“…That Williams Of The Bostons Is Pretty Good Too.”

“The greatest team I played for was the Marine Corps.”

–Ted Williams

“Ted was everything that was right about the game of baseball. If you really think about it, he was everything that is right about this country.”

–Lloyd McClendon, Pittsburgh Pirates manager

“At age 70, Ted was still big and loud. If he needed to, he still looked plenty rugged enough to crush a fastball into the bleachers, yank a tarpon out of teal water, shotgun a duck on the wing, dead-stick a flaming fighter jet on a runway, or chase a sportswriter out of a clubhouse.”

–David Cataneo

“Ted Williams was one of the best wing men I ever had. His eyesight was so good that he could see the enemy planes coming before any of us could. He’d spot ’em coming and tell the rest of us.”

–John Glenn, U.S. Senator, Astronaut, Marine Corps fighter pilot

When I was a kid, there was only one game in town, and that was major league baseball.  Thanks to my grandfather, I started following the game before I’d lost my baby-teeth. He’d inherited his love of the sport from his father, and between the two of them, they’d seen just about every great player that ever lived.  My great-grandfather was in the stands when the Cincinnati Red Stockings, the first ever professional team, defeated the Philadelphia Athletics 27-18, enroute to a 57-0 season in 1869.  I mention this so you know that when those two debated the greatest hitter of all-time, they had a rock-solid basis for comparison.  My great-grandfather was certain no one was ever better than Ty Cobb, the “Georgia Peach”, a sterling batsman and an even more accomplished misanthrope.  My grandfather, having reached the age of majority just as the era of the home run began, argued in favor of Babe Ruth from the left side and old “Double X” Jimmy Foxx from the right; but one evening, as the debate shuttlecocked back and forth around the kitchen table, Pop cocked his head, took a puff on his cigar, and said, “But y’know, that Williams of the Bostons is pretty good too.”

Ted Williams was a great hitter to be sure, but he was an even greater American, sacrificing five prime years of his career and nearly losing his life in the service of his country.  Dean Hybl speculates in The Lost Years of Ted Williams what Ted could have accomplished:

Many still consider Williams the best pure hitter in baseball history, but had he played those five prime years that he lost to military service his overall totals would have squelched any doubt about who was the best hitter of all-time.

Williams finished his career with a .344 average, 2,654 hits, 521 home runs and 1,839 RBI. Because he missed time during two different periods of his career, I compiled the numbers for the six years before and after the time he missed from 1942-1945 and then did the same thing for the six years around his absence in 1952 and 1953. Because Williams did play briefly during the 1952 and 1953 seasons, I did include those numbers when figuring his projected numbers for those years.

Even with missing nearly five full baseball seasons, Ted Williams is still ranked among the greatest hitters of all-time. 

Even with missing nearly five full baseball seasons, Ted Williams is still ranked among the greatest hitters of all-time.

If the totals for the five seasons he missed were added to his ledger, Williams would have hit .342 with 3,452 hits, 663 home runs and 2,380 RBI.  Those numbers would have lifted him from 69th to sixth in career hits; from 18th to fourth in home runs; and from 13th to first in runs batted in.

When Ted died at the age of 83 in 2002, Mike Meserole described  his most harrowing Korean War mission in a piece for ESPN titled There Goes The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived:

Williams turned out to be baseball’s longest-serving military warrior, missing three full seasons (1943-45) during World War II and most of the 1952 and ’53 seasons when the Korean War was going on. Trained as a Navy fighter pilot and slated for combat in the South Pacific in ’45, Japan surrendered before he could see action. Seven years later, at age 33, his reserve unit was recalled to active duty with the Marines and he flew 39 missions over the Korean mainland.

On Feb. 19, 1953, flying low on a bombing run far above the 38th parallel, Williams’ F-9 Panther was hit by small arms fire and started leaking hydraulic fluid. With his plane shaking badly (he didn’t know it was also on fire), his control panel lit up with warning lights, and his radio dead, Williams followed a fellow pilot back to base, flying without hydraulics and wrestling his stick all the way.

Approaching the landing field, an on-board explosion blew off one of the wheel doors and Williams was forced to land his crippled jet at 225 miles-an-hour and on one wheel. When the F-9 finally came to a stop at the end of the runway after skidding over 2,000 feet, Williams walked away from the burning wreck as firemen hosed it down with foam. Fortunate but enraged, he reacted to nearly auguring in as if he had just popped out with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth — he yanked off his helmet and slammed it to the ground.

Ted Williams was brash and profane–and a hero on and off the diamond.  He hated the news media, fickle fans, and the wearing of neckties.  He loved hitting, fishing, the Marine Corps, and dogs. That’s a great man in anyone’s book.

About Bob Mack

Retired since 2003. Military Service: U.S. Army, 36th Artillery Group, Babenhausen, Germany 1966-67; 1st Signal Brigade, Republic of Vietnam, 1967-68 Attended University of Miami, 1969-73
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16 Responses to “…That Williams Of The Bostons Is Pretty Good Too.”

  1. nice post, Ted is one of my heros

  2. Great post.

    I love baseball. I came by that love of the sport through my father, who used to take me to games at Griffith Stadium, where the Washington Senators played.

    Daddy was quite the baseball player himself. He played a lot of sandlot baseball, and one day a scout for the New York Yankees showed up and offered Daddy the position of closing pitcher for the Yanks. Dad refused, as he was caregiving his own father at the time.

  3. Two images immediately come to mind about Williams… Willaims was wheeled out to the mound before the start of an All-Star Game where he was immediately surrounded by the players, talking, shaking hands, smiling. The response was deep and genuine and actually delayed the start of the game.

    The second was learning from an SI article about Williams, Don Mattingly and Wade Boggs exchanging points of view on hitting; Ted said:

    “Five or six times, hitting against a guy with good stuff, I swung hard and—oomph—just fouled it back. Really hit it hard. And I smelled the wood of the bat burning. It must have been that the seams hit the bat just right, and the friction caused it to burn, but it happened five or six times.”
    Read more: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1064687/index.htm#ixzz1DfWbr1uU

    • Bob Mack says:

      Man, that’s a good article. There’s the Yogi Berra lament “How can you think and hit at the same time?” But Yogi also said, “I’m not going to buy my kids an encyclopedia. Let them walk to school like I did”, so what’s he know? I remember that All-Star game too–Ted received a standing ovation from the fans and the players.

  4. AFVET says:

    Great post Bob.
    Jimmy Stewart was a B-17 pilot during WWII.
    Watching his movies, you would never have guessed it.

    • Bob Mack says:

      Afternoon, AFVET. Jimmy Stewart from Wikipedia:

      in 1940, Stewart was drafted into the United States Army but was rejected for failing to meet height and weight requirements for new recruits—Stewart was five pounds (2.3 kg) under the standard. To get up to 148 pounds he sought out the help Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s muscle man and trainer Don Loomis, who was noted for his ability to add or subtract pounds in his studio gymnasium. Stewart subsequently attempted to enlist in the Army Air Corps, but still came in under the weight requirement, although he persuaded the AAC enlistment officer to run new tests, this time passing the weigh-in, with the result that Stewart enlisted in the Army in March 1941. He became the first major American movie star to wear a military uniform in World War II.

      In August 1943, Stewart was finally assigned to the 445th Bombardment Group at Sioux City AAB, Iowa, first as operations officer of the 703rd Bombardment Squadron and then as its commander, at the rank of captain. In December, the 445th Bombardment Group flew its B-24 Liberator bombers to RAF Tibenham, Norfolk, England and immediately began combat operations. While flying missions over Germany, Stewart was promoted to major. In March 1944, he was transferred as group operations officer to the 453rd Bombardment Group, a new B-24 unit that had been experiencing difficulties. As a means to inspire his new group, Stewart flew as command pilot in the lead B-24 on numerous missions deep into Nazi-occupied Europe. These missions went uncounted at Stewart’s orders. His “official” total is listed as 20 and is limited to those with the 445th. In 1944, he twice received the Distinguished Flying Cross for actions in combat and was awarded the Croix de Guerre. He also received the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters. In July 1944, after flying 20 combat missions, Stewart was made Chief of Staff of the 2nd Combat Bombardment Wing of the Eighth Air Force, and though he was no longer required or expected to fly missions, he continued to do so.

      • AFVET says:

        That makes him even more of a hero.
        My mistake on the B-17.
        That airplane virtually ‘flew itself’ as opposed to the B-24.
        The B-24 had to be flown all the time, meaning it was a contrary bird.
        Ford built the most of them, and they could carry a bigger bomb load than the B-17 and take more punishment.

        Thanks for the info Bob.

  5. cube says:

    Ted Williams was a great ball player and a great American. He didn’t deserve how he ended up thanks to his less than stellar children.

  6. Angel says:

    aw America and apple pie!..luv the post Bob!..batter up and HAVE A GREAT WEEKEND!!!

  7. fleeceme says:

    Great stuff Bob.

    I admire Ted as a ballplayer and an American, but I can not rate him as a favorite – something about the American League.

    Regardless, his skill as a batsman is unequaled. I recently bought my nephew Ted’s book, The Science of Hitting, and he told me how almost immediately Ted’s teachings improved his approach at the plate.

    This was a man that actually understood his art, not just someone who could do it well.

  8. Bob Mack says:

    Fleece, I’m a National League guy too. My grandpop & his old man were Philadelphia A’s fans, but the A’s had left town by my time, so I was stuck with the wretched Phils, suffered through the Great Collapse of ’64, & endured unremitting incompetence until the arrival of Carlton, Schmidt & Luzinski. Now it’s the Golden Era for Phillies fans, but despite the Four Aces, the Utley & Werth-less lineup is beginning to trouble me. But, that’s the allure of the game. You never know.

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