The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived

Ted Williams may have been the greatest hitter who ever lived. Williams played for the Boston Red Sox from 1939 to 1960, and missed nearly five full seasons while serving his country in World War II and later the Korean War as a Marine fighter pilot.

The Splendid Splinter hit 521 home runs, third on the all-time behind only Babe Ruth and Jimmie Foxx when he retired after homering in his final at bat in 1960. Williams had a .344 lifetime average, won six batting titles and was the last player to bat .400 with a .406 average in 1941.

Williams hit .388 to win the American League batting title in 1957 — at the age of 38. He won two MVPs (1946, 1949) and is the only player in history to win the Triple Crown twice. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1966.

David Cataneo’s book “I Remember Ted Williams” contains anecdotes and memories from the players and people who knew him best.

Here is a sampling of some of top reminisces from that book:

“I always say that Ted needed another planet. You look at what he has accomplished. Ted Williams was one of the best fishermen, so he kind of conquered the seas. He’s one of the best baseball players, so he kind of conquered the land. He was an ace pilot, so he kind of conquered the air. So he’s kind of a man who’s outgrown this planet. He’s the real John Wayne.”
— Maureen Cronin, daughter of Red Sox manager Joe Cronin

“He never wanted to be embarrassed at the plate. Ever. He talked about it. He said, ‘When I walk down the street, I want people to say: ‘There goes Ted Williams, the best hitter I’ve ever seen.”‘
— Broadway Charlie Wagner, Red Sox pitcher, 1938-42, 1946

“One day at Tiger Stadium, he put on the greatest demonstration of batting practice that I had ever seen. He hit one ball after another, most of them in the upper deck. He loved to hit in Detroit. I think out of 20 pitches, he hit 17 up into the stands. And when he got through, it was early, but there were 30-35,000 in the stands. Those people just stood and gave him a standing ovation. You would have thought he had just won the World Series.”
— Boo Ferriss, Red Sox pitcher, 1946-1950

“I never met anybody in my life who was as electric as he was. I’ve met some who are electric, but none to the brilliance that he was. I mean he’d light up a funeral parlor.”
— George Sullivan, Fenway Park batboy in 1949, sportswriter in the 50s and 60s, and the Red Sox PR director in the 80s

Williams had a stormy relationships with the Boston media — whom he referred to as the “Knights of the Keyboard. The sportswriter who hurt Williams most was wrinkly, sour Mel Webb of the Boston Globe. On the opening day of spring training in 1947, Williams greeted the old scribe by saying, ‘Why don’t you drop dead you old bastard.’ Webb vowed to get back at him, and he did during that season’s MVP balloting. He completely left Triple Crown winner Williams off his ballot. Ted lost the award to DiMaggio, 202-201. If Webb had voted Ted at least tenth most valuable, Williams would have won.”

“He always talked to the out-of-town writers just to screw the Boston writers. You know what he’d do? He’d be in the dugout and an out-of-towner would come in and he’d give him a big handshake. “Let’s get out of here.” They go down to the end of the dugout, all alone. They’d be talking, and all the Boston guys would be looking and wondering what the hell he was telling hi. Maybe he was quitting or something. Ted did it on purpose.”
— Tim Horgan, longtime Boston Herald columnist


“Of all the things Ted told me, he said, ‘I’ve gotten all kinds of accolades in the baseball department, but the thing I’m most proud of was I was a good marine fighter pilot.’ He was so darned proud of being a marine.”
— Long-time friend Frank Cushing

Williams on being sold to the Red Sox
“When I first heard the news that I had been sold to Boston, I almost blew a fuse. I always dreamed of playing with the Yankees or Giants. Babe Ruth was my hero. I used to dream of hitting home runs into the friendly right-field stands in the Yankee Stadium or Polo Grounds. Why, I had followed baseball since I was old enough to read and the Red Sox had been mired in the second division throughout my boyhood.”

His opinion on whether, as manager of the Washington Senators, he could get along with a cantankerous player like Ted Williams.
“If he can hit like Ted Williams, yes.”

6 Comments on “The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived”

  1. Tc says:

    And Rick, there’s that great article by John Updike on William’s last AB in ’60. Still the greatest swan song in sports, and maybe a vein for you to mine?. Geez, Yanks didn’t need him in the 40’s and 50’s, but they sure could have used him this week.

  2. Bob DiLallo says:

    Sorry, but I’m going to have to go with the Babe on this one. He hit only 2 points less than Williams through his career, and his run productivity was superior.

    Using the 162 game average system:
    Ruth had
    141 runs per season, 186 hits, 33 dbles, 9 triples, 46 HRs and 143 RBIs

    Williams had
    127 runs, 188 hits, 37 doubles, 5 triples, 37 HRs and 130 RBI

    Now the argument arises about Williams’ military service and lost years, which could have been his most productive. But Babe’s first 5 years with Boston and last two with the Yanks and Boston Braves also probably pulled his productivity averages down. I think it makes it a wash.

    While we all know that Ted hit .406, we should also remember that the Babe topped out at .393, no mean feat. (About 6 or 7 hits across 500 ABs.) Their OBP’s are very close but the Babe’s OPS and OPS+ beat Williams. And the Babe’s .690 slugging percentage is actually one of those records that won’t ever be broken. (Not quite 60 pts better than Ted.)

    Finally, while Williams’ last AB produced a home run, Babe hit his last two home runs in one game and retired two days later. Pretty much the same idea, except Babe hit two.

    There is also a strong argument for Lou Gehrig in this same light. Same thing, too, of a career being cut short or somehow abbreviated.

    I think I’d put Williams and Gehrig in one category and the Babe alone in his own.

    • sportslifer says:

      Hey Bob, you make a strong argument. For me, the Babe was a better slugger, but he only won one batting title. Williams won six. You could throw Ty Cobb into the disucssion – -he won 12 batting titles, but his game was based on speed and he got a lot more leg hits than Williams. For modern day hitters, I’d go with Tony Gwynn.

  3. […] Number 1 on most people’s greatest hitters list is Ted Williams who once said, “All I want out of life is that when I walk down the street, folks will say, ‘There goes the greatest hitter that ever lived.’” […]

  4. […] Number 1 on most people’s greatest hitters list is Ted Williams who once said, “All I want out of life is that when I walk down the street, folks will say, ‘There goes the greatest hitter that ever lived.’” […]

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