This next installment of our five-part series covers the third-best season in the career of Boston Red Sox outfielder Ted Williams.
We’ve reached the final three. Having already covered one of his MVP campaigns and a late-career resurgence that saw him finish as the runner-up, we’re ready to explore one of the three best seasons in the career of Boston Red Sox legend Ted Williams.
According to FanGraphs, three of the top four seasons by a position player in franchise history in terms of WAR belong to Williams, with the exception being Carl Yastrzemski‘s MVP campaign during the 1967 Impossible Dream season ranking third. Williams had three seasons in his career with 11.0+ fWAR (10.0+ WAR by the Baseball-Reference version).
While there’s one clear choice in my mind for selecting his best season, which we’ll get to later this week, picking between these next two is a toss up. Baseball-Reference has Williams’ 1941 and 1942 seasons tied for second-best in his career with 10.4 WAR. While FanGraphs rates ’42 as slightly higher, I’m calling that season the third-best of Teddy Ballgame’s career.
There’s no shame in a bronze medal though, as 1942 was a remarkable season by any standard. Williams hit .356 with 36 home runs and 137 RBI to capture his first Triple Crown. He also led the league with 141 runs scored, 145 walks, a .499 OBP, .648 SLG, 1.147 OPS and 338 total bases.
His dominance at the plate wasn’t enough to earn him the MVP, as Williams finished as the runner-up to a Yankees player for a second consecutive season.
Yankees second baseman Joe Gordon hit .322 with a .900 OPS, 18 home runs and 103 RBI that year. A fine season from a Hall of Fame player but those numbers pale in comparison to Williams’. Gordon’s 7.7 WAR compared to Ted’s 10.4 WAR exemplifies what a joke that ballot was in retrospect.
New York won the pennant with a commanding nine-game lead over the second-place Red Sox. Voters obviously felt compelled to hand the award to a player from the pennant-winning team, as was often the case in those days. Joe DiMaggio had won the previous year but had a down season (by his standards) in 1942, so Gordon was essentially gifted the award by default for having the best season by a player on the American League team that went to the World Series.
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Williams was also the runner-up for the award the previous season but 1942 was the year when the Red Sox undoubtedly became his team. Jimmie Foxx had been the star of the club since he was acquired in 1936. He won an MVP two years later after winning a pair earlier in his career with the Philadelphia A’s and his epic 50 homer, 175 RBI season warrants consideration among the best individual efforts in franchise history.
Foxx was the veteran slugger who protected Williams in the lineup through his first few seasons. By 1942, the skills of The Beast began to diminish rapidly as he battled health issues and an alleged drinking problem at the age of 33. The Red Sox waived Foxx in June of that season, passing the torch to Williams as the undisputed face of the franchise.
1942 was the last season before Williams took three years off to serve in the military during World War II. The question of where Williams would rank on the all-time leader boards if he hadn’t missed thee years of his prime remains one of the greatest “What If” stories in major league history. He also missed the better part of two seasons during the 1950s to serve in the Korean War.
Without that missed time, assuming good health, Williams probably would have topped 650 career home runs and 3500 hits, potentially putting him in the top-five in MLB history in both categories.
Williams didn’t miss a beat when he returned from the war in 1946 but that’s a story for another day.