Red Sox Memories: Best of Ted Williams – 1957 season
By Sean Penney
The second installment of our series counting down the five best seasons from Boston Red Sox legend Ted Williams covers his 1957 campaign.
Our series covering the five best seasons from the career of Ted Williams began with his 1949 season when he captured his second MVP award. The legendary Boston Red Sox outfielder didn’t take home the hardware in 1957 but it still stands as one of the few years when his production topped his ’49 campaign.
The 1950s was a miserable decade for the Red Sox. They never finished higher than third place in the American League and sunk closer to the bottom of the standings on a few occasions when Williams missed significant time.
Williams missed the second half of the 1950 season after breaking his elbow in the All-Star game and he wasn’t quite himself the following year as he worked his way back from the injury. He sat out most of the 1952-1953 seasons while serving in the Korean War. Williams broke his collarbone in the spring of 1954 and sat out the first month of the 1955 season while dealing with his divorce settlement.
The Red Sox struggled without full seasons from their superstar. His reputation still earned him a spot on the MVP ballot every year aside from ’52 when the war limited him to six games but he wasn’t a serious candidate during that span.
A brief resurgence came in 1957 when a 38-year-old Williams finished as the runner-up for the MVP award.
Teddy Ballgame hit .388 that season to capture his fifth batting title. It was the second-highest batting average of his career and has only been topped by two major league hitters since. Tony Gwynn hit .394 in the strike-shortened 1994 season and George Brett hit .390 in 1980.
The .526 on-base percentage, .731 slugging percentage, and 233 OPS+ were also the second-highest of his career.
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Williams’ power numbers dipped a bit following his elbow injury in 1950 but he rediscovered his home run stroke in ’57 by swatting 38, the most homers he tallied in any season since 1949 when he set his career-high of 43. He hit fewer than 30 in each of the previous five seasons before that resurgence in ’57.
His 87 RBI and 96 runs scored paled in comparison to what we were used to seeing from a full season of peak Williams but those limited counting stats were a product of the weak lineup around him. The Hall of Fame teammates that surrounded him in the 1940s were long gone and the blatant racism of owner Tom Yawkey and his front office cronies resulted in the talent level on the roster falling behind other clubs who were integrating minority players while the Red Sox stubbornly refused.
Boston finished in third place in the AL in 1957, a whopping 24 games behind the New York Yankees. There were a few times that Williams was robbed of an MVP by a Yankees player who was gifted the award by virtue of New York winning the pennant. This wasn’t one of those times.
Mickey Mantle was a deserving MVP in ’57. His offensive numbers weren’t as dominant as the previous season when he won the Triple Crown and his first MVP but they were comparable to Williams that year. Ted beat him in the batting title race and had a few more homers but Mantle was a much better base runner and defensive player than the aging Williams. Mantle’s career-high 11.3 WAR easily topped Williams’ 9.7 WAR.
Williams only topped his WAR from that season on three other occasions. FanGraphs credited him with the same 9.7 WAR but they rate that season as only the sixth-best of his career by their version of the metric.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this season was that Williams did it late in his career nearly a decade after his prime. The Kid was no longer a kid but he was the only reason why fans showed up at the ballpark to watch the Red Sox for most of that decade. The fourth best season of his career was also his fourth-to-last and it was the last year that Williams was a serious threat to win an MVP.