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Ted Williams
June 17, 1968
In the heyday of his career, Boston's splendid slugger hit .406 and won numerous other titles. But all was not serene. The explosive Williams battled fans and the press, and, eventually, went off to World War II
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June 17, 1968

Smooth And Stormy Seasons

In the heyday of his career, Boston's splendid slugger hit .406 and won numerous other titles. But all was not serene. The explosive Williams battled fans and the press, and, eventually, went off to World War II

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Now, the second thing that worked in my favor that year was an injury. I had hurt my ankle in 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 the dead of summer, anyway. Never. And, and, we had gotten Joe Dobson in from Cleveland. 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—"O.K., Joe, 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 held out and the blisters on my hands held out, we'd go at it 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 calloused, and when I'd pinch-hit, 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 lefthander with a sidearm fastball that sank. He was good in the Stadium because righthanders couldn't pull the ball. 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. Joe Gordon at second was tightening up on me all the time, but he was never over quite 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 even that I might do it again myself. 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, gel those base hits. You can hit .400. You can do it." He was the opposing announcer, but he was for me. Then Al Simmons came up to me in the dugout tunnel one day. Simmons was coaching for Philadelphia at the time. He was another real big guy, and he'd kind of swagger. I'm sitting there on the bench, and he says, "How much do you want to bet you don't hit .400?" Just like that. I said, "Nuts. 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, and the night before the game Cronin offered to take me out of the lineup to preserve the .400. I told him 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 and my good friend, and I must have walked 10 miles the night before, talking it over and just walking around. It had been such a happy, exciting season to come to this. In Detroit that July I had gotten what was to remain to this day the most thrilling hit of my life—a three-run, ninth-inning, two-out home run off Claude Passeau that won the All-Star Game for the American League 7-5.

It was a cold, miserable day in Philadelphia. I have to say I felt good despite the weather and the fact that I had no extra batting practice. And I know just about everybody in the park was for me. As I came to bat for the first time that day, Bill McGowan, the plate umpire, stepped around to dust off the plate. 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. Next I hit a home run, then two more singles off Porter Vaughan and Tex Shirley. 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, something big like that. During the winter Connie Mack had to replace the horn.

While I'm having a nice memory of Bill McGowan, I might explain what has always been thought of as my unnatural serenity around umpires. Writers I blew up at and the fans I screamed at never seemed to understand it. The umpires, baseball's traditional targets, Ted Williams never screamed at. To begin with, I never doubted the sincerity or the integrity of an umpire. Some were better than others, some controlled the game better, some would get to stammering around and let the game get out of hand, but they were a dedicated bunch of guys, gung-ho, a special breed that made umpiring a life's calling. The mistakes they made were always honest as far as I'm concerned—heat-of-the-battle, spur-of-the-moment things. The things I reacted to were opinionated, thought-out, written-out lies.

It's probably true that umpires liked me, just as they liked the Musials and the DiMaggios and the Greenbergs—for the simple reason we never showed them up. We didn't yell at them or make a fuss and get the crowd on them, which can really happen in the home park. Why not complain? Because you can't really do anything about a bad call, No. 1. And No. 2, I never thought they were that wrong. I would say that most big-league umpires are capable of calling a ball within an inch of where it is. I felt that as a hitter I could see it within half an inch. I know I could. A lot of times I'd take a third strike and McGowan or Ed Runge or somebody would ask me, "Did you think that was a strike?" And I'd always tell him the truth. "Yeah, but I was fooled by the pitch." Or I might say, "I just couldn't unload." I never lied to them.

On the other hand, if I had a point to make, I made it. Bill Summers was a great umpire. He was like Cal Hubbard. He took complete charge of the game. One day he called me out twice on low pitches. All I said at the time was, "Hell, Bill, that was no strike," but the next day we were in the dugout before the game, and I stood up against the wall, flat, so my knees wouldn't protrude, and I said, "Bill, touch where you think my knees are." He said, "O.K., they're right here...uh," and he hit my leg four inches below the knee.

Well, I got to be so finicky about the strike zone that the pitchers were always yelling, "Yah, yah, Williams gets four strikes," which is what they said about Cobb, Ruth, Gehrig, Foxx and about every other good hitter. It wasn't true, but I'll tell you what happened one time. Bob Lemon was pitching for Cleveland, about 1951. I have to rate Lemon as one of the very best pitchers I ever faced. His ball was always moving, hard, sinking, fast-breaking. You could never really uhmmmph with Bob Lemon.

This year, however, he was having a bit of a tough time getting started. He was probably 8 and 8 or something. And on the day I'm talking about he got the count 2 and 2 on me, and, gee, he zings one right down the middle. Fooled me. I damn near threw the bat away, when, "Ball three!" And I just did hold on to the bat. Lemon was absolutely flabbergasted. He looked, and he could hardly stand it. He put his glove in his pocket, pulled down his hat and came on in to home plate and started chewing the umpire. Jim Hegan, the catcher, was chewing him out, too. "For crying out loud, where do you think that pitch was?" "Yah yah, you're blind. What are you helping him for"—pointing to me. "He don't need any help, the bastard's hitting .370. I'm the one that needs the help." By now I can't help laughing, and Lemon turns on me and says, "What the hell are you laughing at? The ball was right there where you should have hit it." Finally he stormed back to the mound and uncorked a hell of a pitch and struck me out.

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