My Turn at Bat: The Story of My Life

Overview

Now available for the first time in years, My Turn at Bat is Ted Williams' own story of his spectacular life and baseball career.

An acclaimed best-seller, My Turn at Bat now features new photographs and, for the first time, Ted's reflections on his managing career and the state of baseball as it is played in the 1980s. It's all here in this brilliant, honest and sometimes angry autobiography -- Williams' childhood days in San Diego, his military service, his unforgettable major...

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Overview

Now available for the first time in years, My Turn at Bat is Ted Williams' own story of his spectacular life and baseball career.

An acclaimed best-seller, My Turn at Bat now features new photographs and, for the first time, Ted's reflections on his managing career and the state of baseball as it is played in the 1980s. It's all here in this brilliant, honest and sometimes angry autobiography -- Williams' childhood days in San Diego, his military service, his unforgettable major league baseball debut and ensuing Hall of Fame career that included two Triple Crowns, two Most Valuable Player awards, six batting championships, five Sporting News awards as Major League Player of the Year, 521 lifetime homeruns and a .344 career batting average. And Williams tells his side of the controversies, from his battles with sportswriters and Boston fans to his single World Series performance and his career with the declining Red Sox of the 1950s.

My Turn at Bat belongs in the library of everyone who loves Ted Williams, baseball, or great life stories well-told.

Red Barber proclaimed My Turn at Bat to be: "One of the best baseball books I've ever read." John Leonard of The New York Times said My Turn at Bat was "unbuttoned and wholly engaging...the portrait of an original who is unrepentant about being better than anyone else."

Praised by critics everywhere as one of the greatest sports books ever written, William's autobiography was first published in 1969 and after years of being out of print was published in a revised edition by Simon & Schuster in 1988.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The sporting world lost one of its all-time greats when Ted Williams, the Splendid Splinter, passed away at the age of 83 in the summer of 2002. Discover the man behind the legend with this memoir, praised as one of the best baseball books ever.
From the Publisher
Larry King An absolute smash!

The Philadelphia Bulletin Bristles with hate, ego and unsparing bluntness.

Cleveland Plain Dealer Williams emerges as an honest chronicler of an interesting American career, with the blemishes plain as well as the mighty accomplishments.

Cleveland Plain Dealer
Williams emerges as an honest chronicler of an interesting American career, with the blemishes plain, as well as the mighty accomplishments.
John Leonard
...unbuttoned and wholly engaging... the portrait of an original who is unrepentant about being better than anyone else.
The New York Times
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780671634230
  • Publisher: Touchstone
  • Publication date: 3/15/1988
  • Series: Fireside Sports Classics Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 685,596
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 8.44 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Ted Williams has also coauthored with John Underwood Fishing the Big Three and The Science of Hitting, which are available from Fireside/Simon & Schuster.

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Read an Excerpt

From Part Two

Circumstances make a career — a man being at the right place at the right time with the right material. Circumstances can make a .400 hitter. Some years, for example, might be a little better than others for pitching, almost imperceptibly better. Then the pitching might go down and the hitting creep up.

In 1941 I hit .406 for the Boston Red Sox. No one had hit .400 in the major leagues for eleven years before that, not since Bill Terry, and no one has hit .400 again, and I suppose you can find students of the game who say it will never happen again. But there were times when it could have happened. Rod Carew came close a couple times, and George Brett came close once, too. Now it seems that Don Mattingly and Wade Boggs have a shot and I wish one of them would do it so people would quit bugging me about it and I can fish in peace. I think hitting .400 is a big deal, but not that big a deal. I could have done it myself in 1957. I came within five hits of .400 that year. What's five hits? I was thirty-nine years old, aging and aching. There had to be among a season's collection of groundballs at least five leg hits for a younger Ted Williams.

Certainly 1957 appeared to be a year for the batter. Stan Musial hit .351, and he was thirty-six years old. Mickey Mantle hit .365 that year, the best year of his life, and maybe that was his .400 season.

In 1941 there were a lot of big-name pitchers in the American League — Lefty Gomez, Red Ruffing, Dutch Leonard, Tommy Bridges, Bob Feller, Ted Lyons, Johnny Allen, Bobo Newsom — and they might have been at their best, but who is to say?

Lyons was tough and got tougher the more youfaced him, because he'd learn about you by playing those little pitcher-batter thinking games, and he'd usually outthink you. I know as a rookie when the guys were telling me about the pitchers they would come to Lyons and they'd say, "Well, he's not real fast, but he's sneaky fast," and "His curve is hittable, but he gets it in good spots," and "You've got to watch his change up," and "He's got a knuckleball," and "The one thing you can't do, you can't guess with the son of a gun." That first year I hit Lyons pretty good, but the second year he struck me out twice on fastballs in situations where I thought he would not dare throw a fastball, and he knew I was thinking he wouldn't, so he threw it anyway. Put a little extra on it. Out I went, still looking for a curve. Lyons was a smart pitcher.

But in 1941 Lyons was forty years old and you'd have to think he was over the hump. So was Harder, and Schoolboy Rowe had hurt his arm, and maybe Red Ruffing and Lefty Gomez were not at their best. Bob Feller was at the top of his game, though, and Johnny Allen, and we were seeing Trout and Benton and Virgil Trucks. Hal Newhouser didn't get going good until later. He was wild at first, and a fiery guy. You would hit one off him and it was like you had taken his blood. He'd give you that rotten stare. He didn't think anybody was supposed to hit Newhouser. He became a beautiful pitcher, nice effortless style, fine fastball, pretty to watch. Newhouser had everything. Cronin always said he would have won in any era.

There was some great batting done that year. Joe DiMaggio hit safely in fifty-six straight games. A guy you probably never heard of, Cecil Travis, had a hell of a year — .359 — and never had another like it. It was one of those years. I think, surely, to hit .400 you have to be an outstanding hitter having everything go just right, and in my case the hitter was a guy who lived to hit, who worked at it so hard he matured at the bat at a time when he was near his peak physically. The peaks met.

It was a simple formula. Choose any of the noted hitters, and none of them hit any more balls, swung a bat in practice any more times than Theodore Samuel Williams. Now, you can be a great athlete, and you can go to sleep on the bench when you should be watching the pitcher. Watch him warm up and you might pick up a clue; maybe he'll give away a pitch, or throw one he hasn't used before. You might see if he's as fast as usual, or how his curve is breaking. Pick your nose, scratch your ass and it all goes by, and you won't know enough about hitting until you're twenty-eight or twenty-nine years old, and then it'll probably be too late.

Nobody has it all. A guy's got good looks, he might weigh only 120 pounds. Or he's got a brilliant mind, and bad breath. I don't know what limitations there have been that have made it impossible for other guys to hit .400. Carew was the best hitter-for-average in the big leagues for a number of years there, and because of his lack of power he didn't seem that impressive, but you don't have to hit boomers to hit .400. Lately, it's been Mattingly and Boggs, having great high-average seasons without being what you'd call power hitters.

As I've said, there are more important factors, and circumstance is one. Good hitting always runs in cycles, rising or falling with the quality of the pitching, and it doesn't take a Boston writer to outline the factors that have contributed to the current upswing. For almost 20 years the big leagues have been trying to find ways to help hitters, mainly by lowering the mound and reducing the strike zone, so that pitchers have less leverage. The American League put in the designated hitter, and in recent years I heard a lot of talk about the "livelier" ball — an evaluation that also runs in cycles, rearing up every time the hitting gets better.

But most important, they have expanded the league three times since I retired as a player in 1960, and they're talking seriously about expanding again. The record of every good player should be helped by expansion. I'm not going to blow a lot of hot air about the pitching today but, together with the decline of the minor leagues, there is no escaping the mathematics. There are simply fewer pitchers pitching in pro ball, and more pitchers in the big leagues — 50 or so starting who would have been in the minors were it not for expansion.

When I was managing the Washington Senators/Texas Rangers, I saw pitchers who impressed me, and I saw pitchers who looked lovely to hit, guys who were supposed to be pretty good and looked like lambs. I still see that. But lambs have a nice comfortable way of making You go 0 for 4 if you're not careful. For myself, I always preferred to hit against pitchers I had worked up a reference on, whether they were good or bad. But I would have to think that a Carew or, now, a Boggs or a Mattingly, would rather not have to face the equivalent of a Roger Clemens or a Dwight Gooden or a Nolan Ryan that often. With expansion they don't have to.

Night games. The longer season. Coast-to-coast travel. A lot of things have been blamed for the disappearance of the high-average hitter. I'm not so sure. I always felt Yankee Stadium and the ball parks in Baltimore, Kansas City and Cleveland were actually harder to hit in during the day because of the shadows and the backgrounds. In any case, I think I always hit as well at night, though I admit to conceding the long ball a little.

It's true that routines get broken up traveling crosscountry and mixing night and day games. Everybody complains about jet lag and time zones. But I have to think the speed of travel has more than kept pace with the distances covered. We used to board a Pullman in Boston on Sunday night, ride all night and all the next day and get into St. Louis on Tuesday morning for a game on Tuesday night.

There's no doubt, too, that an extended season increases the possibilities for fatigue and the threat of bad weather on either end. But if that's an excuse, it doesn't explain why so few guys manage to hit close to .400 for the first 100 games, or even the first 75. So, outside of the obvious — that hitters just aren't capable enough — I can't give you any more logic as to why there hasn't been a .400 hitter in 45 years.

Willie Mays should have hit .400, with his speed. Or Hank Aaron. I always envied guys like Mays and Mantle who might get thirty or thirty-five infield hits a year without any sweat while I was puffing for my ten. Mantle got forty-eight leg hits the year he hit .365. That kind of speed does things for you: It forces the opposition to play you a littler shorter at third base, a littler shorter at first. They've got to be faster making a play, they've got to worry about being faster. Lou Brock was a hell of a base runner, half again as effective because he got the pitcher and the catcher and the rest of the infield all on edge worrying about him stealing a base.

With the infield shortened up, the hitting angles from home plate become wider. The infielder hasn't the time to cover as much territory on a hard-hit ball. It's by him before he can react. So speed is a big factor. And bat control. Roberto Clemente could have hit .400 because he had such good bat control. He had sense with the bat. He protected the plate with two strikes. I used to think Al Kaline could hit .400, or Mantle. But Mantle missed the ball too much. Too many strikeouts. He was forever going for the long ball, even with two strikes. Not quite enough finesse. And time ran out on Kaline and Mays.

What I see lacking today is the devotion necessary to produce a .400 hitter, and even with all the circumstances in the world going for you, in order to do the toughest thing there is to do in sport — hit a baseball properly — a man has got to devote every ounce of his concentration to it. Today that's a hard thing to do. Today ballplayers have a thousand distractions. They're always on the run.

In the old days we didn't fly, we rode the train. We might be ten, twelve hours on a train, and much of the talk was hitting. We didn't have television, we didn't have a lot of money to play around with. We lived in an atmosphere of baseball. We talked it, we experimented, we swapped bats. I was forever trying a new stance, trying to hit like Greenberg or Foxx or somebody, and then going back to my old way. I recommend that to kids. Experiment. Try what you see that looks good on somebody else.

A trip to the plate was an adventure for me, one that I could reflect on and store up information. I honestly believe I can recall everything there was to know about my first 300 home runs — who the pitcher was, the count, the pitch itself, where the ball landed. I didn't have to keep a written book on pitchers — I lived a book on pitchers. I was a guy who practiced until the blisters bled, and then practiced some more. When I was a kid I carried my bat to class with me. I'd run a buddy's newspaper route if I could get him to shag flies for me. When I played for the San Diego Padres I paid kids to shag flies on my days off.

Rod Luscomb used to say that in seven years on the playground I never broke a bat hitting a ball incorrectly, that all my bats had the bruises in the same spot, like they were hammered there by a careful carpenter, right on the thick of the hitting surface. That might be an exaggeration, but I believe it is true that when you put in as much time as I did you get results. Certainly from boyhood I was prepared for that kind of dedication, often to the exclusion of all else, and often to the point that the sheer agony of the concentration had side effects that hurt me, even on the verge of that .400 season.

I signed to play in 1940 for $10,000, more than double what I had made my first year. It was to begin a climb that would reach $100,000 by 1950. But I sure didn't know that in 1940.I was a twenty-year-old kid, worried about everything. I remember driving Doc Cramer, our center fielder, down to Kenmore Square one day that year, and Doc said, "You know who the best hitter in the league is right now?" We have been comparing the hitters around. "You are. You're the best."

But 1940 was a tough year for me. I was maturing, to be sure, but I was suffering too. Certainly I was not getting the balls to hit I got in 1939. Jimmy Foxx and Joe Cronin were at an age when they were beginning to fade, and pitchers were pitching around me a little. I wasn't hitting as many home runs in Fenway Park. I had hit fourteen there the year before, a record, and in order to install a bullpen they had moved in the right-field fence to a more accommodating distance (still not a bargain at 380 feet). They anticipated a lot more home runs, and the crowds were getting bigger, coming out to see the fresh kid.

I had been moved to left field because it was easier to play — right field in Boston is a bitch, the sun field, and few play it well. Jackie Jensen was the best I saw at it. Left field at Fenway Park is shallow, only 315 feet from home plate to the big high wall everybody makes fun of. You don't have to go back much for a ball hit to left, and to left center it's only 370 feet, where a lot of parks might go to 400. It's not a sun field, and in time anybody can learn to play the wall. When you catch onto the caroms you can hold line drives to singles.

Left field is also where the scoreboard is and I got to be buddies with the operator, Bill Daley. He'd give me the word on what was going on around the league, all the scores and everything. When DiMaggio was on his fifty-six-game hitting streak Bill would keep track. He'd tell me, "Joe just got a double," and I'd pass it on to Dom DiMaggio in center field. Anyway, left field would have been fine with me, except for one thing: It put me a little closer to the fans, and they were beginning to get to me that year. I started reacting, mostly out of my own frustration. I'd say things: "Boston's a lousy town." "The salary I get is peanuts," even though as a kid I never dreamed I'd be making so much money. Then the writers started in on me.

In 1940 my uncle was a fireman in Westchester, outside New York City. Uncle John Smith. A great guy. As a kid in San Diego I used to hang around the neighborhood fire station, playing pinochle with the firemen, sometimes getting to ride the trucks. It was always an attractive place for me. The first year I bought a new car, a big green Buick, I took it to the station and parked it out back and put a shine on it that must have been an inch thick, and the firemen would ask me about the great players I had seen and about my home runs. So it was natural for me to be attracted to my uncle's fire station in Mount Vernon, and I went down to see him whenever I could.

By then I was already going my own way. I have never cultivated "important" people, perhaps because I did not feel comfortable in a necktie crowd. My friends were the guys who delivered the magazines, the highway cop, the guy who took care of my car and wanted a ticket now and then, the clubhouse boy, the guy who ran the theater. I was a movie hound. I'd clip the movie schedule out of the paper and maybe see two or three a day.

I used to go down to an old theater in the old part of Boston to see cowboy movies, and I'd get in those wooden seats, kind of leaning back with my feet over the front seat like kids do, and one day I felt a tap on my shoulder. "Where the hell you think you are, home?" I looked up, and this guy says, "Take your feet down." He was the manager. Later when I was coming out he stopped me. "Aren't you Ted Williams?," We wound up going for a milk shake. His name was Johnny Buckley, and he has been one of my dearest friends ever since.

There was a place in Foxboro, outside of Boston, the Lafayette house, where I'd go with a friend of mine to eat because it was quiet and away from things and they'd give me extra cuts of meat. We were coming back from there one night, going a little fast down this hill, and suddenly we've got a patrol car on us. The patrolman was a corporal with the Massachusetts State Police. He gave us a little lecture and told us to watch it, but he didn't give us a ticket.

A few days later I was going out there by myself and the same car stopped me. This time he said it was just a social call. He said he had recognized the car — big shiny Buick with California license plates — and recognized me from playing ball. We got to talking and I got to thinking what a lonely job he had, so I invited him to have dinner with me. The patrolman's name was John Blake, and it wasn't long before we were fishing together and he was taking me to the police range to shoot. Friends for life. Same story.

It wasn't really a matter of being a lone wolf. But I didn't smoke. I couldn't stand the smell of tobacco. In those days I didn't drink. I liked to hunt and fish. I liked to walk. I liked a certain type of movie. I didn't want to see Gone With the Wind; I wanted to see John Wayne. And I wanted to do it now, bang, get it over with, and be home early. I've always criticized myself for the times I've let other guys dictate what happened to me. Like going someplace I didn't want to go, or eating late. Eating is a real sore spot with me. I don't want to hear "Let's wait awhile," because all of a sudden it's nine o'clock, and when I eat late I can't sleep well and I don't feel well the next day. I don't believe there was ever a ballplayer who ate in his room as often as Ted Williams. I'd ten times rather sit home and watch a good TV program than go out to some phony-baloney cocktail party and listen to a lot of bull. I think a lot of people are like that but are afraid to admit it.

I didn't have a great deal in common with most of my teammates. I mean, I liked them all. I can't think of one I didn't like. My roommate was Broadway Charley Wagner and he was a great guy, but a different type of guy. He didn't like to fish. He liked to eat later. He liked to dress up and make a little entrance someplace. They used to say I dressed like I was going to spend the day at the stadium, and that's about right. I still think neckties are made to get in your soup.

Charley Wagner was my roommate for a long time and we always got along. He was a pitcher. I knocked him out of bed one morning swinging a bat. I hit the bedpost and the bed collapsed, and the way Charley told it he looked up at me, half asleep, thinking I was the avenging angel or something, and he heard me say, "Boy, what power!" Being my roommate could be a nuisance in a lot of ways, the habits I had, so when I came back from Korea in 1953 they let me room alone. That way I could cut off the phone calls and put up the No Disturb sign and not be bothered.

I liked every one of my teammates, but I just didn't socialize with them. The only one I was real close to then and for a long time was Bobby Doerr. Bobby liked the same things I did. He liked the movies, he liked milk shakes. We talked hunting and fishing by the hour. And we'd walk — we'd walk and he'd talk about Oregon, and I'd talk about shooting ducks, and we'd talk hitting. I got to know his mother and father. His little father was one of the dearest guys. He was retired from the telephone company and I remember he got Bobby to invest in telephone stock, and after that some real good timberland in Oregon. I always envied Bobby the father he had, a father who was close to him, telling him what to do, encouraging him, helping him with his finances.

So now it's 1940 and I'm having my troubles at the park and visiting my uncle at the fire station, seeing the firemen hang around with their shirts off, getting sunburned, playing checkers, some of them playing cards. My uncle's telling me about this $150-a-month pension he's going to get, and I'm thinking, Boy, here I am, hitting .340 and having to take all this crap from the fans and writers. Then one day in Cleveland I'd had a bad day at bat and Harry Grayson, the writer from NEA, was at my locker and I was telling him about my uncle, and then I said, "Nuts to this baseball. I'd sooner be a fireman."

Well, Grayson took that and blew it all out of proportion. It was all over the papers, and that weekend we went into Chicago. The White Sox were managed by Jimmy Dykes, and with him the biggest bunch of jockeys ever on one ball team. Dykes and Mule Haas and Edgar Smith and Ted Lyons. Doc Cramer and Lyons were always squashing eggs on one another. Cramer was a great agitator himself — all the time making midnight calls to somebody or loading up a suitcase with rocks — and he'd squash an egg on Lyons and Lyons would say, "All right, you bastard, you'd better start dancing the next time you get up there," and sure enough he'd aim one at Cramer's knees and Cramer would have to skip rope.

Then Lyons would come in our dugout and he'd say, "Hi, Doc" — yaaak, an egg on Cramer's head. Lyons was a strong son of a gun, too. When he grabbed you, you stayed grabbed.

They were an agitating bunch of guys, the White Sox, and when I come out on the field, geez, they're blowing sirens and ringing bells, and two of them have these Texaco fire hats that Ed Wynn used to wear, and then here comes the game and I go out in left field and there's the real fire chief with a real white helmet on and sitting with him are eight guys with big red helmets, real helmets.

Then we go to New York and Lefty Gomez and Red Ruffing are ringing cow bells when I get up to the plate, raising all kinds of hell, so I get out of the box and I say to Bill Summers, the umpire, "Those guys can't do that, damn it, not while I'm hitting." Summers warns them, but they keep banging and a-booming, and finally he goes over there and kicks them out of the game. Gomez was supposed to have said that he'd just as soon go fishing anyway.

You say, Well, that was funny, and sure it was. But I'm still a kid, high strung and prone to tantrums, and more and more I'm feeling like the persecuted. Next was the incident over the pigeons. There used to be a lot of big pigeons in Fenway Park, and every now and then the groundskeeper would flock shoot them, put out a bundle of grain and kill them in bunches. They were a nuisance. I was a nut for guns, and he let me go out one day with my twenty gauge and I suppose I killed thirty or forty pigeons. Then Mr. Yawkey came out, too, and he was an excellent shot. Together we knocked off seventy or eighty pigeons. We had a hell of a time. Bang, boom, bang.

This was on an off day, a Monday. Tuesday night we're having batting practice in Washington and one of the writers comes up to me and says, "The Humane Society has made a complaint about you." Yeah? What happened? "They found out you were shooting pigeons." He didn't say anything about Mr. Yawkey shooting pigeons, old Teddy Ballgame is the S.O.B. they're after. I used to take my .22 out and take target practice on the 400-foot sign, too, but that was put to rest when I knocked out a few lights in the scoreboard. It turned out that a little writer in Boston named Hy Hurwitz, a guy I always had trouble with, had phoned the Humane Society. So I apologized and promised I wouldn't shoot any more pigeons.

Funny, sure, but not all my difficulties were funny to me, and I didn't know how to handle them. Joe Cronin did. Cronin was a big good-looking Irishman who could just swoon you. He married the owner's daughter in Washington, and he was everybody's favorite. He could suave those writers to death. If it were me, if I'd been the general manager, I'd have nipped it right now.

I'd have called the writer in and said, "Look, this kid is going to be a hell of a player. But he's twenty years old. How can you write such a lousy article about him? Give him a break. We're getting on his ass. You don't have to put every little mistake in the paper so that every son of a bitch in Boston knows about it. You're not only hurting him, you're hurting the club." You know, set the writer straight. I couldn't, though, and I sure wasn't getting any help from the front office.

I never had problems like that in San Diego or Minneapolis, and I got along fine with guys like Red Smith and Arthur Daley in New York. Isn't that funny? Well, my way of handling it was to get nasty right back. If there were eight or ten reporters around my locker, I'd spot a guy who'd written a bad article about me and I'd say, "Why should you even come around me, that crap-house stuff you've been writing." So that would embarrass him, and he'd get mad, and then off we'd go.

Take Dave Egan. They called him The Colonel, the big columnist for the Boston Daily Record. He could write some elegant things, beautiful things, make you think Ted Williams was responsible for the entire American League. Then, boy, he could tear me down, write rotten stuff. And the other columnists followed his lead.

Like I said, I didn't go home the winter of 1939. It had always been a struggle at home, the tension, my father and mother never really together, my brother always in some kind of scrape. While I was trying to help my mother, she was giving everything to my brother, and I was mad at that. I tried to give my mother everything she wanted, but I could never give her all I really wanted to give her, because she would have given it to my brother. If it was a refrigerator or a washing machine, he'd hock it. My mother never had a vacation in her life. Never. She didn't want to spend the money. Or she'd go and buy old clothes or old furniture or something that someone was peddling, and it would pile up out back.

I remember when Eddie Collins, the Boston general manager, came to the house those few times before I had a chance to make it presentable. There were holes in the chairs white mice had made years before. One Christmas we had had a new rug in our house. We also got a little secondhand Lionel train that year, and the transformers on it got hot and the tar melted on the rug. The rug with the spot on it was still there. I mean, it was never a happy place for me, and in 1939 my mother and father separated and there was more grief, so I just stayed away. And do you know what Harold Kaese wrote the first time I did something to displease him? "Well, what do you expect from a guy who won't even go see his mother in the off season."

Before this, I was willing to believe a writer was my friend until he proved otherwise. Now my guard's up all the time always watching for critical stuff. If I saw something, I'd read it twenty times, and I'd bum without knowing how to fight it. How could I fight it? Part of it, of course, was that I'd slipped a little bit in 1940. My batting average was actually higher, up to .344, and I led the league in runs scored, but everybody was expecting me to hit home runs and I only hit twenty-three, and only seven of those were in Fenway Park. I was moody a lot. I'd go in spells. Jimmy Foxx was always in my corner, but he called me a "spoiled boy" that year, and I guess I acted like one. If I got mad and didn't run out a ground ball, Cronin would chew me out, which was right, and I'd be sorry and full of remorse, so the next couple times I'd sprint like mad to first base even when I was a sure out. That was also the year I got booed for making an error and then for striking out, and the unfairness of it hit me. I vowed that day I'd never tip my hat again.

I guess the only real fun I had that season was when Cronin let me pitch a couple innings in Detroit. The Tigers were on their way to the pennant, they had Greenberg and York and Gehringer and Higgins, a hell of a lineup, and they were beating our brains out, about 11-1 in the seventh inning. I was always saying what a loss it was to baseball, my not following up on my pitching career, and when we got so far behind and Cronin said "Who the hell we got to pitch?" I heard myself saying, "Me. I'll pitch."

"You want to pitch?"

"Sure."

"OK. Pitch."

I pitched the last two innings. My greatest claim to fame was striking out Rudy York with two men on. I gave him a real good sidearm curve, it broke about a foot, right over the plate, and he took it. I guess he didn't know what to expect, whether I would throw it over the backstop or what. To this day York claims I quick-pitched him. I didn't, but he always says, "You quick-pitched me."

The Tigers scored one run in the two innings, my two-inning big league pitching career.

Then here comes 1941 and everything is fun again. I mentioned circumstances. The biggest thing going for me to hit .400 was Fenway Park in Boston, and before you question the logic of that, let me explain. First it had a good, green background. Mr. Yawkey kept all the signs out, everything was green. There were no shadows. And then there was that short, high fence in left field. You say, But Williams was a pull hitter to right field. That's correct. But it gave me a different kind of advantage. Even though I didn't hit out that way, I always said to myself, If you swing a little late it won't be the worst thing in the world, because there's that short fence, the defense isn't there, and slices or balls hit late can still go out.

So I didn't worry about hitting late, and what did that do for me? It allowed me to develop the most valuable luxury a hitter can have: the ability to wait on the ball.

By waiting, you get fooled less by the pitch. By waiting, and being quick with the bat, you can protect the plate with two strikes. You can follow the ball better. I never complained when I was late on a pitch, but it burned my butt to be early, to be in front of the ball, because that meant I wasn't waiting. Sure, sometimes you wait too long and the ball is past you. But that usually means you are going to get the same pitch the next time, and nothing pleased me more than to get a second crack at a pitcher who thought he had put one past me. I couldn't wait to get up again.

Hal Newhouser knocked me down with a pitch one time, then struck me out on three fastballs. Detroit's pitchers were all like that — Trucks, Trout, Benton, Newhouser. They loved to challenge you, brush you back a little, then pitch to your strength. When I came back to the bench I growled at somebody, "Five bucks says if he throws that same pitch to me again I'm going to ride it out of here." Newhouser did, and I did.

I remember Bill Dickey of the Yankees was giving me a lot of conversation that year. When he was catching, he'd try to get you distracted. He'd say, "How much you weigh now, Kid?" and, whup, there goes a strike. And then I'd take a real close pitch, a ball, and he'd say "How big does that ball look to you, anyway?" Then I'd take another one real close and he'd say, "Just how the hell big does that ball look to you?"

Well, Cramer was on second one day and he gave me the closed fist. Curve ball coming. He'd picked up Dickey's sign. So I'm looking for a curve. Bump Hadley's pitching for the Yankees and he rears back and gives me a fastball and it's almost past when I give it one of those late little quick swings. Line drive, right center field, home run. The next day I read in the paper where Dickey said, "Williams hit the ball right out of my glove," which was perfect because it meant that I had waited.

Now, the second thing that worked in my favor that year was an injury. I had chipped a bone in my ankle sliding into second base about the second week of spring training and for the first two weeks of the season I did nothing but pinch-hit. The early season was never my time of year anyway. It's cold in Boston, you have a lot of chilling, adverse hitting winds. I never hit as well in cold weather as I did in dead of the summer. Never. And, and, we had gotten Joe Dobson from Cleveland in a trade.

Dobson wasn't pitching regularly for us, so every day we'd go out and he'd throw me batting pr

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First Chapter

From Part Two Circumstances make a career -- a man being at the right place at the right time with the right material. Circumstances can make a .400 hitter. Some years, for example, might be a little better than others for pitching, almost imperceptibly better. Then the pitching might go down and the hitting creep up.

In 1941 I hit .406 for the Boston Red Sox. No one had hit .400 in the major leagues for eleven years before that, not since Bill Terry, and no one has hit .400 again, and I suppose you can find students of the game who say it will never happen again. But there were times when it could have happened. Rod Carew came close a couple times, and George Brett came close once, too. Now it seems that Don Mattingly and Wade Boggs have a shot and I wish one of them would do it so people would quit bugging me about it and I can fish in peace. I think hitting .400 is a big deal, but not that big a deal. I could have done it myself in 1957. I came within five hits of .400 that year. What's five hits? I was thirty-nine years old, aging and aching. There had to be among a season's collection of groundballs at least five leg hits for a younger Ted Williams.

Certainly 1957 appeared to be a year for the batter. Stan Musial hit .351, and he was thirty-six years old. Mickey Mantle hit .365 that year, the best year of his life, and maybe that was his .400 season.

In 1941 there were a lot of big-name pitchers in the American League -- Lefty Gomez, Red Ruffing, Dutch Leonard, Tommy Bridges, Bob Feller, Ted Lyons, Johnny Allen, Bobo Newsom -- and they might have been at their best, but who is to say?

Lyons was tough and got tougherthe more you faced him, because he'd learn about you by playing those little pitcher-batter thinking games, and he'd usually outthink you. I know as a rookie when the guys were telling me about the pitchers they would come to Lyons and they'd say, "Well, he's not real fast, but he's sneaky fast," and "His curve is hittable, but he gets it in good spots," and "You've got to watch his change up," and "He's got a knuckleball," and "The one thing you can't do, you can't guess with the son of a gun." That first year I hit Lyons pretty good, but the second year he struck me out twice on fastballs in situations where I thought he would not dare throw a fastball, and he knew I was thinking he wouldn't, so he threw it anyway. Put a little extra on it. Out I went, still looking for a curve. Lyons was a smart pitcher.

But in 1941 Lyons was forty years old and you'd have to think he was over the hump. So was Harder, and Schoolboy Rowe had hurt his arm, and maybe Red Ruffing and Lefty Gomez were not at their best. Bob Feller was at the top of his game, though, and Johnny Allen, and we were seeing Trout and Benton and Virgil Trucks. Hal Newhouser didn't get going good until later. He was wild at first, and a fiery guy. You would hit one off him and it was like you had taken his blood. He'd give you that rotten stare. He didn't think anybody was supposed to hit Newhouser. He became a beautiful pitcher, nice effortless style, fine fastball, pretty to watch. Newhouser had everything. Cronin always said he would have won in any era.

There was some great batting done that year. Joe DiMaggio hit safely in fifty-six straight games. A guy you probably never heard of, Cecil Travis, had a hell of a year -- .359 -- and never had another like it. It was one of those years. I think, surely, to hit .400 you have to be an outstanding hitter having everything go just right, and in my case the hitter was a guy who lived to hit, who worked at it so hard he matured at the bat at a time when he was near his peak physically. The peaks met.

It was a simple formula. Choose any of the noted hitters, and none of them hit any more balls, swung a bat in practice any more times than Theodore Samuel Williams. Now, you can be a great athlete, and you can go to sleep on the bench when you should be watching the pitcher. Watch him warm up and you might pick up a clue; maybe he'll give away a pitch, or throw one he hasn't used before. You might see if he's as fast as usual, or how his curve is breaking. Pick your nose, scratch your ass and it all goes by, and you won't know enough about hitting until you're twenty-eight or twenty-nine years old, and then it'll probably be too late.

Nobody has it all. A guy's got good looks, he might weigh only 120 pounds. Or he's got a brilliant mind, and bad breath. I don't know what limitations there have been that have made it impossible for other guys to hit .400. Carew was the best hitter-for-average in the big leagues for a number of years there, and because of his lack of power he didn't seem that impressive, but you don't have to hit boomers to hit .400. Lately, it's been Mattingly and Boggs, having great high-average seasons without being what you'd call power hitters.

As I've said, there are more important factors, and circumstance is one. Good hitting always runs in cycles, rising or falling with the quality of the pitching, and it doesn't take a Boston writer to outline the factors that have contributed to the current upswing. For almost 20 years the big leagues have been trying to find ways to help hitters, mainly by lowering the mound and reducing the strike zone, so that pitchers have less leverage. The American League put in the designated hitter, and in recent years I heard a lot of talk about the "livelier" ball -- an evaluation that also runs in cycles, rearing up every time the hitting gets better.

But most important, they have expanded the league three times since I retired as a player in 1960, and they're talking seriously about expanding again. The record of every good player should be helped by expansion. I'm not going to blow a lot of hot air about the pitching today but, together with the decline of the minor leagues, there is no escaping the mathematics. There are simply fewer pitchers pitching in pro ball, and more pitchers in the big leagues -- 50 or so starting who would have been in the minors were it not for expansion.

When I was managing the Washington Senators/Texas Rangers, I saw pitchers who impressed me, and I saw pitchers who looked lovely to hit, guys who were supposed to be pretty good and looked like lambs. I still see that. But lambs have a nice comfortable way of making You go 0 for 4 if you're not careful. For myself, I always preferred to hit against pitchers I had worked up a reference on, whether they were good or bad. But I would have to think that a Carew or, now, a Boggs or a Mattingly, would rather not have to face the equivalent of a Roger Clemens or a Dwight Gooden or a Nolan Ryan that often. With expansion they don't have to.

Night games. The longer season. Coast-to-coast travel. A lot of things have been blamed for the disappearance of the high-average hitter. I'm not so sure. I always felt Yankee Stadium and the ball parks in Baltimore, Kansas City and Cleveland were actually harder to hit in during the day because of the shadows and the backgrounds. In any case, I think I always hit as well at night, though I admit to conceding the long ball a little.

It's true that routines get broken up traveling crosscountry and mixing night and day games. Everybody complains about jet lag and time zones. But I have to think the speed of travel has more than kept pace with the distances covered. We used to board a Pullman in Boston on Sunday night, ride all night and all the next day and get into St. Louis on Tuesday morning for a game on Tuesday night.

There's no doubt, too, that an extended season increases the possibilities for fatigue and the threat of bad weather on either end. But if that's an excuse, it doesn't explain why so few guys manage to hit close to .400 for the first 100 games, or even the first 75. So, outside of the obvious -- that hitters just aren't capable enough -- I can't give you any more logic as to why there hasn't been a .400 hitter in 45 years.

Willie Mays should have hit .400, with his speed. Or Hank Aaron. I always envied guys like Mays and Mantle who might get thirty or thirty-five infield hits a year without any sweat while I was puffing for my ten. Mantle got forty-eight leg hits the year he hit .365. That kind of speed does things for you: It forces the opposition to play you a littler shorter at third base, a littler shorter at first. They've got to be faster making a play, they've got to worry about being faster. Lou Brock was a hell of a base runner, half again as effective because he got the pitcher and the catcher and the rest of the infield all on edge worrying about him stealing a base.

With the infield shortened up, the hitting angles from home plate become wider. The infielder hasn't the time to cover as much territory on a hard-hit ball. It's by him before he can react. So speed is a big factor. And bat control. Roberto Clemente could have hit .400 because he had such good bat control. He had sense with the bat. He protected the plate with two strikes. I used to think Al Kaline could hit .400, or Mantle. But Mantle missed the ball too much. Too many strikeouts. He was forever going for the long ball, even with two strikes. Not quite enough finesse. And time ran out on Kaline and Mays.

What I see lacking today is the devotion necessary to produce a .400 hitter, and even with all the circumstances in the world going for you, in order to do the toughest thing there is to do in sport -- hit a baseball properly -- a man has got to devote every ounce of his concentration to it. Today that's a hard thing to do. Today ballplayers have a thousand distractions. They're always on the run.

In the old days we didn't fly, we rode the train. We might be ten, twelve hours on a train, and much of the talk was hitting. We didn't have television, we didn't have a lot of money to play around with. We lived in an atmosphere of baseball. We talked it, we experimented, we swapped bats. I was forever trying a new stance, trying to hit like Greenberg or Foxx or somebody, and then going back to my old way. I recommend that to kids. Experiment. Try what you see that looks good on somebody else.

A trip to the plate was an adventure for me, one that I could reflect on and store up information. I honestly believe I can recall everything there was to know about my first 300 home runs -- who the pitcher was, the count, the pitch itself, where the ball landed. I didn't have to keep a written book on pitchers -- I lived a book on pitchers. I was a guy who practiced until the blisters bled, and then practiced some more. When I was a kid I carried my bat to class with me. I'd run a buddy's newspaper route if I could get him to shag flies for me. When I played for the San Diego Padres I paid kids to shag flies on my days off.

Rod Luscomb used to say that in seven years on the playground I never broke a bat hitting a ball incorrectly, that all my bats had the bruises in the same spot, like they were hammered there by a careful carpenter, right on the thick of the hitting surface. That might be an exaggeration, but I believe it is true that when you put in as much time as I did you get results. Certainly from boyhood I was prepared for that kind of dedication, often to the exclusion of all else, and often to the point that the sheer agony of the concentration had side effects that hurt me, even on the verge of that .400 season.

I signed to play in 1940 for $10,000, more than double what I had made my first year. It was to begin a climb that would reach $100,000 by 1950. But I sure didn't know that in 1940.I was a twenty-year-old kid, worried about everything. I remember driving Doc Cramer, our center fielder, down to Kenmore Square one day that year, and Doc said, "You know who the best hitter in the league is right now?" We have been comparing the hitters around. "You are. You're the best."

But 1940 was a tough year for me. I was maturing, to be sure, but I was suffering too. Certainly I was not getting the balls to hit I got in 1939. Jimmy Foxx and Joe Cronin were at an age when they were beginning to fade, and pitchers were pitching around me a little. I wasn't hitting as many home runs in Fenway Park. I had hit fourteen there the year before, a record, and in order to install a bullpen they had moved in the right-field fence to a more accommodating distance (still not a bargain at 380 feet). They anticipated a lot more home runs, and the crowds were getting bigger, coming out to see the fresh kid.

I had been moved to left field because it was easier to play -- right field in Boston is a bitch, the sun field, and few play it well. Jackie Jensen was the best I saw at it. Left field at Fenway Park is shallow, only 315 feet from home plate to the big high wall everybody makes fun of. You don't have to go back much for a ball hit to left, and to left center it's only 370 feet, where a lot of parks might go to 400. It's not a sun field, and in time anybody can learn to play the wall. When you catch onto the caroms you can hold line drives to singles.

Left field is also where the scoreboard is and I got to be buddies with the operator, Bill Daley. He'd give me the word on what was going on around the league, all the scores and everything. When DiMaggio was on his fifty-six-game hitting streak Bill would keep track. He'd tell me, "Joe just got a double," and I'd pass it on to Dom DiMaggio in center field. Anyway, left field would have been fine with me, except for one thing: It put me a little closer to the fans, and they were beginning to get to me that year. I started reacting, mostly out of my own frustration. I'd say things: "Boston's a lousy town." "The salary I get is peanuts," even though as a kid I never dreamed I'd be making so much money. Then the writers started in on me.

In 1940 my uncle was a fireman in Westchester, outside New York City. Uncle John Smith. A great guy. As a kid in San Diego I used to hang around the neighborhood fire station, playing pinochle with the firemen, sometimes getting to ride the trucks. It was always an attractive place for me. The first year I bought a new car, a big green Buick, I took it to the station and parked it out back and put a shine on it that must have been an inch thick, and the firemen would ask me about the great players I had seen and about my home runs. So it was natural for me to be attracted to my uncle's fire station in Mount Vernon, and I went down to see him whenever I could.

By then I was already going my own way. I have never cultivated "important" people, perhaps because I did not feel comfortable in a necktie crowd. My friends were the guys who delivered the magazines, the highway cop, the guy who took care of my car and wanted a ticket now and then, the clubhouse boy, the guy who ran the theater. I was a movie hound. I'd clip the movie schedule out of the paper and maybe see two or three a day.

I used to go down to an old theater in the old part of Boston to see cowboy movies, and I'd get in those wooden seats, kind of leaning back with my feet over the front seat like kids do, and one day I felt a tap on my shoulder. "Where the hell you think you are, home?" I looked up, and this guy says, "Take your feet down." He was the manager. Later when I was coming out he stopped me. "Aren't you Ted Williams?," We wound up going for a milk shake. His name was Johnny Buckley, and he has been one of my dearest friends ever since.

There was a place in Foxboro, outside of Boston, the Lafayette house, where I'd go with a friend of mine to eat because it was quiet and away from things and they'd give me extra cuts of meat. We were coming back from there one night, going a little fast down this hill, and suddenly we've got a patrol car on us. The patrolman was a corporal with the Massachusetts State Police. He gave us a little lecture and told us to watch it, but he didn't give us a ticket.

A few days later I was going out there by myself and the same car stopped me. This time he said it was just a social call. He said he had recognized the car -- big shiny Buick with California license plates -- and recognized me from playing ball. We got to talking and I got to thinking what a lonely job he had, so I invited him to have dinner with me. The patrolman's name was John Blake, and it wasn't long before we were fishing together and he was taking me to the police range to shoot. Friends for life. Same story.

It wasn't really a matter of being a lone wolf. But I didn't smoke. I couldn't stand the smell of tobacco. In those days I didn't drink. I liked to hunt and fish. I liked to walk. I liked a certain type of movie. I didn't want to see Gone With the Wind; I wanted to see John Wayne. And I wanted to do it now, bang, get it over with, and be home early. I've always criticized myself for the times I've let other guys dictate what happened to me. Like going someplace I didn't want to go, or eating late. Eating is a real sore spot with me. I don't want to hear "Let's wait awhile," because all of a sudden it's nine o'clock, and when I eat late I can't sleep well and I don't feel well the next day. I don't believe there was ever a ballplayer who ate in his room as often as Ted Williams. I'd ten times rather sit home and watch a good TV program than go out to some phony-baloney cocktail party and listen to a lot of bull. I think a lot of people are like that but are afraid to admit it.

I didn't have a great deal in common with most of my teammates. I mean, I liked them all. I can't think of one I didn't like. My roommate was Broadway Charley Wagner and he was a great guy, but a different type of guy. He didn't like to fish. He liked to eat later. He liked to dress up and make a little entrance someplace. They used to say I dressed like I was going to spend the day at the stadium, and that's about right. I still think neckties are made to get in your soup.

Charley Wagner was my roommate for a long time and we always got along. He was a pitcher. I knocked him out of bed one morning swinging a bat. I hit the bedpost and the bed collapsed, and the way Charley told it he looked up at me, half asleep, thinking I was the avenging angel or something, and he heard me say, "Boy, what power!" Being my roommate could be a nuisance in a lot of ways, the habits I had, so when I came back from Korea in 1953 they let me room alone. That way I could cut off the phone calls and put up the No Disturb sign and not be bothered.

I liked every one of my teammates, but I just didn't socialize with them. The only one I was real close to then and for a long time was Bobby Doerr. Bobby liked the same things I did. He liked the movies, he liked milk shakes. We talked hunting and fishing by the hour. And we'd walk -- we'd walk and he'd talk about Oregon, and I'd talk about shooting ducks, and we'd talk hitting. I got to know his mother and father. His little father was one of the dearest guys. He was retired from the telephone company and I remember he got Bobby to invest in telephone stock, and after that some real good timberland in Oregon. I always envied Bobby the father he had, a father who was close to him, telling him what to do, encouraging him, helping him with his finances.

So now it's 1940 and I'm having my troubles at the park and visiting my uncle at the fire station, seeing the firemen hang around with their shirts off, getting sunburned, playing checkers, some of them playing cards. My uncle's telling me about this $150-a-month pension he's going to get, and I'm thinking, Boy, here I am, hitting .340 and having to take all this crap from the fans and writers. Then one day in Cleveland I'd had a bad day at bat and Harry Grayson, the writer from NEA, was at my locker and I was telling him about my uncle, and then I said, "Nuts to this baseball. I'd sooner be a fireman."

Well, Grayson took that and blew it all out of proportion. It was all over the papers, and that weekend we went into Chicago. The White Sox were managed by Jimmy Dykes, and with him the biggest bunch of jockeys ever on one ball team. Dykes and Mule Haas and Edgar Smith and Ted Lyons. Doc Cramer and Lyons were always squashing eggs on one another. Cramer was a great agitator himself -- all the time making midnight calls to somebody or loading up a suitcase with rocks -- and he'd squash an egg on Lyons and Lyons would say, "All right, you bastard, you'd better start dancing the next time you get up there," and sure enough he'd aim one at Cramer's knees and Cramer would have to skip rope.

Then Lyons would come in our dugout and he'd say, "Hi, Doc" -- yaaak, an egg on Cramer's head. Lyons was a strong son of a gun, too. When he grabbed you, you stayed grabbed.

They were an agitating bunch of guys, the White Sox, and when I come out on the field, geez, they're blowing sirens and ringing bells, and two of them have these Texaco fire hats that Ed Wynn used to wear, and then here comes the game and I go out in left field and there's the real fire chief with a real white helmet on and sitting with him are eight guys with big red helmets, real helmets.

Then we go to New York and Lefty Gomez and Red Ruffing are ringing cow bells when I get up to the plate, raising all kinds of hell, so I get out of the box and I say to Bill Summers, the umpire, "Those guys can't do that, damn it, not while I'm hitting." Summers warns them, but they keep banging and a-booming, and finally he goes over there and kicks them out of the game. Gomez was supposed to have said that he'd just as soon go fishing anyway.

You say, Well, that was funny, and sure it was. But I'm still a kid, high strung and prone to tantrums, and more and more I'm feeling like the persecuted. Next was the incident over the pigeons. There used to be a lot of big pigeons in Fenway Park, and every now and then the groundskeeper would flock shoot them, put out a bundle of grain and kill them in bunches. They were a nuisance. I was a nut for guns, and he let me go out one day with my twenty gauge and I suppose I killed thirty or forty pigeons. Then Mr. Yawkey came out, too, and he was an excellent shot. Together we knocked off seventy or eighty pigeons. We had a hell of a time. Bang, boom, bang.

This was on an off day, a Monday. Tuesday night we're having batting practice in Washington and one of the writers comes up to me and says, "The Humane Society has made a complaint about you." Yeah? What happened? "They found out you were shooting pigeons." He didn't say anything about Mr. Yawkey shooting pigeons, old Teddy Ballgame is the S.O.B. they're after. I used to take my .22 out and take target practice on the 400-foot sign, too, but that was put to rest when I knocked out a few lights in the scoreboard. It turned out that a little writer in Boston named Hy Hurwitz, a guy I always had trouble with, had phoned the Humane Society. So I apologized and promised I wouldn't shoot any more pigeons.

Funny, sure, but not all my difficulties were funny to me, and I didn't know how to handle them. Joe Cronin did. Cronin was a big good-looking Irishman who could just swoon you. He married the owner's daughter in Washington, and he was everybody's favorite. He could suave those writers to death. If it were me, if I'd been the general manager, I'd have nipped it right now.

I'd have called the writer in and said, "Look, this kid is going to be a hell of a player. But he's twenty years old. How can you write such a lousy article about him? Give him a break. We're getting on his ass. You don't have to put every little mistake in the paper so that every son of a bitch in Boston knows about it. You're not only hurting him, you're hurting the club." You know, set the writer straight. I couldn't, though, and I sure wasn't getting any help from the front office.

I never had problems like that in San Diego or Minneapolis, and I got along fine with guys like Red Smith and Arthur Daley in New York. Isn't that funny? Well, my way of handling it was to get nasty right back. If there were eight or ten reporters around my locker, I'd spot a guy who'd written a bad article about me and I'd say, "Why should you even come around me, that crap-house stuff you've been writing." So that would embarrass him, and he'd get mad, and then off we'd go.

Take Dave Egan. They called him The Colonel, the big columnist for the Boston Daily Record. He could write some elegant things, beautiful things, make you think Ted Williams was responsible for the entire American League. Then, boy, he could tear me down, write rotten stuff. And the other columnists followed his lead.

Like I said, I didn't go home the winter of 1939. It had always been a struggle at home, the tension, my father and mother never really together, my brother always in some kind of scrape. While I was trying to help my mother, she was giving everything to my brother, and I was mad at that. I tried to give my mother everything she wanted, but I could never give her all I really wanted to give her, because she would have given it to my brother. If it was a refrigerator or a washing machine, he'd hock it. My mother never had a vacation in her life. Never. She didn't want to spend the money. Or she'd go and buy old clothes or old furniture or something that someone was peddling, and it would pile up out back.

I remember when Eddie Collins, the Boston general manager, came to the house those few times before I had a chance to make it presentable. There were holes in the chairs white mice had made years before. One Christmas we had had a new rug in our house. We also got a little secondhand Lionel train that year, and the transformers on it got hot and the tar melted on the rug. The rug with the spot on it was still there. I mean, it was never a happy place for me, and in 1939 my mother and father separated and there was more grief, so I just stayed away. And do you know what Harold Kaese wrote the first time I did something to displease him? "Well, what do you expect from a guy who won't even go see his mother in the off season."

Before this, I was willing to believe a writer was my friend until he proved otherwise. Now my guard's up all the time always watching for critical stuff. If I saw something, I'd read it twenty times, and I'd bum without knowing how to fight it. How could I fight it? Part of it, of course, was that I'd slipped a little bit in 1940. My batting average was actually higher, up to .344, and I led the league in runs scored, but everybody was expecting me to hit home runs and I only hit twenty-three, and only seven of those were in Fenway Park. I was moody a lot. I'd go in spells. Jimmy Foxx was always in my corner, but he called me a "spoiled boy" that year, and I guess I acted like one. If I got mad and didn't run out a ground ball, Cronin would chew me out, which was right, and I'd be sorry and full of remorse, so the next couple times I'd sprint like mad to first base even when I was a sure out. That was also the year I got booed for making an error and then for striking out, and the unfairness of it hit me. I vowed that day I'd never tip my hat again.

I guess the only real fun I had that season was when Cronin let me pitch a couple innings in Detroit. The Tigers were on their way to the pennant, they had Greenberg and York and Gehringer and Higgins, a hell of a lineup, and they were beating our brains out, about 11-1 in the seventh inning. I was always saying what a loss it was to baseball, my not following up on my pitching career, and when we got so far behind and Cronin said "Who the hell we got to pitch?" I heard myself saying, "Me. I'll pitch."

"You want to pitch?"

"Sure."

"OK. Pitch."

I pitched the last two innings. My greatest claim to fame was striking out Rudy York with two men on. I gave him a real good sidearm curve, it broke about a foot, right over the plate, and he took it. I guess he didn't know what to expect, whether I would throw it over the backstop or what. To this day York claims I quick-pitched him. I didn't, but he always says, "You quick-pitched me."

The Tigers scored one run in the two innings, my two-inning big league pitching career.

Then here comes 1941 and everything is fun again. I mentioned circumstances. The biggest thing going for me to hit .400 was Fenway Park in Boston, and before you question the logic of that, let me explain. First it had a good, green background. Mr. Yawkey kept all the signs out, everything was green. There were no shadows. And then there was that short, high fence in left field. You say, But Williams was a pull hitter to right field. That's correct. But it gave me a different kind of advantage. Even though I didn't hit out that way, I always said to myself, If you swing a little late it won't be the worst thing in the world, because there's that short fence, the defense isn't there, and slices or balls hit late can still go out.

So I didn't worry about hitting late, and what did that do for me? It allowed me to develop the most valuable luxury a hitter can have: the ability to wait on the ball.

By waiting, you get fooled less by the pitch. By waiting, and being quick with the bat, you can protect the plate with two strikes. You can follow the ball better. I never complained when I was late on a pitch, but it burned my butt to be early, to be in front of the ball, because that meant I wasn't waiting. Sure, sometimes you wait too long and the ball is past you. But that usually means you are going to get the same pitch the next time, and nothing pleased me more than to get a second crack at a pitcher who thought he had put one past me. I couldn't wait to get up again.

Hal Newhouser knocked me down with a pitch one time, then struck me out on three fastballs. Detroit's pitchers were all like that -- Trucks, Trout, Benton, Newhouser. They loved to challenge you, brush you back a little, then pitch to your strength. When I came back to the bench I growled at somebody, "Five bucks says if he throws that same pitch to me again I'm going to ride it out of here." Newhouser did, and I did.

I remember Bill Dickey of the Yankees was giving me a lot of conversation that year. When he was catching, he'd try to get you distracted. He'd say, "How much you weigh now, Kid?" and, whup, there goes a strike. And then I'd take a real close pitch, a ball, and he'd say "How big does that ball look to you, anyway?" Then I'd take another one real close and he'd say, "Just how the hell big does that ball look to you?"

Well, Cramer was on second one day and he gave me the closed fist. Curve ball coming. He'd picked up Dickey's sign. So I'm looking for a curve. Bump Hadley's pitching for the Yankees and he rears back and gives me a fastball and it's almost past when I give it one of those late little quick swings. Line drive, right center field, home run. The next day I read in the paper where Dickey said, "Williams hit the ball right out of my glove," which was perfect because it meant that I had waited.

Now, the second thing that worked in my favor that year was an injury. I had chipped a bone in my ankle sliding into second base about the second week of spring training and for the first two weeks of the season I did nothing but pinch-hit. The early season was never my time of year anyway. It's cold in Boston, you have a lot of chilling, adverse hitting winds. I never hit as well in cold weather as I did in dead of the summer. Never. And, and, we had gotten Joe Dobson from Cleveland in a trade.

Dobson wasn't pitching regularly for us, so every day we'd go out and he'd throw me batting practice. We'd make games out of it -- "OK, Joe, ninth inning at Detroit, bases loaded, two out," and so forth. I got the most batting practice of my life, and the best, because Dobson had a hell of a curve and a good overhand fastball, and he always bore down. Every day that his arm would hold out, and the blisters on my hands would hold out, we'd go out there like it was all-out war, one-on-one.

Well, for me it was great fun, and I was about as sharp as I could ever be. My hands were good and callused. First I'd get the blisters, then the calluses would start growing, real big, hard ugly calluses. I'd bet if you checked today you'd find most hitters don't develop calluses like they used to. They wear golf gloves, and they don't hit that much. So I began to pinch-hit, and almost everything I touched was a line drive. When I finally got back into the lineup, the weather had turned warm, and I mean I got off to a flying start.

I remember going to New York early that year, and why they didn't pull the shift on me that day I'll never know. Mario Russo was pitching, a left-hander with a sidearm fastball that sank. He was good in the Stadium because right-handers couldn't get the ball in the air off him. First time I'm up, boom, a base hit between first and second base. Next time up, boom, another hit between first and second. I got four straight hits between first and second base. Gordon was tightening up on me all the time, shading over toward first, but he never quite got over far enough.

The .400 thing got bigger as the season went on because a lot of guys had hit .400 for two months and then tailed. And, truthfully, it got bigger to me with the years. I had to think then that I wasn't going to be the last to do it, or that I might even do it again myself. Late in the season, when it looked like I might make it, I went on Harry Von Zell's program -- he had one of those radio talk shows then -- and Harry asked me if I was going to break Hugh Duffy's record. Duffy had hit .438 for the Reds back before the turn of the century, the highest average of all time. I said I hoped not, because I liked Hugh Duffy too much.

Duffy was a coach for the Red Sox when I first came up. A little squib of a guy. Looked like he weighed about a hundred pounds. Duffy used to tell me, "Son, you've got form and power. But the form is most important. With it you get the power. Don't monkey with your form." I remember in spring training I'd rip one back through the box, practically dehorn the pitcher, take his whiskers right off, and Duffy would squeal, "Thata boy, Ted, thata boy." He really liked that one.

Everybody was interested as we got into September. I'd go into Detroit where Harry Heilmann was broadcasting the games, and Harry would take me aside and say, "Now, forget about that short fence, just hit the ball where you want it, hit your pitch, get those base hits. You can hit .400. You can do it." Heilmann had hit .403 for the Tigers in 1921, and he was the opposing announcer, but he was for me. Just about everybody was for me. The fans in Yankee Stadium gave Lefty Gomez a hell of a boo in September when he walked me with the bases loaded after I had gotten three straight hits.

The only guy who tried to put me down was Al Simmons. He came over to me in the dugout tunnel one day near the end. He was coaching for Philadelphia at the time. He had hit .390 one year for the A's, and he was another real big guy, but a different animal from Heilmann. Simmons had a kind of swaggering way about him. The kind of guy who when somebody else was in the batting cage, would say, "Buy him a lunch, he's going to be in there all day." Simmons wouldn't win any popularity contests.

I'm sitting there on the bench and Simmons says, "How much do you want to bet you don't hit .400?" Just like that.

I said, "Nuts to you, Simmons, I'm not going to bet I'll hit .400. I wouldn't bet a nickel on it."

It came to the last day of the season, and by now I was down to .39955, which, according to the way they do it, rounds out to an even .400. We had a doubleheader left at Philadelphia. I'd slumped as the weather got cooler, from a high of .436 in June, down to .402 in late August, then up again to .413 in September. In the last ten days of the season my average dropped almost a point a day. Now it was barely .400. The night before the game Cronin offered to take me out of the lineup to preserve the .400. They used to do that. Foxx lost a batting championship to Buddy Myer one year when he sat out the last game and Myer got two hits.

I told Cronin I didn't want that. If I couldn't hit .400 all the way I didn't deserve it. It sure as hell meant something to me then, and Johnny Orlando, the clubhouse boy, always a guy who was there when I needed him, must have walked ten miles with me the night before, talking it over and just walking around. Johnny really didn't like to walk as much as I did, so I'd wait outside while he ducked into a bar for a quick one to keep his strength up. The way he tells it, he made two stops for scotch and I made two stops for ice cream walking the streets of Philadelphia.

It had been such a happy, exciting season to come to this. In Detroit that July I had hit what remains to this day the most thrilling hit of my life. I was in my second All-Star game. The year before I'd hit a couple of little groundballs in St. Louis, nothing to be proud of, and we'd lost to the National League, 4-0. This time I had a double that drove in a run in the fourth inning, but Arky Vaughan of the Pirates had hit two home runs for the National League and he looked like the hero of the day. We went into the ninth inning trailing 5 to 3. There were five men scheduled to bat in front of me, and when Frankie Hayes popped out I had to think I wasn't going to get another chance. Then Kenny Keltner of Cleveland beat out an infield hit, Joe Gordon singled and Cecil Travis walked to fill the bases. Joe DiMaggio was up. The excitement in Briggs Stadium was terrific. The game probably should have been over on the next play. Joe grounded hard to the infield, a double-play ball, but Travis distracted Billy Herman as he slid into second and Herman's throw to first was wide. Keltner scored and it was 5-4, with two outs and runners on first and third.

Claude Passeau was pitching for the National League. Passeau was always tough. He helped pitch the Cubs to the pennant in 1945. He had a fast tailing ball that he'd jam a left-hand hitter with, right into your fists, and if you weren't quick he'd get it past you. He threw it a little flat, not overhand, so it wasn't quite as good as some of the sliders you see today, but he was a competitor and I knew he wasn't going to walk me if he could help it, because in the eighth inning he had struck me out. I was late on that one, and as I came up in the ninth I said to myself, Damn it, you've got to be quicker, you've got to get more in front of this guy. You've got to be quicker.

He worked the count to 2 and 1, then he came in with that sliding fastball around my belt and I swung. No cutdown protection swing, an all-out home run swing, probably with my eyes shut. My first thought was that I was late again. Any time you hit a ball late chances are it'll pop into the air, because you're swinging slightly up (the ideal swing is not a level swing, it's a slight upswing, despite all the advice you hear) and if you're behind you hit under it. I had pulled it to right field, no doubt about that, but I was afraid I hadn't got enough of the bat on the ball. But gee, it just kept going, up, up, way up into the right-field stands in Detroit.

Well, it was the kind of thing a kid dreams about and imagines himself doing when he's playing those little playground games we used to play in San Diego. Halfway down to first, seeing that ball going out, I stopped running and started leaping and jumping and clapping my hands, and I was just so happy I laughed out loud. I've never been so happy, and I've never seen so many happy guys. They carried me off the field, DiMaggio and Bob Feller, who had pitched early in the game and was already in street clothes, and Eddie Collins leaped out of the box seats and was there to greet me. I've got a picture of Del Baker, the Detroit manager, kissing me on the forehead. Somebody said, "Did you kiss the Kid?" and Del Baker said, "You damn right I did." Everybody was shaking my hand, clapping my back and mussing my hair, and Eddie Collins was in there and Tom Yawkey and Herb Pennock and I don't know who all. Somebody said later that Artie Fletcher, the Yankee coach, shook my hand twelve times. It was a wonderful, wonderful day for me.

Now it was the last day of that 1941 season, and it turned up cold and miserable in Philadelphia. It had rained on Saturday and the game had been rescheduled as part of a Sunday doubleheader. They still had 10,000 people in Shibe Park, I suppose a lot of them just curious to see if The Kid really could hit .400. I have to say I felt good despite the cold. And I know just about everybody in the park was for me. As I came to bat for the first time that day, the Philadelphia catcher, Frankie Hayes, said, "Ted, Mr. Mack told us if we let up on you he'll run us out of baseball. I wish you all the luck in the world, but we're not giving you a damn thing."

Bill McGowan was the plate umpire, and I'll never forget it. Just as I stepped in, he called time and slowly walked around the plate, bent over and began dusting it off. Without looking up, he said, "To hit .400 a batter has got to be loose. He has got to be loose."

I guess I couldn't have been much looser. First time up I singled off Dick Fowler, a liner between first and second. Then I hit a home run, then I hit two more singles off Porter Vaughan, a left-hander who was new to me, and in the second game I hit one off the loudspeaker horn in right field for a double. For the day I wound up six for eight. I don't remember celebrating that night, but I probably went out and had a chocolate milk shake. During the winter Connie Mack had to replace the horn.

Copyright © 1969, 1988 by Ted Williams and John Underwood

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 2, 2001

    great book!

    this is probably the best book on Ted Williams!. It really gets into his whole career and his personal life.

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