The baseball season, still in its first inning, produced a flurry of surprises and exciting performances. President Eisenhower tossed out the first ball in Washington, Bob Allison caught it and then hit a home run. Cleveland fans choked on their breakfast orange juice when they learned that Rocky Colavito had been traded to Detroit for Harvey Kuenn, then choked some more as Colavito hit game-winning home runs for the Tigers. Minnie Minoso, another ex-Indian, hit three home runs for the Chicago White Sox, one of them a grand slam. The big, bad Giants-Mays, McCovey, Cepeda and Kirkland—were also hitting home runs while the rest of the National League shuddered. Red Schoendienst was back, as good as ever, and that was nice to see. There was some good pitching—a fine two-hitter by young Mike McCormick, two straight wins by Bob Friend, 15 strikeouts by Camilo Pascual and three victories by three young Yankees named Coates, Gabler and Short. But in some ways the biggest news of the season was made by the oldest player, Ted Williams, who broke into the major leagues in 1939, when Colavito was 5, when McCovey was one and when Dwight Eisenhower was a 48-year-old lieutenant colonel in the Army.
Ted Williams is 41 years old, his neck hurts despite the citrus seed pills he takes, and his legs begin to sag after three innings; but last week in Washington he showed the world he could still hit a baseball. In his first at bat this season Williams hit one of the longest home runs ever seen at Griffith Stadium, the 493rd of his 22-year career, tying him with Lou Gehrig for fourth place in the alltime list behind Babe Ruth (714), Jimmy Foxx (534) and Mel Ott (511).
What made the home run particularly startling was that Williams had not hit any at all during spring training, not a one in the cozy Arizona parks with the friendly, relaxed crowds sitting in the warm sunshine. But in Washington's brisk, overcoat weather, with the President of the United States sitting not 90 feet away, he hit one almost 500 feet on his first try. But then, that's the way it is with Williams.
The Washington pitcher, Camilo Pascual, certainly one of the best in the league, had thrown Williams an assortment of curves, mostly in close to the body. The count had reached three balls and two strikes when Camilo decided to try a fast ball.
"I put something on it," said Pascual afterwards, full of good spirits because he had won the game and struck out 15 Red Sox. "I throw it real good, but it looks like he no care."
THERE IT GOES
Pascual's fast ball came in just about waist-high, and Williams drove it straight up the middle of the ball park. The Washington center fielder started to run back, then stopped and looked up as the ball passed over his head and the 31-foot wall that encloses the outfield. Later Washington Catcher Earl Battey said, "I think the umpire and I were still watching the ball when Williams came home."
Although the crowd gave Williams a grand ovation and people in the box seats along third base rose to their feet in applause, Williams, as always, kept a stern expression and refused to tip his hat. "But when he came into the dugout he started laughing like a kid," said Boston First Baseman Vic Wertz. "Everybody was shaking his hand. I pretended I hadn't been looking. I asked him where he hit the ball, and he got a kick out of that. Boy, he really charged that ball."
The next day Boston had its home opener in Fenway Park, and Dick O'Connell, the Red Sox business manager, estimated that the Williams home run in Washington added 7,000 fans to the crowd. "Based on advance ticket sales we figured we'd draw about 28,000. It was more than 35,000 instead, standing room only. He really brings them into the park." ( Williams is so popular with the Boston fans that the Red Sox must employ a secretary to handle his mail.)
On that second opening day Williams hit a second home run. This one wasn't as long, just a line drive down the right-field line that reached the seats near the foul pole. But a home run is a home run, and all New England let out a roar. (The next day Yogi Berra kidded Williams about the hit, which couldn't have traveled more than 315 feet. "Just skimming them in now, eh?" said Berra, to which Williams replied, "Yeah, a real Yankee Stadium job.")