When Red Sox legend Johnny Pesky died at age 92 in the Summer of 2012, it brought back a flood of memories and mental snapshots to the young boy who grew up in the shadow of Fenway Park. While Pesky’s baseball career will never be confused with that of my boyhood idol Ted Williams, his story is one that could only happen in baseball. To understand what the game was like in the 40’s & 50’s, you only need to read David Halberstam’s wonderful book “The Teammates” published in 2004. It chronicles the story of four ballplayers from different places with different backgrounds who became lifelong friends…Pesky, Williams, Dom DiMaggio and Bobby Doerr. While the context of the story is about a journey to make a final visit to see Ted, it weaves the history of the players and their relationship through the years into the chapters. Funny and poignant, it is a must-read for both the die-hard and casual baseball fan.
Ted Williams was a larger-than-life figure who deserves the admiration of every baseball fan…young and old. It is a shame that the misguided decision-making of his children after his death has caused even a slight tarnishing of his legacy. The greatest hitter who ever lived should never be a mentioned as a joke or throw-away line by people who can’t really be baseball fans. If you aren’t old enough to have seen him play, here’s a summary of stats to contemplate…
> 1939 – Hit .327 with 145 RBI’s in his rookie season
> 1940 – Hit .344 and made his first All-Star team
> 1941 – .406 BA, 37 HR, 147 RBI’s but finished 2nd in the MVP voting (to Joe DiMaggio)
> 1942 – .356, 36 HR, 137 RBI’s winning the Triple Crown, but finished 2nd in the MVP voting again (this time to Joe Gordon)
> 1946 – .342 BA and won the MVP
> 1947 – .343 BA, 32 HR, 114 RBI’s winning the Triple Crown once more, but finished 2nd to Joe D. in the MVP voting
> 1948 – .369 BA, 3rd in MVP
> 1949 – .343 BA, 43 HR’s 159 RBI’s winning his 2nd MVP
> 1950 – Injured during the All-Star Game, he had 28 HR’s & 97 RBI’s in only 89 games played
> 1951 – .318, 144 Walks (the 6th time he led the league in base-on-balls)
> 1954 – 117 games, his .345 BA would have led the league but because he was walked 136 times, he didn’t have enough AB’s to qualify (they eventually changed the rule)
> 1955 – 98 games, .356 BA
> 1956 – .345 BA
> 1957 – .388 BA at age 38, 2nd in the MVP balloting to Mickey Mantle
> 1958 – .326 BA, won his 6th batting title
> 1959 – Limited to 103 games due to injuries and only hit .254
> 1960 – 113 games, .316 BA & 29 HR’s including the one off Jack Fisher in his last at bat
> Career Batting Average of .344…7th all-time
> Career On-Base Percentage of .4817…1st all-time
> Career On-Base & Slugging (OPS) of 1.1155…2nd only to Babe Ruth
> 2021 Walks, 709 Strikeouts
> The last player to hit .400 (.406 in ’41)…if today’s Sacrifice Fly rule was in effect, it would have been .411
While all these numbers might be impressive, consider three other elements of Ted’s life….
1) He missed five years in the prime of his career to serve in the military during two wars…one writer commenting on the fact that John Wayne never served during World War II said, “John Wayne played John Wayne, Ted Williams was John Wayne”.
2) Without any fanfare or publicity, he helped start the “Jimmy Fund” in Boston to help children with cancer. Today, that organization is the Red Sox official charity and supports the Dana-Farber Clinic, where kid’s lives are saved everyday…I’m proud to be a member of their society made up of people who have the charity in their estate plan..
3) At his Hall of Fame induction speech in 1966, he said, “I’ve been a very lucky guy to have worn a baseball uniform, and I hope some day the names of Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson in some way can be added as a symbol of the great Negro players who are not here only because they weren’t given a chance.” Many feel that this powerful and unprecedented statement from the podium was the first step in opening the doors of Cooperstown to these players. Paige was the first Negro League star inducted in 1971.
Back in 2012, in honor of Fenway Park’s 100th anniversary celebration, the Tommy Bahama clothing company came out with a beautiful commemorative shirt for the occasion. At a price tag of $250, it was slightly out of the range for this Senior Citizen. They did, however, offer a contest on their website asking fans to share their personal memories of the ballpark with the opportunity to win one of the shirts. Here’s my entry…
” As a boy growing up in New England, I remember clearly how baseball fans would talk about Ted Williams. However, I never really understood the legend of the man until I happened to be in Fenway Park on an August night in 1953. Even though I was only seven years old, I could feel the electricity in the stands as Ted made his first appearance since his return from serving as a Jet Fighter Pilot in Korea. My recollection is that he popped-out as a pinch-hitter but what is crystal clear is that the fans gave him a standing ovation both before and after the at bat. A hero to his fans, a hero to his country and still a hero to that little seven-year old boy”
No, a package didn’t arrive on my door-step from Tommy Bahama but that didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for the rich history of the man, the ballpark and the game we love. I did share the entry with many baseball friends and my competitors in our national experts fantasy league (the XFL) got together and surprised me with a gift of the shirt that Fall at our annual draft. It was a treasured moment for this old baseball fan and I wear the shirt every November when we all gather in Phoenix. Here’s hoping the tradition will continue for years to come.