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Lieut. Hawkins did a great job. He led me back to the field and called in to warn them. From the target to the base, flying time was about 15 minutes. All of a sudden I was over the field. It was a madhouse. Everybody was coming in from the mission at once, about 60 planes, all low on fuel. But all I had eyes for was that tiny little field. I started to make my break on a fairly tight turn, when fffuuuuum, a big explosion in the plane. One of the wheel doors had blown off. Fire and smoke billowed out from underneath the plane. Why a wing didn't go was just an act of God. But the plane was still together and all I cared about was getting on that deck.
I came in at about 225 miles an hour, twice as fast as you'd ordinarily do it. My approach was good, and I'll never forget looking down and seeing this little Korean village near the field. As 30 feet of fire streamed from the rear of my plane, the villagers ran to beat hell. I pulled the emergency wheel latch but only one wheel dropped down. I hit flush and skidded up the runway, really fast. For more than a mile I skidded. I could see the fire truck, and I pressed the brakes so hard I almost sprained my ankle, and all the time I kept screaming, "When is this dirty s.o.b. going to stop." Geez, I was mad, I always get mad when I'm scared, and I was praying and yelling at the same time. Farther up the runway the plane started sliding toward a second fire truck, which, dust flying behind it, tried to get out of the way. I stopped right at the end of the runway. The canopy wouldn't open at first, then I hit the emergency ejector, and the fire was all around me, everything on fire except the cockpit. Boy, I just dived out and kind of somersaulted. When I stood up I took my helmet and slammed it on the ground, I was so mad. I came back and looked at the plane later and it was ashes.
I was back flying the next day, but it wasn't long before the cold and coughing got worse. I was really sick now, the sickest I've been in my life. They flew me by helicopter to the hospital ship off Pohang, and I don't know how many days they had to feed me intravenously. I had pneumonia. I was on the ship three weeks, and when I got back my head was plugged up all the time. I couldn't hear the radio. I was up to 39 missions when they sent me back to Japan for treatment, then to Hawaii, then to the Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland, and once I got there they said the hell with it and mustered me out.
I went right back to baseball. I worked out with the Red Sox for about a week, then pinch-hit once in St. Louis, and on my return to Boston I pinch-hit again. It was the seventh inning against Mike Garcia of Cleveland and I hit a low fastball over the right center-field fence. For the rest of the season I hit .407 in 91 times at bat. Joe Cronin said I had set spring training back 20 years.
On the first day of spring training the next year, I fell coming in for a line drive and broke my collarbone. They had to pin it to make it right. After that, there was always something. A bad back, another case of pneumonia, an injury to the arch of my foot when I slipped off one of those wooden bath shoes in the shower one day. The writers kept finishing me up, and I kept jamming their words back down their throats. I was 35, 36 now, but I didn't feel old. I still don't feel old as I near 50. I was still the best hitter in the league. I would have won the batting championships in 1954, but they were walking me so damn much I didn't get to bat quite enough times. Because of that, they changed the rules so that now a batter needs only 502 physical appearances at the plate rather than 400 official times at bat to qualify for the championship.
But those were not particularly exciting years. We were never in the pennant race. I was tired a lot. Mad a lot. I went to spring training in 1956 thinking it would be my last year. Coming north we were delayed in New Orleans, and Hy Hurwitz, the Boston writer who I always thought of as a troublemaker, brought this little guy from a New Orleans paper into the lounge. We were sitting and talking and somebody started in on the Korean war. One thing led to another, and before long I was blasting everybody—the Marine Corps, Truman, Senator Taft, the way you would do if you were a sailor on a ship grousing with your buddies about the damn admiral. I never dreamed this was any kind of formal interview. The writer, who got nabbed for drunk driving a short time later, splashed that thing all over the paper, and I was back in the soup again. Wasn't that silly? To write what a ballplayer would say in casual conversation about a President or a Senator?
In 1957 I started the season mad and I finished mad, and in between I probably had the most amazing season any near-40-year-old athlete ever had. I'll never forget, I'd used a slightly heavier bat that spring, just trying to meet the ball a little better, and the bat felt so good I began the season with it. I choked up a little more, and gee, the balls were just ringing off it, sharp hits to left field, center, right. We were in Chicago one day and they were playing that tough shift on me, and I hit three bullets just to the left of second base, pshew, pshew, pshew. Next series, same thing.
The league started waking up—Williams is 38 years old; it looks like he can't pull the ball anymore. Everybody started opening up a little bit, spreading out, giving me some room. And sure enough in June, when I always get rolling, I began swishing the bat like old times and the ball was whistling into right field, except now there were holes. Every time I hit the ball it went through a hole. And there were home runs, big ones, even when I got tired.
I remember we went into Cleveland, and it was another one of those cold, rotten nights. Early Wynn was pitching. I hit a home run the first time up and a home run the second time up, and I said to Manager Mike Higgins, "Come on, Mike, take me out." He said, "What for? You might hit another." Sure enough. I hit another, tying a major league record; it was the second time that year I'd hit three home runs in one game. At one point I hit four straight home runs. The most phenomenal thing that happened, though, was getting on base 16 straight times, counting walks, hits and being hit by a pitch. That might be a record to last forever. For the year I hit 38 home runs and batted .388, five hits short of .400.
As always, I went to Joe Cronin, the general manager, after the season to talk about a new contract. He asked me, "What do you want?" Never any arguments, just little discussions and it was over, bang, boom, bang. I said, "Joe, I'm going to quit after two years. I want a two-year contract, for such and such. How does that hit you?" Fine. Simple as that. The biggest two-year contract in the history of baseball to that time. And gee, in 1958 I led the league again with .328, beating out Pete Runnels on the last day of the season.