Of all the sports stars the city of Boston has been privy to throughout its history, it’s difficult to find one who stands taller than Ted Williams. Despite having a somewhat complicated relationship with Red Sox fans during and after his career, there are few figures in the team’s history or the history of baseball for that matter who are bigger legends than Williams. Yet, even with all he’s accomplished, his life and career both feel incomplete.
From the time he made his major league debut in 1939, Williams was one of the best players in baseball. As a rookie, he hit .327 with 31 home runs and a league-high 145 RBIs. He finished 4th in MVP voting and would have undoubtedly been Rookie of the Year had the award existed at the time.
By 1941, Williams had become one of the premier players in the game. He had to settle for second in the MVP voting that year, outshined only by Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hit streak. However, that same year, Williams accomplished a feat equally as prestigious as DiMaggio’s hit streak, batting .406 on the season, the last time a player hit over .400 over the course of a full season. He followed that up by winning the Triple Crown in 1942, but just as Williams seemed to be hitting his prime, his career was interrupted.
If I had known hitting .400 was going to be such a big deal, I would have done it again.
Ted Williams, 1991
Williams was drafted into military service in January 1942, soon after the United States entered World War II. He got his military classification changed so he could play during the 1942 season. However, his conflict with the draft board to change his status created a backlash among fans, caused him to lose sponsors, and likely cost him in the MVP voting despite winning the Triple Crown. In 1943, Williams was called up to active duty and served throughout the war, costing him three full major league seasons.
Upon his return to the majors in 1946 after the war, Williams more or less picked up where he left off. He finally won his first MVP in 1946, followed that up with batting titles in 1947 and 1948, and ended up winning a second MVP in 1949. However, after a string of six consecutive all-star appearances from 1946 to 1951, Williams once again had his career interrupted.
Williams was called back to active duty in 1952. He played just six games before leaving to serve in the Korean War. He returned late in the 1953 season and even with little time to prepare before his return to the field, Williams hit .407 in 37 games. Fortunately, that was the last major interruption to his career. After his stint in Korea, Williams wasn’t quite the same player he was earlier in his career, but he still won more batting titles.
Ultimately, Williams played in the majors until he was 42. He accumulated 2,654 hits, 521 home runs, and was a career .344 hitter. On top of that, he won six batting titles, two MVPs and two Triple Crowns. But that brilliant career was twice interrupted by military service, depriving him of five seasons during the prime of his career.
It was typical of him to become a Marine Air Corps pilot and see action and almost get shot down. He was a remarkable American as well as a remarkable ballplayer.
Williams remains one of the all-time greats in baseball history, and perhaps the most accomplished athlete the city of Boston has ever seen. He also remains cryogenically frozen in Arizona, just in case. But one can only imagine how much more Williams could have accomplished without had he been able to play unimpeded.