“He stood out like a brown cow in a field of white cows.”, Eddie Collins said. While still in high school, this ‘brown cow’ was offered contracts with both the St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Yankees. His mother said no. He was too young to leave home. Instead, before his Senior year in high school, he signed and played with the then major league of the West, the Pacific Coast League’s local team, the San Diego Padres. This was Nuxhallian. A kid, ‘The Kid’ graduated and rejoined the Padres for his second year and entered the starting lineup on June 22nd with an inside-the-park home run in his first at bat. That season he would lead the PCL in hitting with a .291 average and 23 home runs, all of this in about 100 days and pushed the Padres to win the PCL Championship. That was 1937.
Born Teddy Samuel Williams (that’s right…not Theodore), this mother’s son did not take to his Mom’s Salvation Army soldiering nor her evangelism, but instead to a bat and a ball, for which he would gain immortality in the world of 109 stitches.
Then, history rewritten by baseball, states that Ted was signed as an amateur free agent in December 1937. In fact, the General Manager of the Boson Red Sox, one Eddie Collins, traded for his favorite brown cow and in turn, gave the San Diego Padres (who had been paying the brown cow for two season, hopefully more than hay and oats) two major league ballplayers and two minor leaguers plus $35,000. You’ve gotta love the story telling by the historians of baseball. That’s where baseball’s fictional tale and Mr. Williams’ amateur status ends.
He spent one year with the Minneapolis Millers, then the Red Sox Triple A club, where he crafted his art of hitting and won the American Association Triple Crown. Then in his very first Major League game, on April 20, 1939, on Opening Day, the torch was passed. It was on that day, for the one and only time, Ted Williams played against Lou Gehrig. Ten days later, Gehrig played in his 2,130 consecutive game. He went hitless in that game against the Washington Senators and in the next game, at Detroit, he took himself out of the lineup. Tiger fans, upon the announcement being made over the public address system, gave Lou Gehrig a standing ovation. He never played in another game again. On June 13th, he went to the famed Mayo Clinic. On July 21st, the New York Yankees announced his retirement from baseball. On June 2, 1941 he died.
Gehrig was THE player before Williams. He was the torch bearer between Babe Ruth and ‘Teddy Ballgame’. Gehrig was the last man to have won a triple crown with .363 BA, 49 HR and 159 RBI in 1934. Here was the only player in history to have 400 total bases per year for five seasons.
Ted Williams was worthy of carrying on the tradition as he was the youngest man ever to hit .400 (.406 in 1941) and seventh youngest to ever win a batting title. Sure there was Joe DiMaggio, who throughout Williams early career, was his main rival. But for pure hitting, no one compared to ‘The Kid’. He was one of 15 men to win the Triple Crown and only the second ever to win it twice (the first being his former manager of the Minneapolis Millers, Rogers Hornsby). He also hit .388 sixteen years later in 1957 (age 39) and the oldest ever win the batting title at the age of 40 in 1958. ‘Teddy Ballgame’ was an All-Star 17 times; finished with a career .344 batting average, seventh best in the history of the game and 20 points better than DiMaggio; won the MVP twice; was the Runs leader six time and leader in doubles twice; took the Home Run title four times, and, perhaps most important, was the wingman for Marine Captain John Glenn in Korea.
He served his country through his military obligation not once, but twice. He volunteered and entered Naval Aviation which lead to his commission as Marine officer. He retired from the Marines after serving in both the Second World War and the Korean War. He was honored by earning an Air Medal with two gold stars; the Navy Unit Commendation, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George H. W Bush; awarded the American Campaign Medal; the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with service star; the World War II Victory Medal; the Navy Occupation Service Medal; the National Defense Service Medal; the Korean Service Medal with two service stars; the Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation; the United Nations Service Medal and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal.
On his 40th birthday, he received an oil painting of his hero 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”
Greatest hitter of all-time? How about the greatest United States Military Veteran baseball player of all-time!
The ‘Splendid Splinter’ was an American original, the last player to bat .400 in a season. He was simply magnificant.