Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Familiar Faces / Strange Places: Ted Williams / Senators

Yesterday was Ted Williams birthday. There are only a handful of players in baseball history that can compare to "Teddy Ballgame".

He played the vast majority his entire 21-year big league career as the left fielder for the Boston Red Sox. Of the 2152 games he played during his career (1984 games in left and 169 in right), only once did he play a non-outfield position. On August 24th, 1940 he pitched the final two innings of 12-1 loss to the Tigers.

His best year as a player was 1941, when he hit .406 with 37 HR, 120 RBI, and 135 runs scored. It is the last time a big league player hit .400 and Ted Williams did not win the MVP award that year, losing to Joe DiMaggio and his 56 game hitting streak.

Twice during his career (World War II and Korea) he left baseball in service to the country as a Marine Corps pilot. He lost almost five peak years out of the heart of a great baseball career, significantly limiting what his career totals could have been. In the end, Williams was a 19-time all star, two-time American League MVP winner, he led the league in batting six times, and won the Triple Crown twice. He finished with a career batting average of .344, with 521 home runs (at the time ranked #3). His career batting average is the highest of any player who played his entire career in the live-ball era following 1920. He was a first ballot inductee into the Hall of Fame in 1966.

After he retired, Ted Williams was quoted as saying "You couldn't pay me enough to manage". Rumor has it he twice turned down offers to manage the Boston Red Sox. However, a few weeks before 1969 spring training was scheduled to start the lowly Washington Senators announced the hiring of Ted Williams as their latest manager. Many thought the move as a desperate attempt by the Senators to gain local attention away from the Redskins hiring Vince Lombardi. Whatever the motivation, it certainly increased local curiosity and was a breath of fresh air for the morbid franchise.

Often called the "greatest hitter who ever lived" Williams' fanatic approach to hitting helped improve the Senators offense considerably. The power was supplied by slugger Frank Howard's 48 home runs and the team batting average jumped from .224 in 1968 to .251 in 1969. His leadership inspired the second iteration of the Senators to the only winning season during its 10-year stay in Washington. For this remarkable turnaround, Williams was voted American League Manager of the Year. This is the only baseball award that Ted Williams had ever won and his rival Joe DiMaggio had not.

He spent the next three seasons (two in Washington and one in Texas) trying to capitalize on that first year success, but the ball-clubs did not respond. In 1972, after losing 100 games and recording the worst record in baseball the Rangers (their inaugural season in Texas) let him go at the end of the season.

When he announced his departure he said "I am going fishing."


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