Tagged: Hall of Fame

Pre-Integration Candidates Up for Hall of Fame Induction

Bill Dahlen

Bill Dahlen

 

By Glen Sparks

The man who developed the shortstop position, the pitcher who won an MVP award in 1935, and eight other early baseball executives and players may be enshrined this summer in the Baseball Hall of Fame. They comprise the Pre-Integration Committee candidates.

A candidate needs 75 percent of the vote for induction. The Pre-Integration Committee is made up of 16 Hall of Fame members, plus an assortment of executives, media members and historians. The Hall of Famers include Bert Blyleven, Bobby Cox, Pat Gillick and Phil Niekro. Results of the Dec. 7 vote will be made public on Jan. 6, 2016. Enshrinement will be July 24 in Cooperstown, N.Y.

The Pre-Integration candidates were selected from a group of managers, umpires, executives and players who made an impact on the game from its origins through 1946.

The Pre-Integration Era ballot by the Historical Overview Committee, comprised of 11 veteran historians: Dave Van Dyck (Chicago Tribune); Bob Elliott (Toronto Sun); Jim Henneman (formerly Baltimore Sun); Rick Hummel (St. Louis Post-Dispatch); Steve Hirdt (Elias Sports Bureau); Bill Madden (formerly New York Daily News); Jack O’Connell (BBWAA secretary/treasurer); Jim Reeves (formerly Fort Worth Star-Telegram); Tracy Ringolsby (MLB.com); Glenn Schwarz (formerly San Francisco Chronicle); and Mark Whicker (Los Angeles News Group).

Here is a brief bio of each Hall of Fame candidate:

Daniel Lucius “Doc” Adams (1814-1899) – One of the game’s pioneers, Adams created the shortstop position and led many of the early rules committees. A long-time player, he also served as president of the New York Knickerbocker Base Ball club. The New Hampshire native oversaw baseball and bat production for many area teams. John Thorn, MLB’s official historian, has called Adams “first among the Fathers of Baseball.” (My two-part interview with Marjorie Adams, Doc’s great-granddaughter, will be posted Thursday and Friday. You can learn much more about Doc Adams and his contributions to early baseball.)

Sam Breadon (1876-1949) – Breadon served as president and majority owner of the St. Louis Cardinals from 1920 through 1947. Under his tenure, the Redbirds were transformed from a perennial also-ran into a National League powerhouse. St. Louis won nine pennants and six World Series with Breadon as owner. Players such as Rogers Hornsby, Frankie Frisch, Dizzy Dean, Pepper Martin, Johnny Mize, Enos Slaughter, Red Schoendienst and Stan Musial prospered in the Breadon era.

Bill Dahlen (1870-1950) – Dahlen played 21 seasons (1891-1911) in the majors. The shortstop batted .272 lifetime with 84 home runs. He also stole 548 bases. Following his retirement, Dahlen stood first on the all-time list in games played (2,443) and in the top 10 in RBI (1,234), walks (1,064), doubles (414), runs (1,589) and extra-base hits (661) and several other categories. He played for the Chicago Orphans, Brooklyn Superbas, New York Giants and Boston Doves.

Wes Ferrell (1908-76) – The right-hander pitched 15 seasons and for six teams (most notably, the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox). He compiled a 193-128 lifetime won-loss record with a 4.04 ERA. A six-time 20-game winner, Ferrell led the American League in complete games four times. Ferrell threw a no-hitter in 1931 and was runner-up in the MVP race in 1935.

August “Garry” Herrmann (1859-31) – The president of the Cincinnati Reds from 1902-27, Hermann also led the game’s National Commission from 1903-20, in effect making him the game’s commissioner. He also led efforts to start the modern World Series between the National and American leagues.

Marty Marion (1916-1911) — A tall (6-foot-2), lanky shortstop, Marion played for the St. Louis Cardinals from 1940-50 and the Browns from 1952-53. An eight-time All-Star and three-time World Series champion, Marion batted .263 lifetime and won the 1944 N.L. MVP. Marion also managed the Cardinals in 1951, the Browns in 1952-53 and the Chicago White Sox from 1954-56.

Frank McCormick (1911-82) — McCormick won the 1940 N.L. MVP for the Cincinnati Reds. The first baseman made nine All-Star teams and led the league in RBI in 1939. McCormick batted .299 over his 15-year career and topped the N.L. in hits from 1938-40.

Harry Stovey (1856-1937) – Stovey played 14 seasons as an outfielder in the National League and American Association. One of the game’s early power hitters, he led his league in homers five times. He belted 174 home runs and swiped 549 bases. Stovey broke in with the Worcester, Mass., Ruby Legs and saw action with five other teams.

Chris von der Ahe (1851-1913) – Von der Ahe founded the original St. Louis Browns—now, the St. Louis Cardinals—and owned the club from 1881-99. His team won American Association championships from 1885 through 1888. The Prussian-born owner built a statue outside Sportsman’s Park, not of a player, but of himself. Von der Ahe called himself a “millionaire sportsman.”

Bucky Walters (1909-1991) – The right-hander’s 198-160 lifetime won-loss record belies his many accomplishments. Walters went 27-9 for the 1939 Cincinnati Reds and won the N.L. MVP. He was a six-time All-Star, who led the league in wins three times, ERA twice and strikeouts once. Walters had a 3.30 career ERA.

Navy Commissioning the U.S.S. Cooperstown

The U.S.S. Cooperstown will be a sister ship to the U.S.S. Freedom, pictured here.

The U.S.S. Cooperstown will be a sister ship to the U.S.S. Freedom, pictured here.

By Glen Sparks

Bob Feller signed up to fight in World War II on Dec. 9, 1941, as ships and airplanes lay in wreckage at Pearl Harbor and after more than 2,400 U.S. service men had died.

Feller, already a great pitcher for the Cleveland Indians and a future Hall of Famer, missed three full seasons (1942-45) and part of another (1946) while aboard the U.S.S. Alabama battleship, seeing combat action in the Philippines Sea and elsewhere.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus saluted Feller, as well as the many other Major League players who served in World War II, during a recent ceremony held at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. Mabus also announced that the Navy’s next ship will be christened the U.S.S. Cooperstown.

The Cooperstown will be a Freedom-class littoral combat ship, designed to go close to shore (the littoral zone) and drop off an assault force if needed. A bit smaller than a guided-missile frigate, the Cooperstown will feature a flight deck and hanger for two Seahawk helicopters.

Navy officials plan to use the Cooperstown in several roles, including anti-submarine warfare, reconnaissance, intelligence, logistics and more. Lockheed-Martin will build the 388-foot ship in Wisconsin. The littoral combat ship is a new type of Navy ship, Mabus said.

“These ships will serve our nation for decades,” he said at the ceremony.

Mabus said that 36 future Hall of Famers served in World War II and 64 served in combat altogether, from the Civil War to the Korean War.

The Tale of Two Reggies, Jackson and Smith

Reggie Jackson blasts another one.

Reggie Jackson blasts another one.

By Glen Sparks

Jackson or Smith, who was the better Reggie?

You probably know more about Reginald Martinez Jackson, born May 18, 1946, in Wyncote, Pa., near Philadelphia. He rarely lacked for attention, and he truly did spectacular, front-page, “the straw that stirs the drink” sort of stuff during his 21-year career. Before retiring following the 1987 season, Jackson hit 563 home runs and led the American League four times.

At the 1970 All-Star game in Detroit, the left-handed slugger rocketed a Dock Ellis pitch into a light-standard atop Tiger Stadium in right-field, 520 feet from home plate. He led the Oakland A’s to three World Series titles and the New York Yankees to two. In 1977, “Mr. October” blasted three home runs on three straight pitches in Game Six against the Los Angeles Dodgers (off Burt Hooton, Elias Sosa and Charlie Hough, in that order.)

Jackson made 14 All-Star teams and the writers, as they should have, elected him to the Hall of Fame in 1993, in his first year on the ballot. As much as anyone, he was the face of Major League Baseball in the 1970s.

Now, about that “the straw that stirs the drink” thing. He supposedly said that to sportswriter Dave Anderson in July of 1977, to the dismay of teammate Thurman Munson and others. Braggadocio and Reggie Jackson frequently knocked around together. Of course, Jackson did back it up more often than not. He once said that if he played in New York City, they’d name a candy bar after him. He did, and they did. (Catfish Hunter, a cut-up, said this about the Reggie Bar: “I unwrapped it, and it told me how good it was.”)

Jackson liked to take a mighty cut and frequently tied himself into a knot after missing a pitch badly. He struck out 2,596 times, more than anyone in the game’s history. He actually finished with 13 more K’s than hits. No. 44 accumulated 76.6 oWAR points but finished 17.2 points in the hole on dWAR.

One of the great scenes in the Bronx Zoo era of Yankee baseball happened June 18, 1977, during a Saturday afternoon nationally televised game versus the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Jim Rice hit a ball to shallow right field. Jackson jogged in to field it and Rice, hardly a speed burner, ended up on second base. A furious New York skipper, Billy Martin, yanked Reggie from the game. The NBC cameras caught the whole dugout rhubarb on videotape.

“The best thing about being a Yankee is getting to see Reggie Jackson play every day. … The worst thing about being a Yankee is getting to see Reggie Jackson play every day.” – Graig Nettles

The “Other” Reggie

Carl Reginald Smith, born April 2, 1945, in Shreveport, La., grew up in Compton, a working-class suburb of Los Angeles. He played on four Major League teams (the same number as Jackson) and one in Japan, the Yomiuri Giants, in the same era as the more famous Reggie.

Smith belted 314 home runs during a 17-year career, or 249 fewer than Jackson. He drove in 1,092 runs, or 610 fewer than Jackson. Yes, so far, this comparison seems awfully lopsided in favor of Reggie J.

But, let’s move on. Smith batted .287 to Jackson’s .262. His on-base percentage also beat out Jackson, .366 to .356. And, even though Jackson did out-homer Smith by a wide margin, he topped Smith in slugging percentage by just one point, .490 to .489, and in OPS+ by only two, 139 to 137.

Paul Haddad, author of High Fives, Pennant Drives, and Fernandomania, did an interesting comparison of Smith and Jackson. Over a 162-game average over their careers, the numbers look like this: Jackson: 32 home runs, 98 RBI, 89 runs scored, 27 doubles, 79 walks and 149 strikeouts. Smith: 26 home runs, 89 RBI, 92 runs scored, 30 doubles, 73 walks and 84 strikeouts. Wow, pretty close.

On defense, it isn’t even close. Smith won one Gold Glove, probably could have won another, had a great arm and finished with 2.6 dWAR points. (Jackson accumulated 76.6 oWAR points to 55.9 for Smith, which seems like a greater margin than it should be. Even so Smith’s figure is 5.6 points higher than Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda and 7.4 points than inductee Lou Brock.)

What might the difference be? For one, Smith didn’t last as long as Jackson. He retired, or, rather, left for Japan after the 1982 season. (It should be said that he clearly had something left in the tank. He hit .284 in ’82 for the San Francisco Giants and belted 18 homers in only 349 at-bats.) It didn’t help that Smith also suffered some serious injuries late in his career, missing chunks of the 1979-81 seasons.

Jackson won the MVP in 1973 with Oakland and finished in the top five two other times with the A’s and once with the Yankees. Smith finished fourth in the balloting with the Dodgers in 1977 and 1978.

Of course, Jackson lit up the postseason, as mentioned earlier. He hit 18 home runs in 77 playoff and World Series games. Smith hit six in 32.

Reggie Smith also didn’t lit up any reporter’s pens with his electrifying quotes. The man who made seven All-Star teams once said, according to Haddad, “I don’t concern myself with what people say about Reggie Smith.”

Smith stayed on the Hall of Fame ballot for one year, 1988. He grabbed 0.7 of the vote, and that was that. He subsequently did some coaching for the Dodgers and now runs youth baseball academies in the L.A. area.

Bill James rated Jackson as the seventh best right-fielder in baseball history in his 2003 Historical Baseball Abstract. He rated Smith the 20th best but gives him his due, even comparing him with Jackson. He calls him “almost as good, not quite.”

That seems fair. Smith didn’t always do the spectacular stuff that Jackson often did. He was a steady player, though, a complete player, and a very good player.

Johnny Allen Wouldn’t Give You the Shirt off His Back

Temper, temper, Johnny Allen.

Temper temper, Johnny Allen.

By Glen Sparks

Pitcher Johnny Allen featured a fastball, a curveball and a temper. New York Yankees trainer Earle “Doc” Painter once said, “He expects to win every time he pitches, and if he doesn’t win, he may turn on anybody.”

Fortunately, Allen did a lot of winning, especially early in his 13-year career. He put up some snazzy won-loss marks. In his rookie season of 1932, the right-hander went 17-4 (.810 winning percentage) for the Yanks. The following year, he finished 15-7 (.682).

Allen put together a 20-10 season (.667) for the Cleveland Indians in 1936 and a 15-1 campaign (.938) in 1937 for the Tribe. Through his first seven seasons, he was 99-38. The native of Thomasville, N.C., retired with a 142-75 (.654) career mark.

Now, the hurler did get some help. His New York teammates included the original bash brothers, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Allen didn’t worry about losing 1-0 or 2-1. He could give up some runs and still win.

In fact, after recording a solid ERA of 3.70 in his rookie campaign (ERA+ 110), he posted a tepid 4.39 number in his sophomore year (ERA+ 89). Of course, Allen fans can point out that the pitcher finished with a 3.44 ERA in ’36 (149 ERA+, second in the American League) and a 2.55 ERA in 37 (176 ERA+, third in the A.L.). So, yes, Johnny Allen could pitch.

He could also throw a fit. Allen’s “sour attitude” led the Yanks to trade him following the 1935 season despite going 50-19 in four seasons with the Bronx Bombers. He didn’t work and play with others.

Allen was at his most stubborn on June 7, 1938, pitching against the Boston Red Sox in Fenway Park. Boston’s Jimmie Foxx ripped a two-run home run in the first inning, one of 534 dingers that “Double X” would hit in his great career.

Allen's tattered sleeves didn't bother Jimmie Foxx.

Allen’s tattered sleeves didn’t bother Jimmie Foxx.

When the inning ended, Boston’s player/manager Joe Cronin walked out to umpire-in-chief Bill McGowan. Those tattered sleeves on the sweatshirt Allen is wearing underneath his jersey are a distraction to the batter, Cronin said. (Apparently, they didn’t bother Foxx.) McGowan agreed; he told Allen to get rid of the sweatshirt.

Allen left the mound and headed to the clubhouse. But, he didn’t go in there to change. He went in there to simmer. He had no intention of changing. Indians Manager Ossie Vitt fined Allen $250 and put in Bill Zuber to pitch.

Later, Allen said Cronin only complained as a gag. He also said McGowan was out to get him. “Whenever McGowan works a game I pitch, there’s always been a lot of petty, sniveling stuff going on.” McGowan, for his part, said he read the rulebook word-for-word to Allen. No tattered sleeves allowed.

The following season, during the 1938 All-Star break, Allen suffered an arm injury. He was 12-1 at the time, but he went just 2-7 the rest of the way with an ugly 6.29 ERA. In the final six years of his career, Allen pitched for Cleveland, the St. Louis Browns, Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants. He went a combined 43-37 and once attacked an umpire on May 27, 1943, in Forbes Field. Of all the loose cannons in the baseball world, Johnny Allen was among the loosest.

Allen left baseball to get into the real estate business in Florida. He also became a part-time minor-league umpire, much to the shock and delight of some sportswriters. One guy wrote that Allen in an ump’s uniform looked “about as much at home as a camel in a camel’s-hair coat.”

The temperamental pitcher/umpire died March 29, 1959, at the age of 54.   His famous sweatshirt, tattered indeed, is part of the permanent collection at Cooperstown. Allen sold it to Higbee’s, a Cleveland department store, for something between $50 and $600. The store wanted to put the quickly famous garment on display in a window. “This is the shirt that cost Johnny Allen $250,” a sign read. Higbee’s donated the sweatshirt to the Hall of Fame in the offseason.

McGowan, elected to the Hall of Fame posthumously in 1992, said he fined Allen $250, that in addition to the club fine. The umpire said later that Allen sold the sweatshirt for $600, on the high end of the estimates. “So,” McGowan concluded, “he made $100 on the deal.”

Sources

Hall of Fame article on Johnny Allen

SABR Bio on Johnny Allen

Baseball-Reference on Johnny Allen

Mr. White Sox, the Cuban Comet, Passes Away

Minnie Minoso was the first Afro-Cuban player in major league history.

Minnie Minoso was the first Afro-Cuban player in major league history.

By Glen Sparks

Chicago has lost another baseball legend. White Sox outfielder Orestes “Minnie” Minoso, one of the game’s most-complete players throughout the 1950s, died Sunday at the age of 89. Minoso’s death came just weeks after the passing of Cubs great Ernie Banks.

Banks was famous for his smile, humor and enthusiasm while playing for the north side Cubs. Minoso was the south side version of that. He played 12 of his 17-year career with the White Sox. Former teammate Billy Pierce said, “I don’t think he ever said a nasty thing about anybody. It was always good, always friendly.”

The baseball stats say Minoso hit .298 with a robust .389 on-base percentage. Bill James, one of baseball’s top analysts, rated Minoso as the 10th best left-fielder of all-time in 2001. I wrote a post in December about Minoso’s qualifications for the Hall of Fame. He was one of 10 so-called Golden Era nominees up for induction. Minnie got eight votes. He, like everyone else, needed 12. No one got elected.

Continue reading

Voters Didn’t Rush to Send Roush to the Hall of Fame

Edd Roush retired from baseball in 1931 and did not make the Hall of Fame until 1962.

Edd Roush retired from baseball in 1931 and did not make the Hall of Fame until 1962.

By Glen Sparks

Edd Roush gave his Hall of Fame speech–finally–at age 69.  Getting into Cooperstown wasn’t easy for the outfielder, who played 18 seasons and retired with a .323 batting average.

Roush first made it onto the ballot in 1936. He garnered just 0.9 percent of the vote. Less than one percent. This for a guy who not only hit .323 lifetime, but who also led the National League in batting in 1917 (.341) and 1919 (.321) for the Cincinnati Reds.

The Oakland City, Ind., product played with the Reds for 12 of his 18 seasons. In 1918, he topped the N.L. in slugging percentage (.455), OPS (.823) and OPS+ (151).

Roush retired with 2,376 hits, 1,099 runs scored, 339 doubles, 182 triples and an OPS+ of 126.  He finished in the top 10 in batting average nine times and oWAR seven times. He hit at least .339 for six straight seasons, 1920-25.  The 5-foot-11-inch, 170-pounder wielded a humongous 48-ounce bat, one of the biggest in history.  In addition, some players and managers rated him the top defensive center fielder of the Dead Ball era.

It still wasn’t enough for the baseball writers. Roush’s vote percentage didn’t even hit double digits until 1947 (15.5). He got 14 percent the following season but dipped below 10 percent the following three years. The best showing for Roush on the regular ballot was in 1960, in his final year of eligibility, when he garnered 54.3 percent of the vote, or 20.7 percent less than what he needed. It looked like Roush would be shut out of Cooperstown.

The Veterans Committee, though,  selected him for enshrinement two years later. What took so long–31 years after retiring—for Roush to make it to the Hall of Fame? Let’s take a closer look at his career.

One argument against Roush is that he missed a lot of games. He played for the money (imagine that!), and he admitted it. He showed up late for spring training, in part because he wanted to spend more time with his family, and his contract disputes weren’t always settled by opening day. Did some Hall of Fame voters remember this, and recall Roush as a malcontent? The press leaned heavily toward the ownership’s viewpoint in those days.

Some New York voters probably remembered Roush’s uneasy days early in his career with the Giants. Supposedly, Roush despised both the Big Apple and Giants Manager John McGraw, who frequently cussed at and chewed out his players. “That didn’t go with me,” Roush is quoted in a Society for American Baseball Research article written by Jim Sandoval. Things got so bad in upper Manhattan that McGraw shipped Roush to Cincinnati. Did the writers think that Roush couldn’t handle discipline?

Interestingly, McGraw—not quite through with Roush–reacquired the outfielder after the 1926 season. Roush probably wasn’t happy. McGraw probably didn’t care. The skipper told Roush, according to the Sandoval article, “You’re either going to play for me, or you’re not going to play at all.” (One can imagine Roush rolling his eyes and thinking to himself, “Here we go again.”)

Anyway, Roush hit .304 for the Giants in 1927 and .324 in 1929, with an injury-riddled 1928 (46 games played) wrapped in between. As a 37-year-old in 1930, Roush put up the Gone Fishin’ sign. He held out the entire season. (This was just a few months after the Great Crash of ’29, remember. Presumably, a bulk of Roush’s financial portfolio was in cash.)

In 1931, Roush returned to Cincinnati and to the Reds. He batted .271 in 101 games and called it quits. He coached for one season-1938—but he ran the Montgomery County, Ind., cemetery for 35 years and also served as president of a local bank for quite some time. And, the guy who held out from spring training so many times went down to Florida in March most years to talk baseball with Reds players like Pete Rose, Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench.

Roush was most similar to players like Pie Traynor, Dixie Walker, Willie McGee, Joe Kelley and Paul Hines, some Hall of Famers, some not. He retired with just 14 Black Ink points (The average amount for a Hall of Famer is 27.) and 127 Grey Ink points (The average HOFer has 144.). Roush is rated the 36th best center-fielder of all-time, according to JAWS (Jaffe War Score System), a  formula developed by sabermetrician Jay Jaffe.  JAWS relies heavily on WAR performance; Roush’s career WAR was 45.2 with a seven-year peak of 31.5. His JAWS career score was 38.3, ahead of Hall of Famers such as Hack Wilson 37.3 and Hugh Duffy (36.9) but behind plenty of non-Hall of Famers (Jimmy Wynn, Willie Davis, Vada Pinson and Fred Lynn among others).

Roush lived another 25 years after being named to the Hall of Fame. He threw out the first pitch at the last game at Cincinnati’s Crosley Field, June 24, 1970. Joe Morgan called Roush “the best of us all.”

“There Goes Ted Williams, the Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived”

Boston great Ted Williams was elected to Baseball's Hall of Fame on this date in 1966.

Boston great Ted Williams was elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame on this date in 1966.

By Glen Sparks

Ted Williams set his goal about as high as a ballplayer might dare set one. He wanted to be the best hitter in the history of the game. He wrote that very thing on the first page of his 1969 autobiography My Turn at Bat.

Teddy Ballgame, elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame on Jan. 20, 1966, wanted people to walk down the street, look at him and say to a friend, a spouse or anyone else, “There goes Ted Williams, the greatest hitter who ever lived.”

Williams, born Aug. 30, 1918, in San Diego, tried his best to make that happen. He headed to the North Park Playground just about every day as a boy. He’d get together with the other neighborhood kids and play Big League (groundball past the pitcher was a single, hit the ball above the bar and it was a double, etc.) We’d play Big League by the hour, Williams wrote. Then, Ted might take a break for some orange juice, freshly squeezed, and he’d play more Big League, until long after it was time to go home, begrudgingly.

Home life was a mess for young Ted. His mom, May, worked as a soldier for the Salvation Army, mostly in Tijuana, Mexico. She was gone all day and some nights. Ted’s dad, Sam, ran a photo shop in downtown San Diego, taking pictures of Navy sailors and their gals. Young Ted Williams devoted his life to baseball.

He starred at Herbert Hoover High School and for the San Diego Padres, then of the Pacific Coast League. Eddie Collins, general manager of the Boston Red Sox and a Hall of Famer, first saw Williams while on a scouting trip in southern California to watch another young player, Bobby Doerr of Los Angeles.

Collins didn’t make a big deal out of spotting the Splendid Splinter. Sometimes, you just see a natural. And nothing ever looked more natural than Ted Williams swinging a baseball bat. Collins said, “It wasn’t hard to find Ted Williams. He stood out like a brown cow in a field of white cows.”

Williams debuted with the Red Sox in 1939. Too bad, they didn’t start handing out the Rookie of the Year award until 1947. Because Williams would have won that honor in ’39, no contest. The lefty batter slammed 31 home runs, drove in 145 (first in the American League) and hit.327 with an OPS of 1.045 (OPS+ 160). He finished fourth in the MVP race.

Two years later, in that legendary year of 1941,Ted Williams hit .406. Another pretty good player, the New York Yankees’ Joe DiMaggio, batted safety in 56 straight games and took home the MVP award. Who should have won? DiMaggio put up a WAR of 9.1, Williams put up a 10.9. The Yanks and Joe D, though, won the A.L. pennant, finishing 17 games ahead of the Red Sox and Teddy Ballgame. (Interesting note: DiMaggio batted .408 during the streak, but Williams hit .412. Williams also had a higher OPS during that span, 1.224 to 1.180).

Following another big year in 1942 (Triple Crown winner, runner-up to the Yankees’ Joe Gordon for MVP), Williams left baseball for the next three seasons. Lt. Ted Williams, U.S. Marine Corps aviator, trained pilots for combat during World War II.

Back with Boston in 1946, Williams finally won the MVP. He was runner-up in ’47 (another Triple Crown year), third in ’48 and first again in 1949. During the first inning of the 1950 All-Star Game, Williams banged up his elbow, crashing into the Comiskey Park wall while making a catch. The Red Sox great said he never again felt “swishy” at the plate.

Boston’s clean-up hitter left for Korea in 1952. At his final game before heading out, the Red Sox held Ted Williams Day at Fenway Park. The team gave him a Cadillac and a memory book signed by 400,000 adoring fans. Williams stepped to a microphone and told the crowd: “This is the greatest day in my life,” and he thought that he might never play again.

It was close. Marine Corps Capt. Ted Williams flew 39 combat missions and crash landed once in his Panther Jet. Enemy flak hit his aircraft Feb. 16, 1953, 15 miles from the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. What could he do? He could ditch into the Yellow Sea, but it was nearly frozen and full of ice chunks. He could eject, but he was 6-feet-3 and thought he might tear off his legs. His plane on fire, smoke blowing out from the back, Williams hit the runway at his landing strip; he slid for 9,000 feet. Williams thought the plane might explode. It did not; it ran out of fuel.

The Kid, as some people called him, played baseball for nearly another decade. He retired after the final game of 1960, when on a cloudy, rainy day at Fenway, he belted a home run in his final at-bat. Williams didn’t tip his cap that day. He hadn’t done that for quite some time. Fickle fans and a nasty press were to blame, he said. Red Sox fan and famed writer John Updike didn’t let the snub bother him. He wrote an article for The New Yorker about Williams’ final game, Hub Fans Big Kid Adieu.  Updike offered a reasonable alibi: “Gods don’t answer letters.”

Williams left his playing days with a sublime set of numbers. He smashed 521 home runs, drove in 1,839 runs and batted .344. His batting average is the highest of any player who spent his entire career in the live-ball era (post-1920). He posted a .482 on-base percentage, the best ever, and a .634 slugging percentage, the second-best ever (Ruth: 690).

Boston’s No. 9 put up a career OPS of 1.1155, No. 2 all-time (Ruth: 1.1636). He retired with an OPS+ of 190, also No. 2 all-time (Ruth: 206). Williams played on 19 All-Star teams and finished in the Top 5 in the MVP vote nine times.

Who was the greatest hitter who ever lived? If it wasn’t the Babe, it was Teddy Ballgame of San Diego, Calif., and the Boston Red Sox.