“Ball Four, Williams, Take Your Base”

By Glen Sparks

Ted Williams wasn't above taking a free pass.

Ted Williams wasn’t above taking a free pass.

As a ballplayer, Ozzie Guillen was sort of an anti-Ted Williams. Ozzie could field OK, but he didn’t hit for power (28 home runs in 16 seasons), and he didn’t hit for average (.264 lifetime.) He didn’t hit, period. He didn’t even make up for his low batting average by taking some walks. Guillen only drew 239 free passes in a career that covered 7,133 plate appearances. In 1996, Guillen came to the plate 528 times for the Chicago White Sox and walked just 10 times. He retired with a paltry .287 on-base percentage.

Now, Williams could hit, of course. He did it better than just about anyone not named Babe Ruth. He batted .344 in a 19-year career with the Boston Red Sox. Plus, he blasted 521 homers and drove in 1,839 runs. Teddy Ballgame knew the strike zone, too. He took 2,021 walks and finished with a .482 on-base percentage, better than anyone.

Which brings us to this day in 1955. Williams ended up with a .356 batting average, well ahead of the Tigers’ Al Kaline at .340. The Splendid Splinter walked 136 times, though, and fell short of qualifying for the batting title. Something similar happened in 1954.

Rules to qualify for the batting title have changed through the years. From 1950-56, a batter needed to average 2.6 at-bats per team game.  With the 154-game schedule in effect, that meant at least 400 at-bats. With Williams in mind, the rule changed in 1957. A player would now need to average at least 3.1 plate appearance per team game. No longer would good hitters be penalized for taking walks.

The rule change helped guys like Williams. Guillen wasn’t really affected.

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