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
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
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.
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.