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.”


Working at The Hall — A Baseball Fan’s Dream

Show me a baseball fan who wouldn’t want to work at the Hall of Fame?

When I was seven, my father took me to my first game at Yankee Stadium and promised a trip to the Hall of Fame. We made it upstate to Cooperstown a few years later, and that visit hooked me on baseball…for life.

I saw six eventual Hall of Famers play in that first game in 1958 — Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and Enos Slaughter for the Yankees, and Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio for the White Sox.

Throughout the years, I’ve watched Williams and Musial, Mantle and Mays, Aaron and Bonds, Marichal and Ryan. Was there to see Williams, Mantle and Maris homer in the same game. Cheered as Willie Mays hit a grand slam at Candlestick Park.

And I’ve been lucky enough to see many monumental baseball moments, some of them historic moments, Hall of Fame moments.

I’ve witnessed home runs by Bucky Dent and Aaron Boone that doomed the Red Sox. I’ve seen two World Series wins by the Yankees, a perfect game by David Wells, Roger Clemens 300th win and Barry Bonds 500th stolen base and record-breaking 756th home run. I’ve  been to Yankee Stadium old and new, Fenway, Wrigley, even the old Polo Grounds, where I saw Jim Hickman hit for the natural cycle.

With more than 30 years experience in writing and editing — as a sportswriter and later in high-tech corporate PR — my qualifications are impeccable. More importantly, if the Hall of Fame is looking for someone with a passion for the national pastime, well I’m on the Cooperstown shuttle right now.

That’s why they call me the SportsLifer. And here are some of blogs I’ve posted on baseball and the Hall.

Hall of Fame Blogs: A Sampler

Former Yankee Owner Jacob Ruppert Belongs in The Hall

Nine for Cooperstown: These Active Players Headed for Hall

The Ins and Outs of Baseball’s Hall of Fame

The Rock Should Be A Lock for Baseball’s Hall of Fame

Guidry Vs. Koufax: A Hall of A Compare


50: Maris, Mantle and Teddy Ballgame

Boston slugger Ted Williams homers during his final season, 1960.

Yeah, it happened 50 years ago this week, yet somehow I remember June 5, 1960, like it was yesterday. A beautiful, sunny Sunday afternoon in the Bronx, glove in hand, ticket in my pocket. Nine years old. Going to Yankee Stadium for a doubleheader against the Boston Red Sox.

This wasn’t my first major league game, but this kid was hungry for a win after seeing the Yankees lose to the White Sox in 1958 and Tigers in 1959.

The Yankees were a .500 club entering play on June 5, 20-20 and fourth in the American League, coming off a subpar 1959 season where they finished a distant third. The Red Sox were mired in the cellar. Young Ralph Terry got the start for the Yanks in the first game that day, while the Red Sox countered with lefty Tom Brewer.

The Yankees jumped off to a 1-0 lead in the second inning on a long home run by Mickey Mantle, The Yanks added three more runs in the fifth when Hector Lopez and Yogi Berra singled and Roger Maris, right, lined a home run into the right field seats. And when Tony Kubek’s single up the middle in the sixth plated Bobby Richardson, the Yankees had a 5-0 lead.

Williams Homers into The Bullpen
With two outs in the seventh and Terry seemingly cruising, the Red Sox suddenly rallied on hits by Bobby Thomson (yes, that Bobby Thomson who hit the shot heard round the world nearly nine years earlier just across the Harlem River at the Polo Grounds), Marty Keough and Pete Runnels to cut the lead to 5-2.

Up to the plate stepped Ted Williams. Now all through the game my father and relatives kept telling me to watch No. 9 in the Boston uniform. And in the seventh Williams hit a long drive into the Yankee bullpen in right to make it a 5-4 ballgame. It was the 495th home run of Williams’ historic career (he would finish with 521).

Yankee manager Casey Stengel then ambled to the mound and replaced Terry with diminutive left-hander Bobby Shantz. After an uneventful eighth, Boston loaded the bases with one-out in the ninth before Shantz got Vic Wertz to bounce into a double play to end the game.

The Yankees scored four runs in the first inning of the nightcap and cruised to an 8-3 victory, but we were long gone back home by then.

Yankees Win The Pennant
In 1960, the Yankees won the final 15 games of the season to edge out the Orioles and White Sox and win the first of five straight American League pennants, the final leg of a remarkable dynasty.

However, the Pittsburgh Pirates would upset the Yankees in the seventh game of the World Series that October, on a ninth-inning home run by Bill Mazeroski. The pitcher who surrendered that home run — Ralph Terry.

Mickey Mantle, left, would hit 40 home runs that year to win his fourth and final AL home run title. Maris, with 39 homers and a league-leading 112 RBIs. would win the American League MVP in his first year in pinstripes.

The Red Sox would wind up seventh in the American, ahead of the last-place Kansas City Athletics. Ted Williams, in his final year, would hit 29 homers — including one in his last at bat — and hit .316.

But the home run Teddy Ballgame hit on a sunny Sunday in June at Yankee Stadium was the one I will always remember. I saw Maris, Mantle and Williams homer in the same game. And I saw the Yankees win for the first time in my life.


Yanks, Mets Both Won First Games on April 23

Teddy Ballgame, Ted Williams, hit his first major league homer on April 23, 1939.

On this day in 1903, the New York Highlanders — now known as the Yankees —  won their first major-league game, a 7-2 decision over the Washington Senators behind starting pitcher Harry Howell (no, not the former Rangers defenseman, knucklehead).

Exactly 59 years later, April 23, 1962, the Mets won their first game, beating the Pittsburgh Pirates 9-1 behind Jay Hook, below, to end a nine-game losing streak. The Mets would go on to lose a record 120 games that season.

Ted Williams in 1939 and Hank Aaron in 1954 each hit first major league home run on this date. Pete Rose got his first major league hit, a triple, 47 years ago today.

Cardinal third baseman Fernando Tatis enjoyed the greatest single inning in baseball history by hitting two grand slams in one inning — both against the Dodgers Chan Ho Park — on April 23, 1999. Park somehow survived and is still pitching today.

Hoyt Wilhelm isn’t pitching any more, but on this date in 1952 New York Giants knuckleballer homered in his first major league bat. He never hit another one — it was his only home run in 1,070 games.

On April 23, 1946, Ed Head of the Brooklyn Dodgers pitched a no-hitter against the Boston Braves at Ebbets Field. Head won, 5-0. At least Head came out ahead..

On this date in 1964, Houston’s Ken Johnson became the first pitcher ever to lose a nine-inning no-hitter,

Warren Spahn, the winningest left-hand pitcher in baseball history with 363 victories, was  born on April 23. Another Hall of Famer, Sunny Jim Bottomley, was also born on April 23, as was ex-Brooklyn Dodger Dolph Camilli, and former Braves defensive standout and current White Sox Andruw Jones. Duke Carmel and Sean Henn are the only Yankees born on April 23.

These players … and others ….share a birthday with William Shakespeare, shown above, former President James Buchanan, Shirley Temple, Lee Majors, Roy Orbison …and the SportsLifer.


10 Things to Know about Yankees-Red Sox

The Yankee-Red rivalry began in 1903 when the soon-to-be World Champion Boston Americans faced the New York Highlanders.

1. The Yankees and the Red Sox weren’t always the Yankees and the Red Sox. When the teams first met in 1903, the New York Highlanders squared off against the Boston Americans. And predictably, in one of their very first meetings at Boston’s Huntingon Avenue Grounds, a base-running incident led to a full-scale brawl. The two teams have been fighting ever since.

2. New York’s 20-11 victory at Fenway Park in August marked the highest scoring game in the history of the rivalry. In the previous highest scoring game, the Yankees (er Highlanders) beat the Red Sox (er Americans) 15-14 on July 29, 1903. Hall of Famers Cy Young and Jack Chesbro were the starting pitchers in that slugfest.

3. In that same 15-14 game, Boston outfielder Patsy Dougherty hit for the cycle. Yankee second baseman Joe Gordon recorded the only other cycle in the rivalry, on September 8, 1940.

4. On June 30, 1908, Boston immortal Cy Young beat the Yankees, 8-0. It was the first of just five no-hitters in the storied rivalry. Rube Foster no-hit the Yankees in 1916, while George Mogridge (1917), Allie Reynolds (1951) (shown right getting the final out against Ted Williams) and Dave Righetti (1983) pitched Yankee no-hitters against the Sox.

5. Five days after the Titanic went down in the North Atlantic, the Red Sox christened Fenway Park with an 11-inning, 7-6 win over the New York Highlanders, soon to be named the Yankees.

6. Babe Ruth was a one heckuva pitcher. His career record against the Yankees was 17-5 with a 2.21 ERA. And he won both games he pitched for the Yankees against Boston, in 1930 and 1933.

7. Ted Williams batted .345 against the Yankees in his career, with 62 home runs and 229 RBIs in 327 games. In 312 games against the Red Sox, Lou Gehrig had 70 homers and 316 RBIs with a .352 average.

8. The longest game in Yankee-Red Sox history occurred August 29, 1967, when New  York beat Boston, 4-3, in 20 innings on a base hit by Horace Clarke in the second game of a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium. The two rivals have played 15 or more innings 13 times in their history.

9. When Alex Rodriguez  hit a walk-off home run against the Red Sox in the 15th inning last month to win a 2-0 classic, it was just the fifth game-ending homer to break up a scoreless tie in the 15th inning or later in baseball history. Adrian Garrett and Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Earl Averill and Old Hoss Radbourn hit the other walk-off winners.

10. Yankee designated hitter Hideki Matsui had seven RBIs in that 20-11 win, the most by a Yankee against Boston since Gehrig had eight ribbies in a 14-13 Yankee win on July 31, 1930, including one of his major league record 23 grand slams.


The SportsLifer Top 10

It was a tough call, but in the end Bucky Dent won out. The SportsLifer’s top 50 memorable sports events attended came down to a pair of decisive baseball games between the Red Sox and Yankees 25 years apart.

Bucky Dent’s decisive three-run homer against the Red Sox in the 1978 American League East playoff game at Fenway Park in Boston got the nod. The Dent game edged out Aaron Boone’s walk-off home run in the 11th inning of the 2003 American League Championship Series contest at Yankee Stadium.

The tiebreaker — the Yankees beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1978 to win the World Series. The 2003 Yankees lost to the World Series to the Florida Marlins.

Other top 10 entrants include a Stanley Cup final, World Series clincher, Super Bowl, Triple Crown horse race, NCAA basketball Final Four and Winter Olympics. Counting a major golf tournament, the ‘Lifer has seen all the major championship sporting events, with the exception of the NBA Finals.

Here’s the final countdown.

TOP 10 SPORTING EVENTS

10. Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Ted Williams homer in the same game, Yankees beat Red Sox 5-4, 1960

9. Figure skating, speed skating, the men’s long ski jump and snowmobiling, Winter Olympics, Salt Lake City, 2002

8. Florida repeats as national champion with win over Ohio State, Final Four, NCAA Tournament, Atlanta, 2007

7. Affirmed edges Alydar down the stretch, wins by a neck and captures horse racing’s last Triple Crown, Belmont Stakes, 1978

6. David Wells pitches the first perfect game at Yankee Stadium since Don Larsen, Yankees beat Twins 4-0, 1998

5. Ravens defense overwhelms Giants, Baltimore defeats News York 34-7 and wins Super Bowl XXXV, 2001

4. Yankees beat Braves 4-1, complete four-game sweep of Atlanta to win World Series, Yankee Stadium,1999

3. Rangers end 54-year hex, Mark Messier scores game-winnng goal to beat Vancouver Canucks 3-2 and win Stanley Cup, 1994

2. Aaron Boone’s walk-off home run in 11th beats Red Sox 6-5, gives Yankees 39th AL pennant, Yankee Stadium, 2003

1. Bucky Dent ‘s three-run homer propels Yankees to 5-4 win over Red Sox and AL East title, Fenway Park, 1978

Special Category

My first major league game features six Hall of Famers, White Sox 7, Yankees 1, Yankee Stadium 1958

First installment: 41-50. includes the St. Louis Hawks, Holy Cross, and a Ranger rout.

Second installment: 31-40. stars Lew Alcindor, The Mick, and the Boston Marathon.

Third installment: (21-30), recalls the play of Willie Mays, Joe Namath and Lawrence Taylor and others.

Fourth installment, (11-20). includes record-setting moments by Barry Bonds, Jim Hickman, Roger Clemens and Eric Young.


Playing Ball, Riding the Rails

Old Newburgh, Dutchess & Connectictut railroad bridge in the woods, Verbank, NY.

Baseball and trains. Boy oh boy, what a powerful combination.

Playing big league ball and riding the rails. Well for 80 years, major league baseball teams traveled almost exclusively by train. It wasn’t until the 1950s, when jet travel became faster and cheaper, that travel by train became a thing of the past.

The Cincinnati Reds were the first team to fly, taking a plane to Chicago in 1934 to play the Cubs. A dozen years later, the New York Yankees became the first team to fly on a regular basis.

But not until 1958, when the Giants and Dodgers moved to California, did major league teams begin traveling full-time via the skies. Before that, St. Louis was baseball’s westernmost outpost.

On the train, ballplayers were able to spend a great amount of time together, playing cards, smoking cigars, drinking and talking baseball. That togetherness developed a culture and formed bonds among teammates that today’s players simply don’t have.

‘Always Together’

Don Zimmer, who played for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1950s and later managed and coached several different teams, once recalled: “On trains, we were together. You get on a plane, and you’re only talking to one person — the guy next to you. There isn’t the closeness now that there was then. We’d eat in the same dining car, we were always together. I’m not saying it was better, that was just the biggest difference.”

Buzzy Bavasi, former Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodger GM and the Padres first president insisted money and a lack of camaraderie have changed the game.
“The players lived together, stayed together,” he said. “The players don’t know each other like they did years ago. We left on the train at 6 o’clock and would get into Chicago at 8 in the morning. The players had nothing to do but talk to one another. I think we ought to get back to trains. ”

All sorts of hijinks happened on those trains. For instance, there is the story of Babe Ruth and his diminutive manager, Miller Huggins. Supposedly one time, in the midst of an argument somewhere between New York and St. Louis, Ruth once grabbed Huggins by the heels and hung him upside down off the back of a moving train.

The Old Railroad
The remnants of an old railroad, the Newburgh, Dutchess & Connecticut, runs near my house in New York. The last train traveled the rails of the old ND&C in 1938.

Although it’s doubtful any major league teams ever traveled the ND&C, I wouldn’t be surprised if Hall of Famer Eddie Collins did. Collins was a native of Millerton, NY, the final stop on the ND&C line.

The railroad, originally named the Dutchess and Columbia, was a link in the New York, New Haven & Hartford line. The ND&C, which opened in 1871, ran from Hudson Junction, near the Hudson River and south of Beacon, NY, north through Hopewell Junction, Millbrook and Pine Plains, and eventually east to Millerton,on the New York-Connecticut state line.

The Millerton train station, above, still stands today.

Collins, who was born in 1887 and lived until 1951, would surely have taken the N&DC if he was traveling south to New York City, where he attended Columbia University.

Considered by some to be the best second baseman in baseball history, Collins finished his career with 3,315 hits, 744 stolen bases and a .333 lifetime batting average. He won the American League MVP in 1914 with the Philadelphia A’s. Collins played on the infamous Chicago “Black Sox” team which threw the 1919 World Series to the Reds, but was not in on the fix.

He later served as manager of the White Sox and general manager of the Boston Red Sox, and was instrumental in the signings of Ted Williams and Bobby Doerr.

Eddie Collins, Hall of Famer, rode the rails. Baseball and trains.