ESPN boston: Hall of Fame

Ted Williams

Red Sox (1939-1960)


The man has a tunnel named after him, for goodness' sake. End of story.

For 21 seasons, Ted Williams was the face of the Boston Red Sox and, in the minds of many, the greatest hitter who ever lived.

Ted Williams
ESPN
Ted Williams, a 17-time All-Star, hit four home runs in 46 career All-Star at-bats, none more dramatic than this ninth-inning four-bagger in Detroit to give the American League a 7-5 victory over the National League in 1941. That's teammate Joe DiMaggio on the left congratulating Williams at home.
The one, unforgettable snapshot season for Williams was 1941, when he hit .406, the last player to reach that exalted level. Oh, there also were the 37 home runs, 120 runs batted in and a Moneyball-approved on-base percentage of .551, a mark that stood for 60 years.

That season was made even more remarkable by the fact that Williams was injured in spring training and basically was limited to pinch-hitting duties for the first dozen games. But he more than made up for it.

While the Red Sox finished second to the Yankees that season, 17 games behind, Williams and Joe DiMaggio provided baseball fans with a summer to remember. That was the year Joltin' Joe hit in 56 straight games and he, not Williams (and the .406), was named the league's most valuable player.

But it was Williams who hit the winning home run in the bottom of the ninth inning at the 1941 All-Star Game in Detroit. And it was Williams who refused to sit out the final two games of the season in Philadelphia to "protect" his .400 average.

He had four hits in the first game of the season-ending doubleheader, which put him well above .400. He insisted on playing in the finale and had two more hits to finish at the magical .406. He was 23 when the season ended.

Williams' individual heroics -- unfortunately for him, his team and the city of Boston -- rarely lifted the Red Sox to elite status in the American League. They did reach the World Series in 1946, losing in seven games to the Cardinals. Williams' only series appearance was forgettable; he hit .200 with no home runs and one RBI. This was after a season in which he won the league's MVP for the first time (he won again in 1949) by hitting .342 with 38 homers and 123 RBIs. He also won the Triple Crown twice -- in 1942 and 1947.

The great unknown in Williams' career was where he would rank statistically among the greats had he not missed five years due to military service, three during World War II and two more during the Korean War, in which he piloted 38 combat missions. (DiMaggio missed three years.)

Still, Williams retired with 521 home runs and a career average of .344. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1966 on the first ballot, with nearly 94 percent of the vote. One wonders what on earth the other 6 percent were thinking.

2011 Boston Hall of Fame classmates: Larry Bird | Bill Russell | Bobby Orr | Red Auerbach