If there has ever been a better hitter in baseball history I do not know who it would be. I am not talking about the most hits or the highest batting average. I am talking just the pure ability to hit a pitched baseball and hit it where no one can catch it. That hitter is Ted Williams. For anyone who ever saw Ted Williams play, examined his statistics or heard about him there can be no doubt. Ted Williams was a one of a kind. I have written about Ted Williams in an article about the five greatest hitters of all-time and also in a baseball article that showcased the five greatest outfielders of all-time. Now I want to give you a biography about the man and his career.
Ted was born Theodore Samuel Williams on August 30, 1918 in San Diego, California. His mother was a Salvation Army worker who worked tong hours. While she was working Ted was at the playgrounds honing his natural gift of being able to hit a baseball. Blessed with the gift of keen vision Ted would develop that gift in order to hit a thrown baseball better than anyone else before or after him and also allow him to fly an airplane in combat during two wars. Ted attended Herbert Hoover High School in San Diego and in 1936 while still 17 years old he began his professional baseball career. He had grown to 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighed 205 pounds. Although he was naturally right handed he chose as many have before and after him to bat left handed which would serve him well during his career.
MINOR LEAGUE CAREER
In 1936 while still 17 years old Ted Williams began his minor league career with his hometown San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League. He appeared in 42 games and batted .271. The next year he returned to San Diego for a full season of 138 games. At age 18 he showed what was to come with a batting average of .291 with 23 home runs. Those numbers were impressive for an 18 year old but they were far short of what would occur in just two years. Following that season the Boston Red Sox purchased his contract for $25,000 and assigned him to their highest minor league team in Minneapolis for the 1938 season. When the season opened Williams was still only 19 years old but what a season he had. Playing in 148 games he batted .366 with 30 doubles, 9 triples and 43 home runs. A player putting up those numbers today would be the source of intense speculation as he approached the major leagues. 1938 turned out to be Williams last appearance at the minor league level.
THE GREATEST SEASON EVER
You can argue about who is baseball history had the greatest season ever. Babe Ruth put up fantastic numbers and so have a few others. But take a look at the 1941 season of Ted Williams and try to imagine anyone being any better. For starters, his batting average was .406. This is the last time anyone has hit over .400. This year, 2010, is the 69th anniversary of this achievement. Not many records stand in sports for almost 70 years and the truth is there is no likelihood that it will broken any time soon. The batting average, however, is just the beginning. Playing in 143 games, Williams hit 37 home runs and batted in 137 runs. The amazing part, once again, was the walks and strikeouts. Williams walked a total of 147 times giving him an on base percentage of .553. Incredibly he reached base 55% of the time he came to bat. As for strikeouts, Williams came to bat 606 times in 1941 and struck out only 27 times. Again in retrospect the numbers are unreal. Truly a remarkable achievement.
PRE-WORLD WAR II CAREER
Ted Williams made his major league debut on April 20, 1939 as the 20 year old starting right fielder for the Boston Red Sox. Judging from his minor league numbers I am sure big things were expected of Ted Williams but the truth is that his rookie season of 1939 far exceeded what anyone could have anticipated or even dreamed would.happen. Playing in 149 of his team’s 154 games he batted .327 with 44 doubles, 11 triples and 31 home runs while accounting for 145 runs batted in. He started a pattern of walking more than he would strike out. For his entire career Ted Williams was always a very difficult batter to strike out. He was just so good that he almost always made contact. In his rookie year he had 107 walks with only 64 strikeouts. Those walks pushed his on base percentage to .436, meaning that he reached base almost 44% of the time he came up to bat. The numbers I just related are almost too much to fathom. Looking back now over 70 years it almost seems they cannot be correct for any player, let alone a 20 year old rookie.
In 1940 Ted Williams was moved from right field to left field where he would play for the rest of his career. The Boston Red Sox thought this would be in his best interest. But where could a player go after putting the numbers up that Ted did during his rookie year? The perception was that his second year was not as good as his first but if you look closely you will see he still had a very impressive second season. He actually raised his batting average to .344 and his on base percentage to .442. His power numbers were down slightly and that is the figure most people looked at when making a decision. He hit 23 home runs which was the figure used to say his second season was not as good. Anyone who thought his career had peaked at age 20 just did not realize what was coming.
The 1941 season is documented above. In 1942 a 23 year old Williams continued his great play, batting ..356 with 36 home runs and 137 runs batted in. These numbers would have to be put on hold as World War II called. Williams left baseball to fly airplanes and missed all of three seasons: 1943, 1944 and 1945. You can look at his numbers and easily speculate of what might have been.
POST WORLD WAR II AND PRE-KOREAN WAR CAREER
Ted Williams returned to baseball in 1946 at age 27 having been out of baseball for 3 years. You could easily expect some decline while he adjusted to being back in the games. So what did Williams do? He hit .342 with a career high of 38 home runs. His on base percentage, as usual, was outstanding due to high number of walks. He was back with little ill effect. Williams went on to put up great numbers in 1947, 1948 and 1949. In 1950 his season was limited to 89 games but he still hit 28 home runs. He returned for a full season in 1951 but at age 32 that would turn out to be his last full season. 1952 saw Williams leave for military service in Korea. He did play in a handful of games in 1952 and 1953 but essentially both seasons were lost,
POST-KOREAN WAR CAREER
In 1954 Williams returned but at age 35 he was not the player he had been. That is not to say his career was over. He still put up numbers that most players would envy. Playing in 117 games he hit .345 with 29 home runs. Again he was the master at the walk and not striking out so his on base percentage was .513. Williams continued to play until his final season of 1960. His final game was on September 28th where he hit a home run in this last at bat. He has just celebrated his 42nd birthday the month before his farewell. At age 41 Williams still hit .316 which today almost any major league player would take and Williams to the end continued to be the master of getting on base finishing with an on base percentage of .451 for his last year.
Greatest hitter of all time, war hero, and great fisherman are just three of the many legacies of Ted Williams. I could write a separate article about Williams the fisherman or Williams the was hero. There is just so much to the man who probably could have continued to hit successfully in the major leagues well past his 42nd birthday if he so desired. I will just stop as I started: the greatest hitter of all time.
Ted Williams The Biography of an American Hero, Leigh Montville (Author)