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Ted Williams dies at 83

Kurkjian: The game's best hitter

McCollister: My memories of Ted Williams

Friday, July 5, 2002
Williams left a legacy of greatness
By Larry Schwartz
Special to

ESPN Classic looks at some of the most memorable moments in the storied career of Ted Williams. From his first game in a Boston Red Sox uniform through his induction into the Hall of Fame, Williams left a lasting legacy.

April 20, 1939
It's opening day at Yankee Stadium and this is the only game that Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig ever play against each other. It is the first major-league game for Williams, a 20-year-old playing right-field and batting sixth for Boston, and the 2,124th consecutive game for the Yankees' Gehrig.

Williams strikes out twice and goes 1-for-4 against Red Ruffing, who blanks Boston, 2-0. Williams' hit -- the first of 2,654 in his career -- is a double off the right-center bleacher wall.

Gehrig, batting fifth, is 0-for-4 against Lefty Grove, including a low liner that Williams catches with two runners on base. An ailing Gehrig will play only six more games before illness forces him to retire.

Sept. 28, 1941
The idea of his .39955 batting average being rounded up to .400 doesn't sit well with Ted Williams. So, on the final day of the season, Williams refuses to sit out and risks his ".400" average. The 23-year-old Boston Red Sox cleanup-hitter raps his major league-leading 37th homer and three singles in five at-bats in the opener of a doubleheader against the Philadelphia Athletics, raising his average to .404.

The Splendid Splinter doesn't sit out the nightcap either, getting a double and single in three at-bats in a game called after eight innings because of darkness. He finishes the season at .406, the first player to hit .400 since Bill Terry in 1930 and the last to do it this century. He goes 185-for-456 with 120 RBIs. He also leads the majors with 135 runs and 145 walks while striking out just 27 times.

May 22, 1942
Last year, Ted Williams batted .406. Today, after the Red Sox return to Boston from a road trip, Williams enlists in the U.S. Navy Air Corps to train to become a fighter pilot.

He passes the complete physical examination (his eyesight is 20-15) and is sworn into the service, immediately becoming Seaman Williams, second class. Upon his call to active duty, he will automatically become Air Cadet Williams.

Behind him are the months of wonder and indecision that followed his deferment from the draft by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in February on the grounds that he is the sole support of his mother.

The $32,000-a-year ballplayer will become a cadet at the salary of $106 a month. This won't happen for a while, though. Williams won't be called to active duty until after the baseball ends.

He will win the Triple Crown, leading the American League with a .356 average, 36 homers and 137 RBI. He will miss the next three seasons as well as most of the 1952 and 1953 seasons, serving as a fighter pilot in World War II and the Korean War.

Nov. 27, 1947
Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941 -- and lost the American League MVP award to Joe DiMaggio. "The Splendid Splinter" won the Triple Crown this season -- and he again loses the MVP to "Joltin' Joe."

This time, Williams is beaten by one vote. Incredibly, one writer (Mel Webb) does not even list the Boston Red Sox left fielder on his 10-man ballot. Williams (.343, 32 homers and 114 RBI) receives only three of 24 first-place votes.

DiMaggio (.315, 20 homers and 97 RBI) receives eight first-place votes after helping the Yankees win the pennant by 12 games over second-place Detroit and 14 games over third-place Boston.

October 2, 1949
They're suffering in New England. On the final day of the season, the Boston Red Sox lose the pennant to the New York Yankees and Ted Williams misses out on his third Triple Crown of the decade by less than a percentage point.

Tied for first place, Vic Raschi blanks the Red Sox for the first eight innings in pitching the Yankees to a 5-3 victory at Yankee Stadium. Leading 1-0, the Yankees break open the game with four runs in the eighth, the last three on Jerry Coleman's bases-clearing bloop double.

The Red Sox score three runs in the ninth, the first two coming when an ailing Joe DiMaggio fails to haul down Bobby Doerr's triple, a ball he catches if healthy. An anguished DiMaggio jogs to the bench and removes himself from the game in favor of a healthier outfielder.

Williams is 0-for-2 with a walk when he draws a pass again in the ninth. Had Williams hit safely, he would have won the batting title and the Triple Crown. With career-highs of 43 homers and 159 runs batted in, Williams wins these titles, but is overtaken by Detroit's George Kell for the batting championship. Kell goes 2-for-3 to improve his average to .3429, while Williams falls to .34275.

Aug. 6, 1953
In his first game back since leaving the Boston Red Sox to rejoin the Marines as a fighter pilot in Korea, Ted Williams gets a warm welcome from the small crowd of 6,792 at Fenway Park.

With the Red Sox down by a run to the St. Louis Browns in the ninth inning, and runners on first and third base with one out, Williams, called upon as a pinch-hitter, has a chance to be a hero in his first plate appearance in 15 months. The Browns pitcher is Marlin Stuart.

While Williams is an outstanding fisherman, he can't hook this Marlin. He pops up to first base on a screwball.

"It was a good ball to hit on the ground, but I wanted to get it into the air and not hit into a double play," Williams says after the 8-7, 10-inning loss. "I got under it too much."

Aug. 7, 1956
When the Boston fans get on Ted Williams, the Red Sox left-fielder is spitting mad. With two outs in the 11th inning, Williams misjudges Mickey Mantle's fly and drops it for a two-base error. The overflow crowd of 36,350 in Fenway Park erupts in boos.

Not even when Williams makes an outstanding catch on the Yankees' next batter, Yogi Berra, to preserve the scoreless tie and end the inning do the fans let up. As tempestuous Ted approaches the dugout -- with the boos far outweighing the cheers -- he spits at the crowd. Just to make sure there is no mistake, the splendid spitter comes out of the dugout and directs another salivary attack at the fans.

In the bottom of the inning, Williams walks with the bases loaded to give the Red Sox a 1-0 victory. As he heads to first base, he throws his bat some 40 feet in the air.

Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey hears Mel Allen's broadcast of the game on radio in New York and calls general manager Joe Cronin, who fines the $100,000-a-year slugger $5,000 for spitting. While Cronin says Williams told him he is sorry about his actions, Williams is unrepentant when he talks with the press.

"I'm not a bit sorry for what I did," Williams says. "I was right and I'd spit again at the same fans who booed me today. Some of them are the worst in the world. Nobody's going to stop me from spitting."

June 17, 1960
Just two weeks ago, 41-year-old Ted Williams was considering retiring. "I was awfully close to quitting," the Boston Red Sox slugger says. "I had a bad cold, was feeling bad and I wasn't hitting good. Then I hit a couple against the wind and I decided to stay with it."

Tonight, Williams is delighted with his decision to continue. The Splendid Splinter becomes the fourth player to reach 500 home runs with his drive over the left-center-field fence in Cleveland off Wynn Hawkins. When he arrives at home plate, he has a big grin. His teammates enthusiastically greet him when he comes into the dugout.

"Sure, the homer was a thrill," Williams says. "It was one of my goals. If this were August, I might retire. But now I want to play out the year if I can."

The two-run homer, Williams' eighth of the season in just 15 starts, gives the Red Sox a 3-1 victory. He will hit 29 homers, in just 310 at-bats, and retire at the end of the season with 521 homers.

Sept. 28, 1960
Teddy Ballgame says goodbye with a bang. In the bottom of the eighth inning, in the final plate appearance of his career, Ted Williams raps a pitch from Baltimore's Jack Fisher 425 feet onto the roof of the Red Sox bullpen at Fenway Park. As he circles the bases with the 521st homer, the crowd of 10,454 explodes in love, giving him a rousing ovation.

Williams, who has had a love-hate relationship with the fans during his 19 seasons in Boston, doesn't tip his hat. When he reaches the dugout, the joy-drunk fans chant, "We want Williams! We want Williams!" But the Splendid Splinter refuses to come out for a curtain call.

He gets one anyway. He's sent out to left-field for the top of the ninth and then before the inning starts, he's replaced by Carroll Hardy. In he races, with a sheepish grin on his face, while the fans give him one final thunderous salute.

After the game, the 42-year-old Williams says he won't make the trip to New York for the Red Sox's final three games of the season. He retires third all-time in home runs, second in slugging percentage (.634) and first in on-base percentage (.483).

July 25, 1966
One was quick with the bat; the other was quick with the mind. Ted Williams, baseball's last .400 hitter, and Casey Stengel, who won 10 pennants and seven World Series in 12 years as New York Yankees manager, are inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Williams, who hit .406 in 1941, had been elected in his first year of eligibility. In his 19 seasons as the Boston Red Sox left-fielder, "the Splendid Splinter" had a lifetime batting average of .344 and won six American League batting titles. He hit 521 homers, drove in 1,839 runs, scored 1,798 runs and drew 2,019 walks (compared to striking out just 709 times). His .634 slugging percentage is second all-time to Babe Ruth's .690.

Stengel played 14 years in the majors (1912-25) with five National League teams, compiling a .284 lifetime average, but it was his performance as Yankees' manager that got him elected into the Hall. "The Ol' Perfesser" also managed the Brooklyn Dodgers, Boston Braves and New York Mets for 13 years, but none of these teams made it out of the second division. He had a lifetime record of 1,905-1,842.

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