. The younger Williams provided structure to his father's business affairs, and rationed his father's public appearances and memorabilia signings to maximize their earnings. Although many felt that Ted was being used by his son, there is no real evidence that the younger Williams was doing anything illicit or unsavory with his father's earnings.
One of Ted Williams's final, and most memorable, public appearances was at the 1999 All-Star Game in Boston. Able to walk only a short distance, Williams was brought to the pitcher's mound in a golf cart. He proudly waved his cap to the crowd—a gesture he had never done as a player. Fans responded with a standing ovation that lasted several minutes. At the pitcher's mound he was surrounded by players from both teams, and spoke with several. Among them was fellow San Diegan Tony Gwynn, a hitter often compared to Williams who starred with the major league edition of the San Diego Padres. The ceremony had to be cut short, as Williams's appearance threatened to delay the start of the game.
Later in the year, he was among the members of the Major League Baseball All-Century Team introduced to the crowd at Turner Field in Atlanta prior to Game 2 of the World Series. He had also been ranked that year as Number 8 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players, where he was the highest-ranking left fielder.
In his last years Williams suffered from poor health, specifically cardiac problems. He had a pacemaker installed in November 2000 and underwent open-heart surgery in January 2001. After suffering a series of strokes and congestive heart failures, he died of cardiac arrest in Crystal River, Florida, on July 5, 2002.
A public dispute over the disposition of Williams's body was waged after his death. Announcing there would be no funeral, his son John-Henry Williams had Ted's body flown to the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Scottsdale, Arizona, and placed in cryonic suspension. Barbara Joyce Ferrell, Ted's daughter by his first wife, sued, saying his will stated that he wanted to be cremated. John-Henry's lawyer then produced an informal "family pact" signed by Ted, John-Henry, and Ted's daughter Claudia, in which they agreed "to be put into biostasis after we die." Reportedly, cryonics arrangements were hastily made post mortem by John-Henry and Claudia per their family pact. Though this action upset many family members, friends and fans, it seems to have been the children's right under the law.
In "Ted Williams: The Biography of An American Hero", author Leigh Montville makes the case that the supposed family cryonics pact was merely a practice Ted Williams autograph on a plain piece of paper, around which the "agreement" had later been hand-printed. However Claudia testified to the authenticity of the document in a sworn affidavit. In 2004 John-Henry was cryopreserved at Alcor after his death from leukemia, in accordance with the agreement.
A 2003 Sports Illustrated article claimed that Williams underwent neuropreservation with separate storage of his body and head at Alcor. Allegations of poor treatment were disputed by Alcor and the editor of Minor League News, who criticized the Sports Illustrated article as sensational and misleading.
- All-Star Games: 17 appearances: 1940-1942, 1946-1951, 1953-1960.
- AL MVP: 1946, 1949
- AL Triple Crown: 1942, 1947
- Second all time in OPS
- First all time in on-base percentage: .482
- Last player ever to hit over .400: .406 in 1941
- Member of 500 Home Run Club: 521
- Oldest ever player to win a batting title: (.328 in 1958 at age 40)
- His .344 career batting average is the 7th best all-time.
- Signed as an amateur free agent by Boston Red Sox (1936).