Williams was a two-time American League Most Valuable Player (MVP) winner, led the league in batting six times, and won the Triple Crown twice. He had a career batting average of .344, with 521 home runs, and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1966. He is the last player in Major League Baseball to bat over .400 in a single season (.406 in 1941). Williams holds the highest career batting average of anyone with 500 or more home runs. His career year was 1941, when he hit .406 with 37 HR, 120 RBI, and 135 runs scored. His .551 on base percentage set a record that stood for 61 years. An avid sport fisherman, he hosted a television show about fishing and was inducted into the IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame.
Williams lived in San Diego's North Park neighborhood (4121 Utah Street) and graduated from Herbert Hoover High School in San Diego, where he played baseball. Though he soon had offers from the St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Yankees, his mother thought him too young to leave home so he signed with the local Padres (at that time, a minor league organization) while still in high school. He had minor league stints for his hometown San Diego Padres and the Minneapolis Millers.
Early in his career, he stated that he wished to be known as "greatest hitter who ever lived," an honor that he achieved in the eyes of many by the end of his career. Williams once stated his goal was to have a father walk down the street with his son , point to Williams and remark, "Son, there goes the greatest hitter who ever lived." Carl Yastrzemski said of Williams, "He studied hitting the way a broker studies the stock market."
At the time, this achievement was overshadowed by Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak in the same season. Their rivalry was played up by the press; Williams always felt himself slightly better as a hitter, but acknowledged that DiMaggio was the better all-around player. Also in 1941, Williams set a major-league record for on-base percentage in a season at .551. That record would last until , when Barry Bonds upped this mark to .582. A lesser-known accomplishment is Williams' 1949 record feat of reaching base for the most consecutive games, 84. In addition, Williams holds the third longest such streak of 69 in 1941. In 1957, Williams reached base in 16 consecutive plate appearances, also a major-league record.
Ted Williams pitched once during his career on Aug. 24, 1940. He pitched the last two innings in a 12-1 loss to Detroit allowing one earned run, three hits, and striking out one batter, Rudy York. His ERA was 4.50 in his lone pitching appearance.
One of Williams' other memorable accomplishments was his home run off Rip Sewell's notorious eephus pitch during the 1946 All-Star Game in Fenway Park. He challenged Sewell to throw the pitch. The first time he threw it, it was a strike. Williams challenged Sewell again and this time hit a home run.
Among the few blemishes on Williams's playing record was his performance in his lone post-season appearance, the 1946 World Series. Williams managed just 5 singles in 25 at-bats, with just 1 RBI, as the Red Sox lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games. Much of Williams' lack of production was due to his stubborn insistence into hitting into the Cardinals' defensive shift, which frequently involved five or six of the Cardinals' fielders positioned to the right of second base. This shift was a version of the Boudreau Shift, popularized by Cleveland Indians manager Lou Boudreau in an attempt to reduce Williams's effectiveness.
Williams was also playing with a sore elbow that he injured during a pre-World Series exhibition game, while the Cardinals and Brooklyn Dodgers were playing a best-of-three series to determine the National League champion. However, Williams refused to use the injury as an excuse for his sub-par play.
Williams was an obsessive student of batting, famously using a lighter bat than most sluggers because it generated more speed and stepping out of the batter's box when a cloud would pass over the stadium to ensure he could see the ball properly. David Halberstam's Summer of '49 recalls him warning teammates not to leave their bats on the ground as they would absorb moisture and become heavier. His devotion allowed him to hit for power and average while maintaining extraordinary plate discipline. In 1970 he wrote a book on the subject, The Science of Hitting (revised 1986), which is still read by many baseball players, and he was known to enthusiastically discuss hitting with active players up until the time of his death. He lacked foot speed, as attested by his 16-year career total of only 24 stolen bases, one inside-the-park home run, and one occasion of hitting for the cycle. (Ironically, despite his slowness on the basepaths, he is one of only three players in history - along with noted speedsters Tim Raines and Rickey Henderson - to have stolen a base in four different decades.) He felt that with more speed he could have raised his average considerably and hit .400 over at least one more season.
Despite Williams's lack of interest in fielding, he was considered a sure fielder with a good throwing arm, although he occasionally expressed regret that he had not worked harder on his fielding. In his autobiography, My Turn At Bat, Williams admits that as a youngster his dream was that someday he would be walking down the street and a father, walking with his son, would point to Williams and say, "there goes the greatest hitter who ever lived."
When Pumpsie Green became the first black player on the Boston Red Sox in 1959, it was Williams who made Green feel welcome on the team.
In a climactic ending to his career, he hit a home run in his very last at bat on September 28, . The classic John Updike essay "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu" chronicles this event and is usually mentioned among the greatest pieces of sports writing in American journalism.
Williams served as a United States Marine Corps pilot during World War II and the Korean War. During World War II he served as a flight instructor at Naval Air Station Pensacola teaching young pilots to fly the F4U Corsair. He finished the war in Hawaii and was released from active duty in January 1946; however he did remain in the reserves.
In 1952, at the age of 34, he was recalled to active duty for service in the Korean War. After getting checked out on the new F9F Panther at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, he was assigned to VMF-311, Marine Aircraft Group 33 (MAG-33) in Korea.
On February 16, 1953, Williams was part of a 35-plane strike package against a tank and infantry training school just south of Pyongyang, North Korea. During the mission a piece of flak knocked out his hydraulics and electrical systems, causing Williams to have to "limp" his plane back to US Air Force base K-13, also called Suwon Air Base. K-13 was the closest to the front lines, where he was.
For bringing the plane back he was also awarded the Air Medal.
Williams stayed on K-13 for several days while his plane was repaired. Because he was so popular, GI's from all around the base came to see him and his plane. After it was repaired, Williams flew his plane back to his Marine station.
Williams eventually flew 38 combat missions before being pulled from flight status in June 1953 after an old ear infection acted up.. During the war he also served in the same unit as John Glenn. While these absences, which took almost five years out of the heart of a great career, significantly limited his career totals, he never publicly complained about the time devoted to military service. Biographer Leigh Montville argues that Williams was not happy about being pressed into service in Korea, but he did what he felt was his patriotic duty.
Williams had a strong respect for General Douglas MacArthur, referring to him as his "idol". For Williams' fortieth birthday, MacArthur sent him an oil painting of himself with the inscription "To Ted Williams - not only America's greatest baseball player, but a great American who served his country. Your friend, Douglas MacArthur. General U.S. Army.
Ted Williams won the Triple Crown not once, but twice - in 1942, and again in 1947 after missing three years to WWII. In 1949, Williams led the league in home runs (with 43) and RBI (with 159, tied with Red Sox shortstop Vern Stephens), but lost the batting race to Detroit third-baseman George Kell. Kell had 179 hits in 522 at-bats, for a batting average of .3429, while Williams went 194-566, for an average of .3428. A single hit either way would have changed the outcome.
Because Williams's hitting was so feared, and it was known that he was a dead pull hitter, opponents frequently employed the radical, defensive "Williams Shift" against him, leaving only one fielder on the third-base half of the field. Rather than bunting the ball into the open space, the proud Williams batted as usual against the defense. The defensive tactic was later used against left-handed sluggers such as Willie McCovey and Barry Bonds, and is still used to this day against players such as Jason Giambi, Carlos Delgado, and David Ortiz who are also considered dead-pull hitters, and is appropriately called the infield shift.
Ted Williams retired from the game in 1960 and hit a home run in his final at-bat, on September 28, 1960, in front of only 10,454 fans at Fenway Park. This home run, a solo shot hit off Baltimore pitcher Jack Fisher in the 8th inning that reduced the Orioles' lead to 4-3—was immortalized in The New Yorker essay "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu", by John Updike.
Renowned NBC sportscaster Bob Costas, reflecting on Williams unparalleled success as ball player, wingman, and fisherman, once asked Williams if he realized he was in real life the type of American hero John Wayne sought to portray in his movies. Replied Williams, "Yeah, I know."
He also had an uneasy relationship with the Boston fans, though he could be very cordial one-on-one. Williams felt at times a good deal of gratitude for their passion and their knowledge of the game. On the other hand, Williams was temperamental, high-strung, and at times tactless. He gave generously to those in need, and demanded loyalty from those around him. He could not forgive the fickle nature of the fans—booing a player for booting a ground ball, then turning around and roaring approval of the same player for hitting a home run. Despite the cheers and adulation of most of his fans, the occasional boos directed at him in Fenway Park led Williams to refuse to ever tip his cap after a home run, including his swan song in 1960.
A Red Smith profile from 1956 describes one Boston writer trying to convince Ted Williams that first cheering and then booing a ballplayer was no different from a moviegoer applauding a "western" movie actor one day and saying the next "He stinks! Whatever gave me the idea he could act?" But Williams rejected this; when he liked a western actor like Hoot Gibson, he liked him in every picture, and would not think of booing him.
After his famous home run in his last at-bat, Williams characteristically refused either to tip his cap as he circled the bases or to respond to prolonged cheers of "We want Ted!" from the crowd. Williams also refused to tip his cap as he was replaced in left field by Carroll Hardy to start the 9th inning, although he continued to receive warm cheers.
Williams's aloof attitude led Updike to wryly observe that "gods do not answer letters." Williams's final home run did not take place during the final game of the 1960 season, but rather the Red Sox' last home game that year. The Red Sox played three more games, but they were on the road in New York and Williams did not appear in any of them, and it became clear that Williams's final home at-bat would be the last of his career.
In 1991 on Ted Williams Day at Fenway Park, after a brief speech, Williams pulled a Red Sox cap from out of his jacket and tipped it to the crowd; it was the first time he had ever done so.
Williams was referring to two of the most famous names in the Negro Leagues, who were not given the opportunity to play in the Major Leagues before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947. Gibson died early in 1947 and thus never played in the majors; and Paige's brief major league stint came long past his prime as a player. This powerful and unprecedented statement from the Hall of Fame podium was "a first crack in the door that ultimately would open and include Paige and Gibson and other Negro League stars in the shrine." (Montville, p.262) Paige was the first inducted, in 1971. Gibson and others followed, starting in 1972 and continuing off and on into the 21st Century.
Williams was also second to Ruth in career slugging percentage, where he remains today, and first in on-base percentage. He was also second to Ruth in career walks, but has since dropped to fourth place behind Barry Bonds and Rickey Henderson. Williams remains the career leader in walks per plate appearance.
Most modern statistical analyses place Williams, along with Ruth and Bonds, among the three most potent hitters to have played the game. Williams' 1941 season is often considered favorably with the greatest seasons of Ruth and Bonds in terms of various offensive statistical measures such as slugging, on-base and "offensive winning percentage." As a further indication, of the ten best seasons for OPS, short for On-Base Plus Slugging Percentage, a popular modern measure of offensive productivity, four each were achieved by Ruth and Bonds, and two by Williams.
In 1999, Williams was ranked as Number 8 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players, where he was the highest-ranking left fielder.
After retirement from play, Williams served as manager of the Washington Senators, continuing with the team when they became the Texas Rangers after the 1971 season. Williams's best season as a manager was 1969 when he led the expansion Senators to an 86–76 record in their only winning season in Washington. He was chosen "Manager of the Year" after that season. Like many great players, Williams became impatient with ordinary athletes' abilities and attitudes, particularly those of pitchers, whom he admitted he never respected, and his managerial career was short and largely unsuccessful. Before and after leaving Texas (which would be his only manager job), he occasionally appeared at Red Sox spring training as a guest hitting instructor. Williams would also go into a partnership with friend Al Cassidy to form the Ted Williams Baseball Camp in Lakeville, Massachusetts. It was not uncommon to find Williams fishing in the pond at the camp. The area now is owned by the town and a few of the buildings still stand. In the main lodge one can still see memorabilia from Williams' playing days.
He was much more successful in fishing. An avid and expert fly fisherman and deep-sea fisherman, he spent many summers after baseball fishing the Miramichi River, in Miramichi, New Brunswick, Canada. Williams was named to the International Game Fish Association Hall of Fame in 2000. Some opined that Williams was a rare individual who might have been the best in the world in three different disciplines: baseball hitter, fighter jet pilot, and fly fisherman. Shortly after Williams's death, conservative pundit Steve Sailer said the following about him:
The baseball slugger was possibly the most technically proficient American of the 20th Century, as his mastery of three highly different callings demonstrates... Can you think of anybody else who was #1 in America in his main career [hitting a baseball], probably Top 10 in his retirement hobby [fishing], and roughly Top 1000 in his weekend job [fighter pilot]? [[John Glenn|[John] Glenn]] springs to mind as military pilot, astronaut, and Senator, but each new career flowed from the previous one. The same is true for Jimmy Doolittle. Williams' three careers, in contrast, were uniquely disparate.
Williams reached an extensive deal with Sears, lending his name and talent toward marketing, developing, and endorsing a line of in-house sports equipment - specifically fishing, hunting and baseball equipment. He was also extensively involved in the Jimmy Fund, later losing a brother to leukemia, and spent much of his spare time, effort, and money in support of the cancer organization.
In his later years, Williams became a fixture at autograph shows and card shows after his son (by his third wife), John Henry Williams, took control of his career, becoming his de facto manager. The younger Williams provided structure to his father's business affairs, and rationed his father's public appearances and memorabilia signings to maximize their earnings.
One of Ted Williams's final, and most memorable, public appearances was at the 1999 All-Star Game in Boston. Able to walk only a short distance, Williams was brought to the pitcher's mound in a golf cart. He proudly waved his cap to the crowd—a gesture he had never done as a player. Fans responded with a standing ovation that lasted several minutes. At the pitcher's mound he was surrounded by players from both teams, including fellow Red Sox Nomar Garciaparra and fellow San Diegan Tony Gwynn. Later in the year, he was among the members of the Major League Baseball All-Century Team introduced to the crowd at Turner Field in Atlanta prior to Game 2 of the World Series.
In his last years Williams suffered from numerous cardiac problems. He had a pacemaker installed in November 2000 and underwent open-heart surgery in January 2001. After suffering a series of strokes and congestive heart failures, he died of cardiac arrest at the age of 83 in Crystal River, Florida, on July 5, 2002.
In Ted Williams: The Biography of An American Hero, author Leigh Montville makes the case that the supposed family cryonics pact was merely a practice Ted Williams autograph on a plain piece of paper, around which the "agreement" had later been hand-printed. The pact document was signed "Ted Williams", the same as his autographs, whereas he would always sign his legal documents "Theodore Williams." However, Claudia testified to the authenticity of the document in a sworn affidavit.
Recently, the Tampa Bay Rays home stadium of Tropicana Stadium has installed the Ted Williams Museum (formerly in Hernando, Florida) behind the right field fence. From the Tampa Bay Rays website: "The Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame brings a special element to the Tropicana Field. Fans can view an array of different artifacts and pictures of the 'Greatest hitter that ever lived.' These memorable displays range from Ted Williams' days in the military through his professional playing career. This museum is dedicated to some of the greatest players to ever 'lace 'em up,' including Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, and Sadaharu Oh."
"One of my best friends on earth and the greatest hitter I ever faced. And I faced a lot of guys, including Lou Gehrig. He was also a great friend to my wife Anne and me. He was a great American." - Bob Feller
"The way those clubs shift against Ted Williams, I can't understand how he can be so stupid not to accept the challenge to him and hit to left field." - Ty Cobb
"They can talk about Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby and Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio and Stan Musial and all the rest, but I'm sure not one of them could hold cards and spades to (Ted) Williams in his sheer knowledge of hitting. He studied hitting the way a broker studies the stock market, and could spot at a glance mistakes that others couldn't see in a week." - Carl Yastrzemski
"Baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered a good performer."
"Baseball's future? Bigger and bigger, better and better! No question about it, it's the greatest game there is!"
"I hope somebody hits .400 soon. Then people can start pestering that guy with questions about the last guy to hit .400."
"If there was ever a man born to be a hitter it was me."
"Hitting is fifty percent above the shoulders."
"If I was being paid thirty-thousand dollars a year, the very least I could do was hit .400."