The Red Sox once sent Ted Williams to the minors – a spring training cut. The reaction was classic Ted at his best.
Ted Williams was really the “Splendid Splinter” when he arrived at spring training in 1938. The 6’4” Williams tipped the scales at under 170 pounds and a good physical comparison would be pitcher Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox.
Williams was fresh from the Pacific Coast League and the San Diego Padres where the 18-year-old Williams had hit .291 with 23 home runs in 138 games for the 1937 season. The Padres and the PCL were about as close to the MLB level talent as one could get back in that era as the Padres and the league were littered with players with MLB experience and future stars such as TSW. The PCL was a “fast league” with quality fields, good attendance and salaries that actually kept some players more comfortable in the PCL.
"”Tell them I’ll be back and I’m going to wind up making more money in this game than all three of them put together.” – Ted Williams"
Williams was brash, bold and incredibly insecure. This is reflected by Williams himself and many others on the various books and stories that have been written about the consummate hitter. When he blew into camp, he wore this cocky attitude quite publicly. What he also did was go 0-4 against Cincinnati in his first spring training game on March 13th. Soon afterwards Williams was gone.
The Red Sox outfield was set for 1938 and Williams was attempting to crash the party. In that era, rookies were like children in that it was better to be seen and not heard, but with Williams, you heard – all the time.
Ben Chapman was in the prime of his career at 28-years-old and a player who had slashed .297/.389/.432 with seven home runs and 69 RBI in split duty between the Washington Senators and Red Sox in 1937. Chapman, a right-handed hitter, was a veteran and one who could run – he led the American League in steals (35) for 1937.
A second import was Joe Vosmik – a 28-year-old right-hand hitter, who was acquired in the off season from the St. Louis Browns. Vosmil had slashed .325/.377/.455 with the Brownies while hitting four home runs and notching 93 RBI. Vosmik would lead the American League in hits (201) while playing left field for Boston.
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The third outfield position was a two-time All-Star and center fielder – the 32-year-old Doc Cramer. Cramer was a left-hand hitter with no power – in 1937 Cramer had a grand total of zero home runs and 51 RBI, but he could hit as a slash of .305/.389/.432 will give evidence to that ability. Cramer would also make the All-Star team the next three seasons.
This was a revamped outfield as the Red Sox were coming off a disappointing 80-72 and fifth place finish in 1937. Owner Tom Yawkey was impatient and a smattering of talent with power hitting Jimmie Foxx, the fabulous Lefty Grove, hard hitting Pinky Higgins and the leadership of player-manager and shortstop Joe Cronin.
The Red Sox had led the American League in hitting in 1937 with a team average of .281, but what they did lack was home run power and they slammed 100 for a fifth place finish in an eight-team league. One would think that Williams home run talent would attract attention, but what attracted most attention was his mouth.
TSW had been signed by General Manager Eddie Collins in 1938 and in time for spring training. That was often the path for a player that was young or even old as many minor league teams were in the business of developing players for profit. This would eventually be like hitting the lottery.
The end result was Williams was a late spring exit from camp and a trip to the Minneapolis Millers who were the Red Sox Triple-A farm club. As noted by the quote Williams certainly left with something to prove and a bruised ego.
In 1938 Williams – then 19-years-old – slammed 43 home runs for the Millers while hitting .366 and gathering in 142 RBI for a Triple Crown. The 1938 Red Sox scampered to a second-place finish with a 88-61 record and again led the American League in hitting, but smacked only 98 home runs playing half their games in the Fenway Park bandbox.
In 1939, Williams started on the pathway that backed up his promise made as he left camp in 1938 – it’s not bragging when you do it – and in 1939 Williams took over right-field with Cramer in center and Vosmik in left. Williams hit .327 with 31 home runs and an American League-leading 145 RBI. If the rookie of The Year Award existed Williams would have won.
Now another spring training is upon us and another bold statement has surfaced with Hanley Ramirez predicting a Gold Glove Award for first baseman. This is not new and last January we had Joe Kelly predicting he would win the Cy Young Award.
There are no bold rookies in camp to make a Williams like prediction and then eventually back it up. What a shame.
Sources: Baseball-Reference/Numerous books on TSW.