On August 30, 1918, one of baseball's best was born in San Diego, California. That player would end up impacting the game in ways you can only imagine in today's game. His name was Theodore Samuel Williams.
Ted Williams is Red Sox royalty and is widely known across the game as one of the best to step onto a baseball diamond. He is also widely regarded as the best pure hitter in MLB history.
Williams' great play over 19 seasons with the Boston Red Sox earned him a place in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. He appeared in 2,292 games over his career. The Splendid Splinter was elected to the hall on January 20, 1966, alongside legendary manager Casey Stengel.
Ted was the only player elected to the Hall of Fame that year, receiving 93.4 percent of the vote. He was just the eighth player to be elected by the BBWAA on his first appearance on the ballot.
The Red Sox legend was the last player in MLB history to bat .400 in a season back in 1941. A few have hit .400 at some point during a season, but it's never lasted through the finish. The most recent player to flirt with batting .400 was Luis Arraez of the Miami Marlins, but he quickly learned how hard that is to achieve. Even the great Tony Gwynn -- potentially robbed by the shortened season in 1994 -- came up shy.
Williams began his career as the left fielder for the Red Sox in 1939, placing fourth in the MVP race after his first season in the bigs. Williams slugged 31 home runs and drove in 145 runs with a .327 batting average and 160 OPS+.
During his 19-year career, Williams won the Triple Crown twice, the AL MVP twice, and posted a career .482 on-base average which was the highest of all time. His career slash line of .344/.482/.634 and 1.116 OPS are all the more impressive when you consider he missed time twice during his career due to military service.
He served in the Marine Corps during World War II and the Korean War. Despite missing five full seasons to serve, he still became one of the best to ever play the game. He was a 19-time All-Star, led the league in multiple categories multiple times, and set many MLB records. That's the mark of an incredible ballplayer.
Those great performances over the years led to the nickname of Teddy Ballgame. Stan Musial had high praise of Williams and once stated that Ted would have won more batting titles had he not missed time to serve his country.
Even the great Joe DiMaggio admired the greatness that emanated from Ted Williams stating, "He was the best pure hitter I ever saw. He was feared." Red Sox legend Carl Yazstremski also likened Williams to an expert in the stock exchange.
"He studied hitting the way a broker studies the stock market. "- Carl Yastrzemski on Ted Williams
Former Boston Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey spoke very highly of Ted Williams, as he had a front-row seat to the talent that he put on display for nearly two decades. Yawkey once stated, “Although he had the basic talents, it was his dedication to baseball, constant study of pitchers and practice which made him, I believe, the greatest hitter of all time."
Red Sox icon Ted Williams' strained relationship with media and fans
Things weren't always great with Williams, as he had a tumultuous relationship with the media. He didn't seem to trust them very much and most of that stemmed from how they treated him during his sophomore season in Boston. Williams finished the season with a .344 average including 23 homers and 113 RBI and even reached his first All-Star game.
However, he struggled at the start of the season, which led to criticism and heckling from fans and media alike. This led to a struggle when media was around and, according to Britannica, "Williams began refusing to acknowledge cheering fans—for the rest of his career he would never again tip his cap to the crowd."
Leigh Montville, who wrote a biography on Ted Williams, stated once in an HBO Sports documentary that Williams could be antagonistic and profane to the "poor souls who covered the team every day." He stated further that Williams was the "best curser in the history of the human race, I think."
Williams' teammate Johnny Pesky added to that, stating, "He cussed at everything. He was never happy. He was probably the smartest, unhappiest player I ever saw." That's just how Ted operated, and he wasn't going to change that for anyone.
Despite all of this, Williams is extremely beloved by Boston Red Sox fans and MLB fans alike. There are very few players that pop up with his level of talent, and you know it when you see his highlights. He was born to play baseball and he was going to work hard until he was the best of the best.
Ted finished his career after the 1960 season compiling 2,654 hits including 521 home runs, 2,021 walks,1,839 RBI, and a 191 OPS+. Ted Williams is often quoted as saying, "If I was being paid thirty-thousand dollars a year, the very least I could do was hit .400." Ideally, that attribution is accurate; what a home run quote.
"...ball players are not born great. They're not born hitters or pitchers or managers. And luck isn't the key factor. No one has come up for a substitute for hard work. I've never met a great baseball player who didn't have to work harder at learning to play baseball than anything else he ever did."- Ted Williams
That statement alone tells you that Williams understood that it takes hard work to be the best at baseball and in life. Players can be born with all the talent in the world but if they don't work hard, it will all be for nothing. That philosophy earned Ted Williams a spot in the hallowed halls of baseball, and his speech has lived on for decades.
Ted Williams advocates for change in the Hall of Fame
Williams used his induction speech in July of 1966 to speak up for a community of players who were not getting the proper recognition that they deserved.
"Inside this building are plaques dedicated to baseball men of all generations and I’m privileged to join them…And I hope that someday the names of Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson in some way can be added as a symbol of the great Negro players that are not here only because they were not given a chance."- Ted Williams
There are so many talented players from that era who deserved recognition and, thanks to Williams' public comments, Paige was rightfully inducted in 1971. There are now 37 inductees including players, managers, and executives, who have reached Cooperstown mostly or entirely on the strength of their careers in the Negro Leagues.
Hall of Famer Monte Irvin once spoke about this moment in time, stating, “Williams' speech had an impact. He did change some minds. The writers picked up on it, and some of the powers-that-be at the Hall of Fame had to kind of perk up and take notice.”
It's sad that Williams had to even make that statement, but knowing his position in the sport and using that to his advantage to put pressure on the league was the right thing to do. That speaks to the true character of Williams, despite the issues he may have had with fans and media personnel.
One Last Hoorah for the Red Sox icon
The Boston legend returned to baseball in 1969 to manage the Washington Senators and earned AL Manager of the Year during his first season. The Senators would eventually become the Texas Rangers, and he exited as manager in 1972.
After baseball, Williams occasionally was a hitting coach and also worked as a consultant for a fishing equipment company. He was celebrated by the Red Sox in 1991 for his .400 season and, despite the long-held love-hate relationship with fans, Ted tipped his cap to them on that night.
One of baseball's most iconic moments took place during the 1999 MLB All-Star Game at Fenway Park. Ted Williams once again tipped his cap while being paraded around the warning track during pre-game festivities.
He was driven to the middle of the diamond, where current players corralled around the living legend and spoke with him before Williams made the ceremonial first pitch. The then-80-year-old, aided by his longtime friend Gwynn, threw out the first pitch to Carlton Fisk.
It was a pretty impressive pitch and received a roar from the crowd. Ted described the moment only as Ted Williams could: “Hell, I haven’t had a base hit in 30 years, and I’m a better hitter now than I’ve ever been in my life.”
The confidence never left his body and, if he could have, Williams would have suited up and played in the game. The Red Sox legend passed away three years later on July 5, 2002. Before the Red Sox matchup with the Detroit Tigers that evening, groundskeepers at Fenway mowed No. 9 in left field, where Williams used to patrol.
There was a moment of silence before the game and "Taps" was played in left field, with the Marine Corps honor guard carrying an American flag. It was a fitting tribute to a baseball legend and American hero whose legacy won't soon be forgotten, and who is eternally enshrined among the greats in Cooperstown.