Remembering Ted: A Fan’s Tribute to Baseball Great Ted Williams

by Guest

As grown men reflect on their youth, most recall having had at least one boyhood hero. I was no exception. For me there was only one hero, one role model that I desperately wanted to emulate. I was steadfast and unwavering in my adulation for the “Kid”, the “Splendid Splinter”, the Red Sox’s Ted Williams.

Modesty was a characteristic rarely attributed to Williams. When asked early on in his career how he would like to be remembered, Ted reportedly responded without a moment’s hesitation. “I want people to say, there goes Ted Williams, the greatest hitter who ever lived.”

Blessed with remarkable eyes. Williams could pick up the spin on the ball within milliseconds of when it was released from the pitcher’s hand. This ability, along with great wrists and a fluid swing, struck fear in the hearts of opposing pitchers for two glorious decades. During his career, much was written about Williams’ outstanding eyesight. Reporters claimed that he avoided movies because of the potential harm to his vision and that he could see the stitching on the ball within a few feet of leaving the pitcher’s hand. In an interview on Canada’s Sports Network Channel, Ted debunked some of the myths that have been associated with him over the years.

When asked by the interviewer to confirm or deny these stories, Williams responded as follows. “Oh Jesus, is that a lot of baloney. Christ, I didn’t go to movies? I love movies. I could see the stitching on the ball? I could see a phonograph going like that and tell you what the name and number was? Hell no, none of that stuff. I mean I had good eyesight, I was alert. I was born in California. I played ball every day of my life…”

Despite my admiration I have to say that Ted was not the “complete” ballplayer. There were many who had better arms, ran the bases better and were better defensive players. In terms of all round ability (pitchers excluded for obvious reasons) my vote would go to Willie Mays, with Joe Dimaggio a close second. But when it comes to the science of hitting, Ted Williams reigns supreme.

Serious fans of the National Pastime are well aware of the feats of Ted Williams. His .406 average in 1941 has since been seriously challenged only once (George Brett’s .390 in 1980). This achievement should have been sufficient to clinch the M.V.P. award but that was the same year Dimaggio accomplished his milestone of hitting in 56 consecutive games and “Joltin’ Joe” was the M. V.P. recipient. Even more remarkable perhaps than the .406 average was his 1957 batting title when at the age of 39, he hit an almost unbelievable .388. Williams hit for both power and average as attested to by his 521 career home runs and his lifetime average of .344.

Devotees of Ted Williams have often pondered the question of what he might have achieved had he not lost nearly five full seasons to military service during the Second World War and the Korean Conflict. Military service caused Williams to miss all the 1943, 1944, and 1945 seasons. In addition, his service during the Korean War resulted in his appearing in only six games in 1952 and 37 games in 1953. Despite these career interruptions, Williams is number three on the all time leaders’ list in walks with 2019. Only the immortal Babe Ruth, and more recently, Barry Bonds, had more. There is no doubt that Williams would have been the all time leader in this category and this statistic is a testament to not only his great batting eye but also to the fear he generated in the hearts of opposing pitchers and managers.

No one can say with absolute certainty, of course, what numbers Ted might have posted, but let’s assume he avoided major injuries and performed, on average, at the same level during the seasons he missed as he did during the 17 more or less full seasons he played for the Bosox.

Excluding the two seasons in which he saw minimal action (1952 and 1953), Williams had a total of 7605 official plate appearances over 17 seasons or an average of 447 times at bat per season. It is reasonable to assume, therefore, that had it not been for military service, Williams would have had 447 times at bat during the 1943, 1944 and 1945 seasons plus another 437 in 1952 and another 356 in 1953 for an additional total of 2134.

Applying the ratios of his actual achievements to another 2134 plate appearances, Williams would have likely produced an additional 447 runs, 692 hits, 140 doubles, 19 triples, 128 home runs and 470 runs batted in.
Table One shows Williams’ actual lifetime record (What Was) in the left-hand column while the right hand column shows his probable career totals had it not been for his military service (What Might Have Been).

Table 1. Actual vs. Potential

What Was

What Might Have Been

Times at Bat

7,706

9,739

Runs

1,798

2,272

Singles

1,537

1,943

Doubles

525

665

Triples

71

90

Home Runs

521

649

Runs Batted In

1,839

2,309

An interesting corollary relates to how Williams’ career totals would stack up against the game’s other great hitters had military service not been a factor. Table Two shows Williams’ actual ranking in the left-hand column whereas the right hand column shows what I have called his hypothetical ranking.

In my view these hypothetical career totals tend toward the conservative because during the 1943 through 1945 seasons. for example, Williams was in his middle twenties, the prime of his career, and would have likely averaged well above 447 times at bat per season. That aside, his hypothetical ranking jumps to number one in runs scored and runs batted in and to number five on the all time home run list.

Table 2. All Time Leaders

Actual Ranking

Hypothetical Ranking

Runs

13

1

Hits

52

8

Doubles

22

5

Triples

*

*

Home Runs

10

5

Runs Batted In

11

1

*Not in top 50.

In fairness, there are many other ballplayers who served their country during times of national crises and whose places in the record book have thereby been affected. If someone else wants to make a case for their favorite player, that is certainly their prerogative.

I had hoped I might meet Ted someday but unfortunately that opportunity is gone. I would also have liked my son to have met him. Had the opportunity arisen, I would have said to my son Scott; “I want you to shake hands with Mr. Williams, the greatest hitter in baseball history.

Barry Mayhew, Ph.D.

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