Williams was a two-time American League Most Valuable Player (MVP) winner, led the league in batting six times, and won the Triple Crown twice. He had a career batting average of .344, with 521 home runs, and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1966. He is the last player in Major League Baseball to bat over .400 in a single season (.406 in 1941). Williams holds the highest career batting average of anyone with 500 or more home runs. His career year was 1941, when he hit .406 with 37 HR, 120 RBI, and 135 runs scored. His .551 on base percentage set a record that stood for 61 years.
Ted Williams was born in San Diego as Teddy Samuel Williams, named after his father, Samuel Stuart Williams, and Teddy Roosevelt. At some point, the name on his birth certificate was changed to Theodore, but his mother and his closest friends always called him "Teddy". He attended Hoover High School in San Diego—where the baseball field was later named in his honor. His father was a soldier, sheriff, and photographer from New York and greatly admired the former president. His mother, May Venzor, was a Salvation Army worker from El Paso, Texas.
His paternal ancestors were a mix of Welsh and Irish and his maternal ancestors were of Mexican descent. The Mexican side of Williams' family was quite diverse, having Spanish, Russian, and Indian roots. Through his Mexican side, he is also distantly related to Mexican Revolutionary General Pascual Orozco, who in turn shares descent from the Habsburg family of Europe, and related to Maximilian I of Mexico. Of his Mexican ancestry he wrote: "If I had had my mother's name, there is no doubt I would have run into problems in those days, considering the prejudices people had in Southern California".
Williams lived in San Diego's North Park neighborhood and graduated from Herbert Hoover High School in San Diego, where he played baseball. Though he soon had offers from the St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Yankees, his mother thought he was too young to leave home so he signed with the local minor league club, the San Diego Padres, while still in high school. He also had a minor league stint with the Minneapolis Millers.
He had a younger brother Danny who was wayward. When Ted started making some money in 1941, he had the house on Utah Street enlarged and completely renovated. Danny promptly backed a truck up to the house, moved out all the new furniture, including a washing machine and a sewing machine, and sold these items. May, who had been able to get Danny out of his previous scrapes, gave up this time and had him arrested. He spent time in jail.
Early in his career, Ted stated that he wished to be known as "The greatest hitter who ever lived," an honor that he achieved in the eyes of many by the end of his career. Williams once stated his goal was to have a father walk down the street with his son, point to Williams and remark, "Son, there goes the greatest hitter who ever lived." Carl Yastrzemski said of Williams, "He studied hitting the way a broker studies the stock market."
Major League CareerEdit
Williams moved up to the major league Red Sox in 1939, immediately making an impact by leading the American League in RBI and finishing 4th in MVP balloting. Williams quickly became known as one of the most potent left-handed hitters in MLB. A myth developed that his eyes were the best in history, being able to read the words on a 78 RPM record label while it was spinning. Williams disavowed that claim, but his eyesight was amazingly keen; military ophthalmologists judged Williams' vision as "a one-in-100,000 proposition."
In 1941, he entered the last day of the season with a batting average of .39955. This would have been rounded up to .400, making him the first man to hit .400 since Bill Terry in 1930. Manager Joe Cronin (also a Red Sox Hall Of Famer) left the decision whether to play up to him. Williams opted to play in both games of the day's doubleheader and risk falling short, explaining that "if I can't hit .400 all the way, I don't deserve it." He singled in his first at-bat, raising his average to .401, and followed it with a home run and two more hits in the first game. Williams went 2 for 3 in the second game, for a total of 6 hits in his last 8 at-bats, for a final average of .406. No player has hit .400 in a season since Williams.
In his book, Williams acknowledges that "There was some great batting done that year (1941)" and mentions Joe DiMaggio and Cecil Travis, who hit .359. He continued, "I think, surely, to hit .400 you have to be an outstanding hitter having everything go just right, and in my case the hitter was a guy who lived to hit, who worked at it so hard he matured at the bat at a time when he was near his peak physically. The peaks met.".
At the time, Williams' achievement was overshadowed by Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak in the same season. Their rivalry was played up by the press; Williams always felt himself slightly better as a hitter, but acknowledged that DiMaggio was the better all-around player. The writers apparently concurred, voting DiMaggio the American League MVP award over Williams.
Williams also set a major-league record in 1941 for on-base percentage in a season at .551. That record would last until surpassed by Barry Bonds (the cheater) in 2002. In 1949, Williams reached base in 84 consecutive games, the most ever. In addition, Williams holds the third longest such streak of 69, in 1941. In 1957, Williams reached base in 16 consecutive plate appearances, also a major league record.
Ted Williams pitched once during his career, on August 24, 1940. He pitched the last two innings in a 12-1 loss to Detroit; Williams allowed one earned run on three hits, while striking out one batter, Rudy York.
Williams said that his greatest thrill as a player was winning the 1941 All-Star Game with a two-out, three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning. Another memorable All-Star Game accomplishment came in 1946 in Fenway Park, a 12-0 blowout for the American League. Williams' 4-for-4, 5 RBI day was highlighted by a home run off Rip Sewell's notorious eephus pitch.
Among the few blemishes on Williams' playing record was his performance in his lone postseason appearance, the 1946 World Series. Williams managed just 5 singles in 25 at-bats, with just 1 RBI, as the Red Sox lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games. Much of Williams' lack of production was due to his stubborn insistence on hitting into the Cardinals' defensive shift, which frequently involved five or six of the Cardinals' fielders positioned to the right of second base. This shift was a version of the Boudreau Shift, popularized by Cleveland Indians manager Lou Boudreau in an attempt to reduce Williams's effectiveness. Williams was also playing with a sore wrist from being hit by a pitch during a pre-World Series exhibition game against a team gathered from other American League squads, while the Cardinals and Brooklyn Dodgers were playing a best-of-three series to determine the National League champion. However, Williams never cited the injury as an excuse for his subpar play.
Williams was almost traded for DiMaggio in 1947. In late April, Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey and Yankees owner Dan Topping agreed to swap the players, but a day later canceled the deal when Yawkey requested that Yogi Berra come with DiMaggio. It was argued, then and now, that Yankee Stadium, which favored left-handed power, would be a better venue for the southpaw Williams, with the reverse true for the righty DiMaggio in Fenway Park.
A broken collarbone and his famed plate patience cost Williams the 1954 batting title. He had the league's highest average, .345, but walked 136 times en route to just 386 at-bats. 478 at-bats were required to be eligible for the batting title, and thus Williams lost it to Cleveland’s Bobby Avila, who hit .341 in 555 at-bats.
In 1957, he hit .388 to lead the league and remarkably in 1958 at age 40, he led the league with a .328 batting average.
When Pumpsie Green became the first black player on the Boston Red Sox in 1959—the last major league team to integrate its roster—Williams openly welcomed him.
Williams ended his career dramatically, hitting a home run in his very last at-bat on September 28, 1960.
World War 2EditWilliams served as a pilot during World War II and the Korean War. He had been classified 3-A by Selective Service prior to the war, a dependency deferment because he was his mother's sole support. When his classification was changed to 1-A following U.S. entry into the war, Williams appealed to his draft board. The board agreed that his status should not have been changed. He made a public statement that once he had built up his mother's trust fund, he intended to enlist. Even so, criticism in the media, including withdrawal of an endorsement contract by Quaker Oats, resulted in his enlistment in the Navy on May 22, 1942.
Williams could have received an easy assignment and played baseball for the Navy. Instead, he joined the V-5 program to become a Naval aviator. Williams was first sent to the Navy's Preliminary Ground School at Amherst College for six months of academic instruction in various subjects including math and navigation, where he achieved a 3.85 grade point average.
Fellow Red Sox player Johnny Pesky, who went into the same training program, said about Ted "He mastered intricate problems in fifteen minutes which took the average cadet an hour, and half of the other cadets there were college grads."
Pesky again described Williams quickly advanceing in training for which Pesky personally did not qualify: “I heard Ted literally tore the `sleeve target' to shreds with his angle dives. He'd shoot from wingovers, zooms, and barrel rolls, and after a few passes the sleeve was ribbons. At any rate, I know he broke the all-time record for hits." Ted went to Jacksonville for a course in air gunnery, the combat pilot's payoff test, and broke all the records in reflexes, coordination, and visual-reaction time. "From what I heard. Ted could make a plane and its six 'pianos' (machine guns) play like a symphony orchestra," Pesky says. "From what they said, his reflexes, coordination, and visual reaction made him a built-in part of the machine."
Williams received preflight training at Athens, Georgia; primary training at NAS Bunker Hill, Indiana; and advanced flight training at NAS Pensacola. He received his wings and commission in the U.S. Marine Corps on May 2, 1944.
He served as a flight instructor at Naval Air Station Pensacola teaching young pilots to fly the F4U Corsair. He was in Pearl Harbor awaiting orders to join the China fleet when the war ended. He finished the war in Hawaii and was released from active duty in January 1946; however he did remain in the reserves.
On May 1, 1952, at the age of 34, he was recalled to active duty for service in the Korean War. He hadn't flown for some eight years but turned away all offers to sit out the war in comfort as a member of a service baseball team. Nevertheless Williams was resentful of being called up, which he admitted years later, particularly of the Navy's policy to call up Inactive Reservists rather than members of the Active Reserve.
After eight weeks of refresher flight training and qualification in the F9F Panther jet at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, he was assigned to VMF-311, Marine Aircraft Group 33 (MAG-33), based at K-3 airfield in Pohang, Korea.
On February 16, 1953, Williams was part of a 35-plane strike package against a tank and infantry training school just south of Pyongyang, North Korea. During the mission a piece of flak knocked out his hydraulics and electrical systems, causing Williams to have to "limp" his plane back to K-13, an Air Force base close to the front lines. For his actions of this day he was awarded the Air Medal.
Williams stayed on K-13 for several days while his plane was repaired. Because he was so popular, GI's from all around the base came to see him and his plane. After it was repaired, Williams flew his plane back to his Marine station.
Williams eventually flew 39 combat missions before being pulled from flight status in June 1953 after a hospitalization for pneumonia resulted in discovery of an inner ear infection that disqualified him from flight health status. While these absences, which took almost five years out of the heart of a great career, significantly limited his career totals, he never publicly complained about the time devoted to military service. Biographer Leigh Montville argues that Williams was not happy about being pressed into service in Korea, but he did what he felt was his patriotic duty.
Williams had a strong respect for General Douglas MacArthur, referring to him as his "idol". For Williams' fortieth birthday, MacArthur sent him an oil painting of himself 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."
After retirement from play, Williams helped new left fielder Carl Yastrzemski in hitting. He then served as manager of the Washington Senators, from 1969–1971, then continued with the team when they became the Texas Rangers after the 1971 season. Williams' best season as a manager was in 1969 when he led the expansion Senators to an 86–76 record in their only winning season in Washington. He was chosen "Manager of the Year" after that season. Like many great players, Williams became impatient with ordinary athletes' abilities and attitudes, particularly those of pitchers, whom he admitted he never respected, and his managerial career was short and largely unsuccessful. Before and after leaving Texas (which would be his only manager job), he occasionally appeared at Red Sox spring training as a guest hitting instructor. Williams would also go into a partnership with friend Al Cassidy to form the Ted Williams Baseball Camp in Lakeville, Massachusetts. It was not uncommon to find Williams fishing in the pond at the camp. The area now is owned by the town and a few of the buildings still stand. In the main lodge one can still see memorabilia from Williams' playing days.
On the subject of pitchers, in Ted's autobiography written with John Underwood, Ted opines regarding Bob Lemon (a sinker-ball specialist) pitching for Cleveland Indians around 1951: "I have to rate Lemon as one of the very best pitchers I ever faced. His ball was always moving, hard, sinking, fast-breaking. You could never really uhmmmph with Lemon."
Then there was Ray Scarborough with the Washington Senators, who always seemed to do well against Boston. "He was a right-handed pitcher and he was nothing if not smart and crafty. Not only did he give the Boston right-handers a difficult time, but he was poison to their best left-handed hitter Ted Williams. Scarborough could decoy Williams better than any other pitcher in the league.
It was not just a matter of his selection of pitches, it was his motion as well. He would show fastball and then at the last minute go to his curve. Forty years later Williams paid Scarborough the ultimate accolade: He said that he probably chased more balls out of the strike zone with Ray Scarborough than with any other pitcher in the American League
Around 1950 largely at the urging of Williams, it was said, the Red Sox traded for Ray Scarborough, by then thirty-five. But it was too late for him, and too late for them. He lasted a little more than one season before moving on"He was much more successful in fishing. An avid and expert fly fisherman and deep-sea fisherman, he spent many summers after baseball fishing the Miramichi River, in Miramichi, New Brunswick, Canada. Williams was named to the International Game Fish Association Hall of Fame in 2000. Shortly after Williams's death, conservative pundit Steve Sailer wrote:
The baseball slugger was possibly the most technically proficient American of the 20th Century, as his mastery of three highly different callings demonstrates... Can you think of anybody else who was #1 in America in his main career hitting a baseball, probably Top 10 in his retirement hobby fishing, and roughly Top 1000 in his weekend job fighter pilot? John Glenn springs to mind as military pilot, astronaut, and Senator, but each new career flowed from the previous one. The same is true for Jimmy Doolittle. Williams' three careers, in contrast, were uniquely disparate.
Williams reached an extensive deal with Sears, lending his name and talent toward marketing, developing, and endorsing a line of in-house sports equipment - specifically fishing, hunting and baseball equipment. He was also extensively involved in the Jimmy Fund, later losing a brother to leukemia, and spent much of his spare time, effort, and money in support of the cancer organization.
In his later years, Williams became a fixture at autograph shows and card shows after his son (by his third wife), John Henry Williams, took control of his career, becoming his de facto manager. The younger Williams provided structure to his father's business affairs, exposed forgeries that were flooding the memorabilia market, and rationed his father's public appearances and memorabilia signings to maximize their earnings.
On November 18, 1991, he was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George H. W. Bush.
One of Ted Williams's final, and most memorable, public appearances was at the 1999 All-Star Game in Boston. Able to walk only a short distance, Williams was brought to the pitcher's mound in a golf cart. He proudly waved his cap to the crowd—a gesture he had never done as a player. Fans responded with a standing ovation that lasted several minutes. At the pitcher's mound he was surrounded by players from both teams, including fellow Red Sox Nomar Garciaparra and Tony Gwynn. Later in the year, he was among the members of the Major League Baseball All-Century Team introduced to the crowd at Turner Field in Atlanta prior to Game 2 of the World Series.
The Ted Williams Tunnel in Boston (December 1995), and Ted Williams Parkway in San Diego (1992) were named in his honor while he was still alive.
In his last years, Williams suffered from numerous cardiac problems. He had a pacemaker installed in November 2000 and underwent open-heart surgery in January 2001. After suffering a series of strokes and congestive heart failure, he died of cardiac arrest at the age of 83 in Citrus Hills, Florida, on July 5, 2002.