Tag: Ted Williams

Ted Williams ‘Would Have Loved’ David Ortiz Hitting Home Run No. 521

The greatest hitter who ever lived” gave Claudia Williams a batting clinic that spanned two decades.

The only surviving child of Boston Red Sox Hall of Famer Ted Williams has emerged as a caretaker of his magnificent and complicated legacy. She, better than anyone else, can speculate with credibility on what her dad would think of Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz matching Williams’ career record of 521 home runs. 

Ortiz hit the milestone home run Friday night at Fenway Park during an 8-4 loss to the Seattle Mariners

“I see a lot of things in David Ortiz that I know my dad would have just loved,” Williams told Bleacher Report the day after she participated in a ceremony that retired Wade Boggs’ No. 26 in Boston. “Congratulations to him. I think it’s awesome.”

Being a child of Ted Williams, Claudia Williams wrote in Ted Williams, My Father: A Memoir, presented a tidal wave of challenges. They were the result of her parents’ divorce, Williams’ drive for perfection in everything and everyone, a volcanic temper and intense, profanity-filled outbursts at those closest to him.  It also gave her unmatched insight into Williams’ personality, character and, eventually, unfettered access to his brilliance when it came to hitting baseballs and catching fish. 

“People don’t realize it, but the daughter of Ted Williams watches swings. He’s got a great game. He’s got a great swing,” Claudia Williams, 44, told B/R when asked about Ortiz. “My own father taught me the importance of getting ahead of your hands and swinging up. He takes a nice, wide stance. My dad would describe him as being ‘stronger than an ox.’

He’s got arms on him like Goliath. He’s got a little bit of an upswing. And I like the way he cocks his hips and he puts that power through his midcore. He’s a power hitter through and through. We see that every time he hits a home run. They don’t just go over the wall, they go way over the wall. Beautiful swing. Beautiful depth. Great strength.”

Ortiz also tied Hall of Famers Frank Thomas and Willie McCovey with home run No. 521. When he spoke one-on-one to B/R prior to hitting his 500th home run in St. Petersburg, Florida, last September, Ortiz deferentially brushed off any comparisons to Williams as “crazy talk,” noting Williams’ military service in two wars that would cost him 727 games over five seasons. 

“Historically, you know how great Mr. Ted Williams was. It’s wonderful talking about the greatest hitters of the game and your name being mentioned with them,” Ortiz added after Friday’s game. 

After his milestone 500th home run, he spoke of Williams and others in the 500-home run club as players whom he could only watch “in cartoons” as a child. “The whole world knows it’s not easy to get,” he added.

Claudia Williams concurs. “If you hit over 500 home runs, you’re doing something right,” she said. “There’s a ton of arguments out there. This is happening this season, it didn’t happen then. It’s not like [it] was then. The pitchers are this or that. I don’t care what people say.”

In 2003, Ortiz and Ramirez tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug during a pilot testing program. In 2009, the New York Times reported the results, which were supposed to be anonymous. Ortiz continues to deny knowingly using any banned substances.

He told Bob Hohler of the Boston Globe in March 2015 it would be “unfair” if anyone denied him a Hall of Fame vote because of the 2003 positive. “I was using what everybody was using at the time,” he added. When asked about the PED results by B/R in 2015, Ortiz deferred by saying, “I only want to focus on the positive.”


The Kid vs. Big Papi

The “Ortiz vs. Williams” debate, for as much as it does exist, is mainly drawn upon generational guidelines. For those who were either old enough to see Williams play (he retired in 1960 and died at age 83 in 2002) or grew up in a household where he was idolized (this author included), his place as the first among equals on the Red Sox Mt. Rushmore is unquestioned. For many who grew up in a post-2004 world, they saw Ortiz pile up World Series rings before ever hearing of Williams’ baseball, fishing and military exploits.

Among those in Williams’ corner: Red Sox Hall of Fame outfielder Carl Yastrzemski. He replaced Williams in left field in 1961. When asked who was better, Williams or Ortiz, Yaz was brief. “It’s got to be Ted, he told Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy in May. “I mean, he was the greatest hitter who ever lived. And he missed all those years serving his country in two wars.

Yaz is joined on the Williams side of the ledger by Gordon Edes, the Red Sox historian who covered the team over 18 seasons for the Boston Globe and ESPN.

“Baseball lends itself to comparing stars from different eras much better than, say, basketball, where no one would dare suggest George Mikan could play with LeBron James. Baseball differs in that we can fairly debate the relative merits of [Babe] Ruth, [Hank] Aaron and [Barry] Bonds, say, while of course noting the differences in the environments in which they played,” Edes told B/R via email.

“It’s reasonable to discuss Ortiz relative to Ted Williams, and the fact they played different positions hardly matters, given that the comparison revolves exclusively on their hitting,” Edes continued. The ‘debate,’ such as it is, is a short one: ‘Mr. Williams,’ as Ortiz calls him, dwarfs anyone else who ever played for the Red Sox as a hitter. Ted is the all-time franchise leader in the alphabet soup of BA, OBP, SGP and OPS, as well as the team’s all-time leader in home runs.”

In addition to being the last hitter to bat over .400 (.406 in 1941), Williams produced the two highest season batting averages in Red Sox history. Among the other categories in which he dominates, as Edes noted, he posted the top nine seasons in OBP in Red Sox history, five of the top seasons in SGP and eight of the top 10 seasons in walks. 

“The chasm between Ted and runner-up is large, but Ortiz has certainly thrust himself into a favored spot relative to Carl Yastrzemski and Wade Boggs, with Jim Rice and maybe Manny [Ramirez] another rung below,” Edes wrote.

On the day he turned 40 last November, Ortiz announced he would retire after the 2016 season. Ortiz reported to Red Sox camp this spring considerably leaner than he was in 2015. Whatever he did in the offseason has worked. Thus far, he’s making a bid for league MVP. In his first 59 games this season, Ortiz slammed 17 home runs. drove in 59 runs, and led the American League with 29 doubles, a .423 on-base percentage, .715 slugging percentage and a stat-nerd-baffling 1.138 OPS.

Ortiz remains on pace for arguably the greatest offensive season in big-league history for any ballplayer over 40. 

Williams won the 1957 AL batting title at age 39, hitting .388 with 38 home runs, 87 RBI and a haughty 1.257 OPS. A year later, he became the oldest player ever to win a batting crown at 40 with a .328 average and 1.042 OPS. Williams slashed .316/.451./645 with 27 HRs in his final season of 1960 at age 42.

A lifelong Red Sox fan, Dave McCarthy, 63, was a New Hampshire State Police officer for more than 25 years and worked details for top state politicians and visiting past presidents such as Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. That job eventually led to a relationship with Williams and a longtime spot as Williams’ personal security man. McCarthy is now the executive director of the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame, housed inside Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.

“Bush Senior almost fell down the stairs in a rush to meet him in New Hampshire,” McCarthy told B/R. The two had met during flight training school when they were both in the Navy in World War II. “Of all the presidents and people I’ve met, none of them had the effect on people as Ted Williams did. It’s as if baseball makes everyone an eight-year-old kid. Even Matt Damon couldn’t believe it when I introduced him to Ted.

“Ted would have loved to see David tie and break his 521 mark. He would be brief and praise him,” McCarthy added. “Ted would always defend the new players. When it appeared that Nomar [Garciaparra] was going to [be] the patriarch of Boston, he loved the kid.”

Williams campaigned for Bush in New Hampshire during the 1988 GOP primary campaign, drawing huge crowds and helping the then-vice president capture a pivotal state victory.


‘Boston’s Mr. October’

Ortiz, who took an infamous selfie with President Obama at the White House in 2014, has cast a similar spell over Boston thanks mainly to his postseason fireworks and Broadway-like October timing. His postseason slash line of .409/.553/.962 is buttressed by 17 home runs and 60 RBI in 295 at-bats. In 2013, Ortiz captured World Series MVP honors with a .688 average and a Thor-like .760/1.188/1.948 slash line.

His postseason home runs are the stuff of schoolchild legend across New England.

There was his walk-off, 10th-inning blast off Jarrod Washburn that capped Boston’s three-game sweep of the Anaheim Angels in the 2004 American League Division Series.

There was Big Papi’s Game 4, 12th-inning big fly against the New York Yankees in 2004 that provided a rocket boost for Boston’s historic comeback in the American League Championship Series. 

And, of course, there was that grand slam against the Detroit Tigers in Game 2 of the 2013 ALCS that not only tied the game 5-5, but also sent Torii Hunter sprawling over the wall and turned Boston bullpen cop Steve Horgan into a local celebrity.

For Ted Williams, there were no postseason heroics. He hit .200 in his lone World Series appearance in 1946. He was nursing a bruised elbow suffered in a pre-World Series tuneup game. In those seven games against St. Louis, he went 5-for-25 with five strikeouts, one RBI and no home runs. “And I did poorly, and I don’t know why today,” he told the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000.

“The biggest way Ortiz’s career impacted the Sox differently than Ted’s is the team’s success on the field,” explained Edes, who called Ortiz “Boston’s Mr. October.” Ortiz has a .455 career average and three home runs in his 14 World Series games. “His postseason play offers a powerful supporting argument to his claim that he belongs in Cooperstown,” Edes wrote.

Williams and the Red Sox rolled to the World Series with 104 wins as the American League champions in 1946 when baseball was back at its pre-war strength. Until 1969, the American and National Leagues each sent one team to the World Series. That was baseball’s entire postseason.

To see how Williams could have benefited from the playoff expansion that players like Ortiz enjoyed in the post-wild-card era, B/R examined the final American League standings during years in which Williams’ play was not impacted by military service.

Splitting the then eight-team American League geographically into Eastern and Western divisions and adding just one wild card in comparison to the two of 2016, Williams and the Red Sox would have reached the postseason nine more times in his career. Those seasons would have included 1948 and ’49.

The 96-win Red Sox lost 8-3 to the Cleveland Indians in a one-game playoff in 1948. In 1949, the Red Sox again won 96 games, and again fell one game short of the World Series—losing the pennant to the Yankees in the final weekend of the season.


Beat the Press

Ortiz and Williams have much in common.

Both Ortiz and Williams played in Minnesota before coming to Boston. Williams starred for the minor league Minneapolis Millers before joining the Red Sox as a rookie in 1939, while Ortiz was signed by the Red Sox in 2003 as a free agent after being released by the Minnesota Twins.

They share Hispanic heritage, Ortiz was born in the Dominican Republic, while Williams’ mother was Mexican-American. Both showered the right field bleachers in Fenway Park with home runs from the left side of the plate, they both committed a tremendous amount of their time and treasure to charitable endeavors for children and, at their core, they desired the love and adoration of the masses.

“Williams’ relationship with the fans and media experienced far more ups and downs than Ortiz, who generally has received favorable press,” Edes said. The harshest critiques of Ortiz have been centered around the lingering question of PED usage, early-season slumps (not an issue this year) and flare-ups about his contract situation that seemed to become an annual spring training ritual.

Ortiz’s smile and benevolence have become defining traits. “I just want to make everyone happy,” Ortiz told B/R before he hit No. 500 last September. “You’re not always going to make everyone happy. A lot of people who follow your career and are on the positive side, that’s all you’ve got to care about.”

Ted Williams, who was born in San Diego in 1918, battled with the press and negative fans throughout most of his career, taking much of the criticism on a personal level.

As Claudia Williams notes in her book:

He absolutely fell victim to the fickle love of the crowd and the criticism of the press. … Expectations were high, and in only his second year in the major leagues some fans and the press began to ride him for disappointing them—they wanted more—the start of what would be a career-long battle. Some players might have shrugged it off, but Dad was too driven, too intensely focused on being the best and wanting to impress. When he lashed out at sportswriters, he earned new nicknames like ‘Terrible Ted’ and the ‘Problem Child.’ Even when he hit a home run and the whole crowd cheered, he was still angry with them for criticizing him and refused to tip his cap as he rounded the bases. When he was rejected, it angered him, hurt his feelings, but it also made him even more determined to prove them wrong. … ‘The Kid’ emerged. The way he verbalized as an adult was a mix of playground expressions and childlike wonderment, beaten and aged with rough-guy sarcasm and dugout swearing. … It’s as if his life was played out on a big playground. Dad hated the press because they were his punishers, the bullies on his playground, and, as he would put it, ‘They were always trying to blow things out of proportion, stir things up, and rip you.’ The knights of the keyboard took control and manipulated a lot of Dad’s career just by choosing what they did or didn’t write about.

To wit, Ted Williams won the Triple Crown in 1942 and 1947 and failed to win the MVP award (as chosen by the writers) both times.

“No wonder Dad held a grudge against the press for his entire life,” Claudia Williams added.

The fans, too, felt his wrath. The “Splendid Spitter” expectorated toward the fans in Boston’s left field on Aug. 7, 1956. He had dropped a fly ball hit by Mickey Mantle in the 11th inning that led to two runs and was booed for his efforts. Williams was fined $5,000 (5 percent of his salary) but was unrepentant. “I’m not a bit sorry for what I did,” Williams said at the time. “I was right and I’d spit again at the same fans who booed me today. Some of them are the worst in the world. Nobody’s going to stop me from spitting.”

On the flip side, when encouraged by the crowd, Williams was at his best. He wowed the Boston crowd with his Old-Timers Day fielding performance in 1982 and would eventually tip his hat to the Fenway crowd on “Ted Williams Day” in 1991. By the time he made his storybook appearance at the 1999 All-Star Game in Boston, Williams had been fully embraced by the citizenry of Red Sox Nation as their Founding Father.

Claudia Williams discussed the change in her father’s demeanor toward the public in the later years of his life in her book, as well:

Even at death’s door during his last public appearance, Dad was able to acknowledge the crowd when they stood and applauded for him. He was always trying to make up for some shortcoming the press had written about or make up for a poor performance on the field. What I believe made Ted Williams great at home plate was his ability to take all his anger, all his hurt, and channel it with supreme discipline and control right into his wrists, the grip, the bat, the precise connection with the ball, blasting it exactly where he wanted it to go, shoving it right down the throats of sportswriters.

Both Claudia Williams and McCarthy said Williams spoke without any filters of what would be considered “political correctness” today. “My dad was brutally honest and sincere. That was the thing I admired the most about him. He wasn’t afraid to speak his mind,” Claudia Williams told B/R.

It was that sense of speaking out against what he saw as injustice that led Williams to lobby for the inclusion of “great Negro ballplayers” like Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige into Baseball’s Hall of Fame during his 1966 Cooperstown induction speech. 

McCarthy said Williams didn’t have the benefit of a PR coach or someone who might have counseled him to temper his remarks to avoid public backlash.

“Ted grew up in a tough life. He had a heart a mile long. He was a perfectionist working on his craft. He wore his heart on his sleeve. You had guys like ‘Colonel’ Dave Egan who would rip him. Ted would lash out and tell them what he thought. That led to a lot misunderstandings and a lot of slanted stories. Ted was an emotional kid. And the press loved it. It made for a great story. The press won every time,” McCarthy said.

“Ted just couldn’t understand. He poured his heart out to this guy and he rips him. It hurt him.”


The Right Stuff of Greatness

Williams and Yankees second baseman Jerry Coleman were among a handful of baseball players who served in both World War II and the Korean War.

McCarthy said that historic gap makes any comparison between Ortiz and Williams nearly impossible. “Two completely different eras. How do you compete with a generation that went to war? It’s tough. One of them was brought up in a really unique time in this country when there was a world war. He, along with so many others like Joe DiMaggio and Bob Feller, lost prime years of their career when World War II started. That’s the stuff legends are made of country-wide, not just in sports.”

Williams enlisted in the U.S. Navy Reserve’s aviation program on May 22, 1942, after, Edes noted, he was given a draft exemption—3-A as the sole support of his mother. It was later changed to 1-A, but Williams appealed and had it reversed to 3-A. That stirred a public uproar. Williams spent his service time in World War II stateside training naval pilots, including the aforementioned George H.W. Bush.

Williams fiercely resisted being sent back into active duty with the Marines in Korea. His 39-0 record as a Marine Corps pilot remains the most durable mark in Boston sports history. He flew 39 ground-attack combat missions during the Korean War as a U.S. Marine Corps pilot in his F9F Grumman Panther. He and his squadron mates risked life, death and capture at the hands of the Chinese and/or North Koreans 39 times. He returned safely, if not always fully intact, all 39 times. Captain Williams’ plane crash-landed on his initial mission in 1953 after being hit by ground fire.

“Williams’ military service did not impact evaluations of him as a player, but of course enhanced his image as a larger-than-life figure, a Duke Wayne in flannels,” Edes wrote.

Ortiz enhanced his image as a larger-than-life figure with his succinct speech and “F-bomb” at Fenway Park on April 20, 2013. It was the first Red Sox home game following the Boston Marathon bombing and subsequent manhunt that shut down the city and several surrounding suburbs.

“This is our f–king city. And nobody is going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong,” Ortiz said.

Claudia Williams said her father would have approved of what Ortiz did and would have offered similar sentiments toward those who had bombed Boston had he been given the same opportunity. “I’ll take the Fifth,” she said when asked if Ted Williams would have used the same language.

She does have one issue with Big Papi. “The only think I spank Ortiz on is him saying that Dad’s home run (a 502-foot blast at Fenway Park in 1946 now marked by a red seat 37 rows up in right-field bleachers) didn’t go as far as it did. I bet you anything my Dad did that.”

When asked about it in 2015 by the Boston Globe, Ortiz said with some laughter: “The red seat? Cough — bull — cough … I went up there and sat there one time. That’s far, brother.”

Ortiz’s torrid start has kept fans, players and media types asking if he will actually walk away after this season. But Ortiz told WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford on May 20 he is “100 percent sure” 2016 will be the final year of his career. 

When it came time for Williams to retire, McCarthy said Williams told him the decision was easy. “I asked him one night how difficult it was for him to take off the Red Sox uniform for the final time. His answer was simple. ‘I’ve had enough, I was ready to do something else. I’m glad I got out when I got out. It was enough.'”

By the way, Williams homered in his final at-bat.

One more challenge for Ortiz.   


Bill Speros is an award-winning journalist who covers baseball for Bleacher Report. He met Ted Williams when he was 14 and still has the autographed ball to prove it. He tweets at @BillSperos and @RealOBF

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How David Ortiz Is Acting More Like Red Sox Great Ted Williams Than Ever

David Ortiz has authored some of the greatest hits in Red Sox history and holds the team’s single-season home run record of 54.

Still, Big Papi has never performed at a level closer to that of former Boston slugger Ted Williams than he is doing right now.

Including his home run in Friday night’s 7-3 win over the Astros—his second straight game with a homer—Ortiz is batting .500 (11-for-22) with an OPS of nearly 1.500 since returning from a heel injury that sidelined him most of spring training and the first 16 games of this season.

While most hitters return from major injuries looking rusty at the plate, Papi looks hotter than ever.

It is a trick that the Hall of Famer Williams, acknowledged by many to be baseball’s greatest all-time hitter, performed often during his career.

Injuries, military service, and a few self-imposed “retirements” often kept Ted away from spring training and/or early-season action, but he always seemed to return in top form to the amazement of fans and fellow players alike.

In 1941, for instance, a bad ankle hobbled The Splendid Splinter for a month during the end of spring training and the early season, but he singled as a pinch-hitter in the home opener and batted .462 in his first eight games back en route to a .406 season as the last .400 hitter in big league history.

After a Triple Crown season in 1942 (.356, 37, 137), Ted missed all of 1943-45 while serving as a Navy pilot during World War II. He didn’t skip a beat, however, coming back in 1946 to hit .342 with 38 homers.

Williams served his country yet again as a Marine fighter pilot during the Korean War, and missed most of the 1952 and ’53 seasons. Unlike most big leaguers, he rarely touched a baseball during his absence, yet returned to Boston’s lineup late in 1953 and hit an incredible .407 with 13 home runs and 34 RBI in just 37 games.

On the first day of spring training in 1954, Williams broke his collarbone—an injury that kept him on the shelf for all of the exhibition season and the first month of the regular campaign. Once again, however, he showed he needed no warming up by hitting .455 in his first 10 games back for Boston.

Even when Ted decided he’d quit baseball and start fishing full-time after the 1954 season, and then sat out all of spring training and April in ’55 before a pricey divorce changed his mind, it didn’t matter. He merely hit .414 with six homers and five doubles in his first 53 at-bats when he came back.

So while Ortiz, who also missed all but one of the last 73 games of the 2012, may be doing something astounding, it is not unprecedented in Red Sox history.

Just ask the really old-timers at Fenway Park.


Saul Wisnia lives less than seven miles from Fenway Park and works 300 yards from Yawkey Way. His latest book, Fenway Park: The Centennial, is available at http://amzn.to/qWjQRS, and his Fenway Reflections can be found at http://saulwisnia.blogspot.com. He can be reached at saulwizz@gmail.com and @saulwizz

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Matt Kemp: Why LA’s Triple Crown Contender Should Be the Top Story in Baseball

MLB divisions are being clinched, and wild card births are being decided as the clock ticks down on another baseball season.

The American League MVP race seems likely to stoke the fires of debate about pitchers and their place in the MVP voting, and Rookie Of The Year honors seem up for grabs in both leagues. As this season comes to its conclusion there’s certainly plenty to talk about.

So why aren’t more people talking about this? Matt Kemp of the Los Angeles Dodgers has a very real chance to win the Triple Crown in the National League. Consider this, the last offensive Triple Crown to be won was by Carl Yastrzemski of the Boston Red Sox in 1967.

The last National League Triple Crown was won by Joe Medwick of the Saint Louis Cardinals in 1937! 

Check out this list: Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Joe Dimaggio, and Stan Musial. That’s an impressive list isn’t it? Not one of them ever won a triple crown. Rogers Hornsby and Ted Williams won two Triple Crowns. They’re the only two players in all of Major League history to ever win two.

That brings up to Matt Kemp, who as of Saturday Morning September 24th 2011, has a six RBI lead—119-113—over Prince Fielder. Furthermore, Kemp is tied for the league lead in home runs with Albert Pujols (they both have 37 round-trippers) and is three points, .329 to .326, behind Jose Reyes and Ryan Braun for the National League batting title.

These numbers with less than one week to go in the regular season paint a picture of not just one of the most all-around dominating seasons in recent memory, but also of a player on the cusp of an indisputably historical accomplishment.

Let the MVP debate begin also, because frequently, and with good reason, the MVP award is often given to a player who is on a team that makes the playoffs. The Dodgers have been out of the playoff chase since before the All-Star break.

In fact, it’s been a historically bad season for one of Major League Baseball’s proudest franchises.

The Dodgers are a team of proud tradition dating back to its days as the centerpiece of the burgeoning borough of Brooklyn, NY. A borough that was inundated with a diverse group of immigrants in the beginning of the 20th century that rallied around the Dodgers at Ebbets Field.

A franchise which ushered in the breaking of the color barrier in professional sports by bringing Jackie Robinson to the big leagues in 1947, the Dodgers would continue to be at the forefront of baseball expansion by moving to Los Angeles and bringing baseball to the west coast.

This season has been the worst in Dodger History. It started with the brutal beating of a Giant fan in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium on the night of the home opener. The fan, who is just beginning the long recovery process, was severely injured. Questions regarding fan behavior and stadium security rightly ensued.

The season only got worse as the divorce proceedings between the owners of the team Frank and Jamie McCourt revealed major financial problems within the organization and led to the team filing for bankruptcy and a lawsuit by Frank McCourt against Major League Baseball.

Now, as the season mercifully ends, it appears there may be a very real ray of light on this otherwise forgettable season as Kemp has positioned himself to once again place the Los Angeles Dodgers in the favorable view of baseball history.

The Triple Crown really is an accomplishment to be appreciated. While modern stat geeks may claim that the three categories of batting average, home runs, and runs-batted-in (RBI) aren’t quite as relevant as they were once thought to be, the fact remains that these numbers aren’t to be taken too lightly.

No National League Triple Crown since 1937? Think about how long a period of time that is. Seventy-four years.

The Milwaukee Brewers popped champagne last night to celebrate their first divisional title since 1982. I’m not sure what the Dodgers should do to celebrate Kemp if he can claim the crown this Wednesday, but it’s safe to say that Dodger—and baseball aficionados alike—fans should keep in mind just how rare an accomplishment this is.  

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Boston Red Sox Legend Ted Williams To Be Honored by USPS with Postage Stamp

Red Sox Hall of Famer Ted Williams was larger than life and possessed the stuff of legend. He was both a baseball hero and a war hero, serving as a naval aviator (USMC pilot) during WWII (1942-46) and the Korean War (1952-53).

He was the last baseball player to hit .400 during the regular season while having enough at-bats to qualify for a batting title (.406 in 1941).

He was famous for having a sometimes acerbic personality as well as his battles with the press and the sometimes-unappreciative Boston baseball fans, and he was renowned for being an avid and skilled fisherman.

Legend has it Williams once told a friend, “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.’” That tale was woven into the fabric of the movie, “The Natural,” based on Bernard Malamud’s novel of the same name.

There are many baseball aficionados, pundits and ballplayers who truly believe that Williams was, in fact, the greatest hitter who has ever lived. Williams’ contemporary and equal, New York Yankees center fielder Joe DiMaggio, once said, “He was absolutely the best hitter I ever saw.”

He was (and still is) the subject of a great cornucopia of art and photography and literature of all sorts, from books to an assortment of magazine articles and short stories.

The most famous and revered prose of which he was the subject undoubtedly was John Updike’s essay, “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu,” which was published in the New Yorker magazine in October 1960, approximately one month after he played his last game in a Red Sox uniform.

“Hub Fans” recounts Williams’ last game for the Red Sox, played on Sept. 28. In the article, the Pulitzer Prize winner famously coined the term, “lyric little bandbox” to describe Fenway Park. Of Williams, he wrote:

No other player visible to my generation has concentrated within himself so much of the sport’s poignance, has so assiduously refined his natural skills, has so constantly brought to the place the intensity of competence that crowds the throat with joy.

It was that single-mindedness that made Williams such an extraordinary hitter and has led many to wonder what kind of numbers he ultimately would have compiled if he had not missed more than five years (in his prime) to the cause of war.

It was that greatness that led the baseball world to bestow a variety of nicknames on him: “The Splendid Splinter,” “Teddy Ballgame,” “The Thumper” and, simply, “The Kid.”

“Hub Fans” was drenched with romanticism and sentimentality. It recounted Williams’ last home run.

Updike wrote that Red Sox fans and coaches (and even the umpires) pleaded with No. 9 to come out of the dugout and tip his cap to the adoring masses (actually, there were only 10,454 on hand that day) after the home run, but Williams, embittered by what he perceived to be an excess of criticism over the years, refused.

The author eschewed the temptation to dip into the well of negativity…with respect to Williams’ refusal, he noted, “Gods do not answer letters.”

Maybe not, but they ARE oft-times honored by society on a continuing basis and in a variety of ways. Updike’s story has been must-read fodder for baseball fans for more than a half-century…it has helped to keep his memory alive for his generation and will paint an indelible image of his epic persona for all succeeding generations of baseball fans.

And now we learn that The Kid will be honored by the United States Postal Service in its upcoming “Major League Baseball All-Stars” collection, which will be sold at post offices next year.

According to multiple sources, including Boston.com, Williams is the fourth and final all-star to be included in the set (Joe DiMaggio, Larry Doby and Willie Stargell were previously confirmed as subjects in the four-stamp series).

It is art of a different milieu; stamps are widely considered the most available and easily afforded form of art available.

The illustration depicts Williams in his bright white Red Sox uniform with red piping. He has just finished a picture-perfect swing. His left shoulder has been jerked under his chin in the process of following through.

His left forearm ripples, clearly demonstrating the strain and force of the swing. His piercing stare follows the flight path of the newly-struck baseball as it rips through the summer air.

You assume the strike has produced a line drive, as Williams’ stare is not drawn upwards towards a soaring fly ball but rather seems fixed on a line drive towards right-center field—you assume he is following one of the 1,537 singles he struck throughout his career.

With just a little imagination, his keen batting eye and refined swing mechanics are on display, and they will be displayed on the upper-right-hand corner of envelopes and packages mailed in the United States for the next few years.

It is an honor that the cantankerous 40-year-old slugger would have scoffed at and the mellowed 80-year-old retiree would have embraced…who’d have thunk it back in the day?

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The Top 5 Hitting Seasons of All Time

Since the beginning of baseball, there have been players who have had mind boggling, amazing, record-breaking seasons. Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, and Ted Williams are some of the best to ever play the game of baseball, and they have all had historic seasons. So have many others.

These are the top 5 hitting seasons of all time.

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Hall of Famers at War: Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Bob Feller and Hank Greenberg

Those of us who are baseball fans generally know statistics for the greatest players of the game.

But sometimes we fail to consider how some of the greatest had altered statistics because they served their country during times of war.

Let’s consider four Hall of Fame Players whose numbers could have been so much greater.

Ted Williams is generally regarded as the greatest hitter ever to play baseball.

Williams finished his career with a lifetime average of .344. He had 521 home runs and 2654 hits.

But what many fans of today fail to realize is that Ted Williams missed almost five full seasons because of military duty in World War II and the Korean War.

Williams was trained as a pilot but saw no combat duty during WWII.  But when he returned to active duty during the Korean War, he flew combat missions. He played only 6 games in 1952 and only 37 games in 1953.

During his first military service Williams went in when he was 24 years old. After the Korean Conflict, he was still only 34 when he got out. So he was missing during the prime of his career.

Proof of this is that in 1954 when he played his first full year after the war, he hit .345 and had 29 homers.

In a 162 game average season, Ted had 188 hits and 37 home runs for his career. Let’s apply those numbers to the years he lost to military service.

If one could give Ted back the five years he served our country, he would have had 940 more hits and 185 more home runs. He would have finished his career with 3594 hits and 706 home runs.

In addition to the statistical bashing Williams took, he also suffered financially by serving his country. Controversy involving his initial draft status in 1942 cost him a major commercial contract with Quaker Oats.

He also lost his salary for three years in WWII after he had made $30,000 in 1942 playing for the Red Sox.  By the time he went to Korea he was earning a reported $100,000 per year.

The player of his era to whom Ted Williams was most frequently compared was Joe Dimaggio.  Dimaggio lost time to service in WWII as well. He served the same three years from 1943-1945 as Ted Williams.

Dimaggio was assigned as a physical education instructor and served in California and on the east coast. He never saw combat.

Dimaggio had a relatively short career of only 13 seasons primarily because of the three seasons he missed during the war.

For his career, Joe D hit .325 and finished his career with 2214 hits and 361 home runs.

Over an average of 162 games Joe averaged 207 hits per year and 34 home runs.

So if you gave him back the three years he was in the Army, Joe would have finished with 2835 hits and 463 dingers.

More realistically, Dimag would probably have hit more home runs and garnered more hits in the three years he was gone, because he was also in his prime. In 1943, the first year he lost, he would have been 28 years old.

Dimaggio also lost financially.  According to Baseball Almanac, Dimaggio made $43,750 in 1942 and 1946 when he returned. So he lost $131,250 during the War.

Bob Feller was one of the greatest pitchers ever to climb up a major league mound.  Feller lost virtually four full seasons during WWII. He came back to pitch in nine games in 1945 but he won 26 games his first full season back in 1946.

Feller enlisted in the Navy and saw combat as a Gun Captain aboard the USS Alabama.

When Feller went to military service he was only 23 years old. In the previous three seasons he had won 24, 27 and 25 games respectively.

For his 18 season career Feller won 266 games while losing 162.  He had 2581 strikeouts for his career.

If we could give him back the almost four years he lost he would have at least 63 more wins and 609 more strikeouts. But that is based on his 162 game average.

If you take his averages for the three years immediately before his service he would have won 96 more games and had 963 more strikeouts. 

Using these numbers Bob would have finished his career with 362 wins and 3544 strikeouts.

According to Baseball Almanac, Feller lost $160,000 during WWII.

Hank Greenberg earned his Hall of Fame credentials as a first baseman for the Detroit Tigers.

Greenberg was actually drafted in 1940 and was able to play only 19 games for the Tigers in 1941. He missed the next three full seasons and most of 1945 due to his military service.

Hank served in the Pacific Theater spotting bombing locations for B-29s.

Greenberg’s stats for the Hall of Fame saw him finish with a .313 career batting average and he averaged 187 hits per year for his career. His final numbers included 1628 hits and 331 home runs.

But his military service probably cost him at least 150 home runs and 750 hits.  Hank Greenberg would probably have finished with 480 home runs or more and 2400 hits if he had not served during WWII.

Based on salary figures from Baseball Almanac, Greenberg lost about $220,000 in the four years he served our country.

And Hank served in the military when he was older than the other players mentioned here. When he began the 1946 season he was 35 years old and his best years had been lost.



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‘The Splendid Splinter’ and the 50 Best Nicknames in MLB History

Nicknames and baseball go together like peanut butter and jelly. 

There are literally thousands of different nicknames that baseball players have acquired though their careers, and we all have our favorites. 

Making a list of the top 50 nicknames is difficult, because there are some great players and nicknames that have to be left off the list.  So I guess I’m apologizing in advance if I left your favorite off the list.

Here are the top 50 nicknames in MLB history:

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MLB Opening Day: Bob Feller and the 10 Most Amazing Opening Day Performances

On Thursday, March 31, baseball will make its long-awaited return with its traditional Opening Day.  It will be a day when fans just sit back, relax and enjoy the game before the divisional rivalries cause battles in the bleachers.  With the epic pitching matchup of CC Sabathia vs. Justin Verlander kicking off the season, it’s sure to be a great 2011.

In other games, careers will be made while others may end due to injury.  Fans will laugh, cry and cheer as their favorite players have (hopefully), amazing first games.

Some Opening Day performances have been good enough to be marked in the annals forever, including one notable one by Bob Feller (pictured at left).  To celebrate this long-standing tradition as well as Feller’s accomplishment, here are the top 10 most amazing Opening Day performances in history!

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Ted Williams: Gone but Not Forgotten—A Dedication to a Hero of Days Old

The year is 1941. The world is at war. Battles are raging and have been for two years now since the beginning of World War II in 1939.

At this point, the United States has successfully managed to stay out of this international conflict and remain neutral. All of that was about to change.

At 6 a.m. on Sunday, December 7, 1941, six Japanese carriers with 423 planes took position in preparations to attack Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

It’s now 7:02 a.m. Two Army operators at Oahu’s northern shore radar station detect the Japanese air attack approaching. They contact a junior officer, who disregards their reports. He believes the planes to be American B-17 planes that are expected in from the U.S. West Coast.

Therefore, Pearl Harbor is not on a state of high alert as per their intelligence, and there is no reason to believe an attack is imminent. Many officers and crewmen are leisurely ashore.

At 7:53 a.m., the first Japanese assault wave, with 51 “Val” dive bombers, 40 “Kate” torpedo bombers, 50 high-level bombers and 43 “Zero” fighters, commences the attack with flight commander Mitsuo Fuchida sounding the battle cry: “Tora! Tora! Tora!” (Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!).

The Americans are taken completely by surprise. The casualty list includes 2,335 servicemen and 68 civilians killed, with 1,178 wounded. Included are 1,104 men aboard the battleship USS Arizona killed after a 1,760-pound air bomb penetrated into the forward magazine, causing catastrophic explosions.

On the following day, Monday, December 8, 1941, America declared war on Japan. Three days later they declared war on Italy and Germany as well. America’s Great Depression, regarded as having begun in 1929 with the Stock Market crash, had just ended with America’s entry into World War II. This new war needed soldiers in order to be fought, and soldiers it would get.

Standing 6’3″, 205 pounds and heading into the last day of the 1941 MLB season, 22-year-old Theodore “Teddy” Samuel Williams was statistically hitting .400 (.3995). Manager Joe Cronin offered to rest Williams to preserve the batting average mark and give him the rare feat of hitting .400 in the major leagues.

Instead, “Teddy Ballgame,” AKA “The Splendid Splinter,” played in both games of a doubleheader and went 6-for-8 to raise his final average to .406. This type of fearless confidence defined “The Kid” in his young career and would continue to define him in years to come.

Ted Williams went on to play the 1942 season and hit a whopping .356 as an encore to his historic 1941 season. He missed the 1943-1945 seasons as he served his country as a fighter pilot in the United States Marine Corps. In 1946 Williams returned to Major League Baseball. It was as if he didn’t miss a beat…as if the war didn’t even faze him.

In that, his first year back at 27, “Thumper” batted .342 with 38 home runs, 123 runs batted in and a .497 on-base percentage to win the AL MVP award. In the years leading up to 1952, Teddy Williams would enjoy similar achievements and success on the baseball diamond.

In 1952 he would once again serve his nation by fighting in the Korean War. He would also serve in 1953. Williams only salvaged 101 total at-bats between the two seasons that he served in Korea.

In 1954 Williams would return from war for a second time and play baseball for the Boston Red Sox. This time he was 35 years old but still he managed to hit .345 with 29 home runs and 89 runs batted in and did so in only 386 at-bats. Williams was a natural and would continue to tear the cover off the baseball in his later years.

In 1958, at the age of 39, he batted an amazing .388. To add an exclamation point to his career, in his last at-bat in Fenway Park, he hit a home run into the right field bleachers, No. 521 and the last of his illustrious career. That mark is good for a Red Sox franchise record and stands to this day.

Williams retired in 1960 after 19 seasons with the Red Sox and easily won election to baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1966. He is also only one of five former Red Sox players to have his number (9) retired by the organization.

Picture what could have been had Williams not missed those five seasons from serving in WWII and the Korean War. Instead of hitting 521 home runs, he may have finished with about 671 home runs (based on an average of 30 HRs per year). This would have had him sitting at about fourth on the all-time home run list instead of sitting tied for 18th overall on the all-time MLB home run list, tied with Willie McCovey and Frank Thomas.

Can you even ponder what he would have accomplished if he had played even longer, which he probably should have?

Lastly, envisage how many home runs he would have knocked out of the park if he took HGH and/or steroids like the so-called superstars of modern Major League Baseball. The thought of what could have been brings goose bumps to my skin.

Teddy Ballgame is a poster child of baseball. His confident mentality, dedication, determination and passion for the game were, are and will always be second to none. He was a soldier, a hero, a legend…an American icon. If men such as this are still produced, then I have yet to meet one. I would bet those earlier goose bumps that you haven’t met anyone like him either.

Boston’s iconic left fielder passed away on July 5, 2002 at age 83. He is gone but not forgotten. We remember his valor and his talent. There will never be another man who walks God’s green earth who is quite like Ted Williams.

R.I.P. Teddy! I hope that you hit home runs from here to heaven.

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Boston Red Sox: The Greatest Players in Team History, Position by Position

The title of the article says it all, Red Sox Nation.  Let’s do this.  But first, a few quick ground rules:

Some of the players on this list played part of their careers for other teams, but only accomplishments in a Red Sox uniform will be considered.

The era a player played in will be factored in when considering all statistics.  Players’ numbers will be compared to their contemporaries, not just to players from other eras who played the same position.

Longevity counts, but the biggest factor will be how much a player stood out from the pack during the years they played in Boston.

A player must have played the majority of their career at a position (more games there than anywhere else) to be considered the best player at that position.

This list is meant to depict the best overall player at each position, not to build a functional baseball team.  There will be no attempt made to balance power and speed in the lineup, etc.

That should just about cover it.  It’s time to put together the Boston Red Sox All-Time Team.

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