Ted Williams at war


April 20, 2012; Boston, MA, USA; A statue former Red Sox player Ted Williams (not pictured) places a hat on a young fan near the gate B entrance before the 100th anniversary celebration at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

In 1942 Ted Williams won the Triple Crown. Then from 1943-45 he served his country doing his part in “America’s Greatest Generation.” Williams had a unique talent as an aviator and was assigned as a flight instructor. No doubt his extraordinary skills as a hitter were adaptable to aviation. Reports are his eye/hand coordination was off the charts. Returning to baseball in 1946 saw Williams not miss a beat or a pitch. At age 27 Williams went 38/123/.342 and was MVP.

What if history had changed and there was no war? How would those three years of admirable service be reflected statistically? One would assume, based on the previous four seasons prior to his military service, that Williams would play, and if Williams played he would most certainly hit.

From 1939-1943 Williams averaged 145 games a season and he hit. Ted averaged 32 home runs, 129 RBI, 135 runs, 187 hits and a BA of .354 during those first four years of his career. The math is simple. Add another 561 hits, 96 home runs, 387 RBI and 405 runs. I have seen some extrapolations that show that number to be a rather conservative estimate. And, as a reminder, from 1941-1949 Williams led the AL in walks, slugging, OPS and OPS+ each year that he played.

Military service requirements were an accepted fact in the 1950s. Celebrities, entertainers and sports figures would do service time. Elvis Presley and Willie Mays put in their time.

Ted Williams also did a second tour of duty as a Marine aviator. Ted complained about being called up, but served his time with the same perfection he displayed as a batsman. His entire 1952 season was lost except for 6 games and he returned in time to play 37 games in 1953. Did the rust show? Williams hit 19 home runs and hit .407 in 110 plate appearances. The season prior to his return, 1951, saw Williams hit “only” .318 with 30 home runs and 126 RBI.

His average in 1951 was impacted by the fracturing of his collar bone in the 1950 All Star Game. Or was it? Prior to the injury, Williams was hitting.321 and finished the 1950 season at .317. With 1951 and 1952 it was becoming a question of declining skills. His return from military service erased all doubts about that, especially his first full season – 1954.

Williams was hampered by a variety of injuries in 1954 and played 117 games. He was limited to 526 plate appearances yet went .345/29/89. Naturally Ted’s pattern of being number one in walks, slugging, OPS and OPS+ continued.

So how far back do you go for that next phase? To 1946? I have seen it approached many ways, but I personally take the bookend seasons of 1951 and 1954. In those two seasons the RBI average was 107, home runs checked in at 30, hits at 151, runs at 101 and games played at 132. The 43 games played in 1952-1953 would have reduced his average games by 16% in the two war year seasons.

Williams could have tacked on another 50 home runs, 181 RBI, 254 hits, 170 runs and a whole world of hurt for AL pitching. Add that to the 1943-1945 totals and Williams figures to have an additional 156 home runs, 815 hits, 568 RBI and 575 runs.

With those numbers Williams would be first in career runs scored and RBI. Williams would be sixth in hits and fourth in home runs. In walks, which I did not calculate, Williams would probably be first or extremely close.

To me the most remarkable season for TSW was his last. Williams had a dismal 1959 when, hampered by a myriad of injuries, he managed to hit .254. Williams’ extreme confidence returned in 1960 and in 390 plate appearances he went 29/72/.316.

For interest in extrapolation of players, the Win Shares book by Bill James is a good read. Williams, if I recall, would be second behind a fellow named Babe Ruth using that system.