In 1953 Ted Williams returned from service in the Korean War after not having played in the majors for 16 months. He proceeded to hit .407 with 13 homers and 34 RBI in 31 games through the end of the season. Oh, and he was almost 35 years old. Thatís how good he was.
Williams, in my mind, is the only man who has a legitimate argument as the greatest hitter in history other than Babe Ruth. Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Stan Musial were all incredible. Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby were terrific but played the bulk of their career against inferior competition. But Williams simply dominated from the batterís box. He was the best at hitting the baseball, the best at strike zone awareness, the best at hitting for power. I am absolutely astounded by his í54 season: he hadnít played regularly for two years, he turned 36, and hit .345 with an OBP over .500 and a league leading slugging percentage over .600. He only struck out 32 times! The man was born to hit a baseball.
The Boston Red Sox almost traded Williams to the Yankees for Joe DiMaggio, in 1947. Boston owner Tom Yawkey knew the Yankees were getting the better end of the deal and he asked that New York also give him 21-year old Yogi Berra. New York GM Lee MacPhail balked (all five of these guys are now in the Hall of Fame) and the trade fell apart.
Are you looking for†the definition of narcissism? General Douglas MacArthur – a personal friend of Williams – sent the Red Sox slugger a gift in the early 1950s as a thank you for his friendship and service to the country. It was an autographed portrait of MacArthur.
Toughest Pitchers to Face
In 1960, the 41-year old Williams told a reporter that the greatest pitcher he ever saw was Bob Feller, with Hal Newhouser second. He said that Bob Lemon was the toughest right-hander he ever faced.
Well, if Feller was the greatest pitcher Williams ever squared off against, he sure didn’t have much trouble with him. Feller is the pitcher Williams faced the most in his career (174 plate appearances) and he hit 364/489.707 off the hard-throwing righthander with ten home runs. Perhaps most impressively, Williams only struck out ten times against Feller in 140 at-bats.
Williams had good success against feller’s rotation-mate Early Wynn,†hitting .295 with eight homers and a slash line of 295/434/549. But two other Cleveland pitchers gave Ted some trouble. Against†Lemon he hit just .267 with a .422 SLG, and off Mel Harder†he batted only 254/380/441, which was about as good as you could expect to do against Williams. Another Tribe pitcher, Mike Garcia, held Williams to a slash line of 264/356/560, fanning Teddy Ballgame 14 times while walking him just 13 times.
Among pitchers who faced Ted Williams 60 times, southpaw Newhouser held him to the lowest OPS (796), and in 63 one-on-one matchups with the Red Sox slugger, Newhouser allowed just one home run.