Ted Williams wanted to be known as the Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived, and he made an excellent case to own that moniker. His 1941 season was when he officially put the baseball world on notice that his skill with a bat would be hard to match, in large part because of his season-long chase to finish with a batting average of .400 or higher, which hadn’t been done in the AL at that point since 1923. Heading into the season’s final stretch, The Sporting News was among the many news outlets watching with awe and anticipation to see whether Williams, then 22 years would, would remain at or above the hallowed mark at season’s end. He did, of course, finishing the season at .406. In the Oct. 9, 1941, edition of The Sporting News, writer Jack Malaney recounted the late surge that propelled Williams over the .400 mark on the season’s final day.
Original publish date: October 9, 1941
Thumping Ted tags all bases for .406
Could have sat out to protect average, but refused
By Jack Malaney
BOSTON, Mass. — Though the Red Sox long since has clinched second place and could not go any higher, interest in the final week of the scheduled games was as keen as it had been in any week of the season. And as high as it had been all week, it reached its peak Sunday, September 28, the final day of the American League season. Teddy Williams was the reason!
Every member of the Sox from Owner Tom Yawkey down to the batboy and clubhouse attendants, every baseball writer in Boston, and we say without fear of contradiction, every baseball fan in New England, was pulling for Teddy to finish the season batting .400 or better.
He did, unless the unofficial figures are off. But he had a narrow escape, and he had to make six hits in eight times at bat in the double-header played on the final day to get where he finished — .4057, which will be recorded as .406.
When that double-header at Shibe Park started, Teddy was batting .3995, and that would not have been .400, if it had been his final mark. He had lost a little more than six points in four games, and it was the first time he had been under .400 since July 24.
Ted had left Boston a week before that final game possessing a mark of .406. There remained three games at Washington and a like set a Philadelphia.
The three games at Griffville threw him for a loss. He made only two hits in ten times at bat. That Washington park, with its long, spacious right field territory, is a tough one for Williams.
There were a couple of off-days and then play was resumed at Philadelphia, September 27. Connie Mack had brought up a young righthanded knuckle-ball pitcher from Wilmington named Roger Wolff and sent him against the Sox in the first game. Teddy saw knuckle-balls every time he went to bat and the best he could get was one hit in four times at bat. That was when he fell below .400.
There was tenseness in the Sox quarters on Sunday morning. Would Teddy be able to come back and regain that lost ground? Would he be stulted by other young pitchers attempting to make an impression? Would he play out the string if he managed to get up over the .400 mark?
He answered all the questions and he answered that last one first. He would stay in the game and in the lineup to the bitter end, even if his last couple of times at bat dropped him to .398. He was adamant about that and Skipper Joe Cronin back him up, although Joe declared he was willing that Williams should protect his mark, if he so desired. Ted did not so desire.
It did not take long after the first game of the double-header started to relieve everybody’s mind. Teddy got a single his first time up, a homer over the right field wall the next and then two more singles in successive times at bat. He finally failed to make a hit his fifth time up, although reaching first on an error and no attempt was made to change the miscue and credit him with a hit. It was a plain, everyday error.
When that game was over, Ted was well above .400. he had nothing to worry about, because he could go hitless in four more times at bat and still be over .400 and there was little chance he would go four times at bat. It was almost sure to be too dark to complete the second game and that was true.
However, Ted mad hits in his first two times up in the nightcap, the second of which was a terrific double that cut a hole in the loud speaker horns which hang from the top of the right-center field wall at Shibe Park. So he made doubly sure of his position.
It was one of the finest exhibitions of batting Philadelphia fans have seen in a long time. Later on, Boston writers were asked if Ted got real legitimate hits, or did the Philadelphia pitchers lay it in for him to wallop? The Philadelphia pitchers did not attempt to prevent Teddy from hitting by deliberately passing him or keeping the ball so far away or so far inside that he would not be able to get hold. But they did NOT toss the ball up to him. They pitched, and hit as few others can hit.
Teddy was as delighted as a child with a new toy at having accomplished what so few other great batters have been able to do. He was the first American leaguer to bat .400, or better, since Harry Heilmann did the trick in 1923, when Teddy was a kid of five. Ted is the youngest man ever to do the stunt in the Big Show, also, and there are those who believe he is only starting as a great batter.
As delighted as Ted was, Tom Yawkey was equally pleased. The fact that Ted, as a .400 batter, will be able to demand a higher salary next year than if he did not make it, did not disturb Yawkey. If Tom had his way, he would have four or five .400 batters and all would be paid their due. That’s the kind of baseball sportsman he is.