In this five-part series we count down the best seasons in the career of legendary Boston Red Sox outfielder Ted Williams, starting with 1949.
Ted Williams once claimed that his main ambition was to establish himself as the greatest hitter who ever lived. It’s hard to argue that he didn’t live up to that lofty goal. Williams is undoubtedly the best hitter to ever wear a Boston Red Sox uniform. The list of the best seasons in franchise history is littered with his name but what were the Splendid Splinter’s best years?
That’s what we aim to analyze in this series that counts down the five best seasons of Williams’ prolific career. Narrowing his resume to only five seasons was no easy task. Williams won the Triple Crown in 1947 but that wasn’t enough to crack this list. That was the toughest omission but hardly the only close call from a player who rated among the league’s best in every season that wasn’t shortened by military service, injury or age.
We’ll start with 1949 when Williams captured the second MVP award of his career. By some standards, many would consider this to be Williams’ best year. He set career-highs with 43 home runs, 159 RBI, and 150 runs scored.
Williams was the runner-up for the batting title that year, coming within fractions of a percentage point from winning seven in his career. He hit .3427 to fall just shy of George Kell‘s .3429 average. With one more hit or one fewer at-bat, Williams would have become the first player in major league history to win the Triple Crown three times.
The quest for the batting title came down to the final game of the season, along with Boston’s chances to win the pennant. The Red Sox and Yankees were tied at the top of the American League when they met in New York to decide which team would advance to the World Series. Manager Joe McCarthy’s questionable decision to pull starter Ellis Kinder in the eighth inning backfired when the Yankees broke the game open. Boston’s rally in the ninth came up short as the Yankees held on to a 5-3 victory to win the pennant.
Williams went 0-for-2 with a pair of walks in that tiebreaker game. Losing the batting title and the pennant on the last day of the season was a heartbreaking ending to an otherwise outstanding year.
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The late-season collapse wasn’t the only reason keeping Williams’ 1947 season from climbing higher. Yes, he set some personal bests in the counting stats department but his 730 plate appearances that year were also by far a career-high.
Williams’ .343 average nearly won him another batting title but it barely cracks the top 10 for his career. His 1.141 OPS and 191 OPS+ are both outside his top five.
FanGraphs rates 1949 as the fifth-best season of Teddy Ballgame’s career with 9.9 WAR while Baseball-Reference has it as his sixth-best season with 9.1 WAR.
Falling one game short of the pennant didn’t cost Williams the MVP. He still managed to bring home the hardware for the second time in his career but the ballot is based on the competition from his peers that year, not on his own track record.
Williams had a few other seasons where he didn’t win the MVP despite producing better numbers than he did in 1949. He also had some years that he was robbed of the honor in a season he deserved it but we’ll get to that later in this series.