Red Sox legend Ted Williams says farewell in 1960
In 1959 Ted Williams hit just .254 and at 40-years-old was considered done as a player. In the previous two seasons, Williams had won batting titles with a remarkable .388 in 1957 and a less remarkable.328 in 1958. The trend was most obviously in the wrong direction and when Williams announced his return for 1960 the consensus was he would forever tarnish his legacy.
Being over 40 and playing any professional game at a high level is unusual and an extraordinary accomplishment for an athlete. The fine line from going out in glory or a lasting impression of being just a shell of former greatness. This was as risky as not sitting that fateful double-header in 1941 to protest his then .400 average.
Williams’s personality was one that has a tendency to be minimized or excused by time, but he was certainly a divisive figure among fans and media. What is certainly of note is Williams was despised elsewhere in the American League.
Vendetta’s against the media – most notably Colonel Eagan – and the fallout certainly influenced fans. During the years I followed Williams this had somewhat dissipated, but sitting in the left-field stands you could listen to his creative torments.
This is not to be about personality conflicts, behavior patterns, and a sundry of other issues that percolate around Teddy Ballgame. There is enough literature on Williams to deforest Maine. This is about his last season when Williams – suffering from a spat of injuries – played just 113 games of which just 86 were starts and the remainder as a pinch-hitter. He made just 390 plate appearances (PAs).
Williams’ limited action eliminated him from qualifying status, but among players with 300+ plate appearances, his domination is staggering. To put the competition into contest Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle, Harmon Killebrew, and Al Kaline were in their prime years. And the Red Sox were a wretched collection destined to finish a dismal seventh (65-89) with the only real excitement at Fenway Park being a Williams at-bat.
In 12 seasons, Williams owned On Base Percentage (OBP) that was aided by his eight times leading the AL in walks. Williams posted a .451 OBP with Eddie Yost “The Walking Man” a distant second at .414. Yost – as noted by his nickname – posted a league-best 19.7 BB% with Williams just behind with a 19.2 BB%.
Williams had power and four times led the AL in home runs, but not 1960 when he slammed 29. Mantle led with 40 and Maris just one behind at 39, but Mantle had 644 PAs and Maris 578 PAs. If you get into other offensive categories Williams topped all in slugging (.645), OPS (1.096), ISO (.329), and a 184 wRC+. Give Williams the same PAs as Maris and he hits out 43 and Mantle it is 48.
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Looking for a negative it will usually pop up when discussing defense and 1960 was no different. Williams posted a -16 Total Zone that was a Manny Ramirez like accomplishment. A second note I discovered was somewhat of a surprise in that Williams hit just .224 against lefties in 1960 as compared to his career .312.
There have been great over 40-years-old seasons especially among pitchers and David Ortiz retired with a remarkable closeout, but Papi was a designated hitter (DH). There was discussion as Williams season progressed on the DH which had been proposed as far back as the nineteenth century. Would Williams have done it? Personally, I believe his body had reached its baseball expiration.
Williams went out with a bang hitting his final of 521 career home runs on a dismal day at Fenway Park. Williams didn’t tip his cap nor did he go to the outfield for a curtain call nor did he go to New York for the final three games of the season.
I saw many games with Williams over the years and in his final season. I wrote on BSI about meeting the Great One when I was a youngster. Williams may or may not be the greatest Red Sox player but he is without question the greatest Red Sox personality and aside from Babe Ruth may be the most noted personality in baseball history.