Sunday, September 28, 2014

Ted Williams Finishes With a .406 Batting Average September 28, 1941

On this day in Baseball History September 28, 1941: Entering the last day of the 1941 season, Ted Williams led the league with a .39955 batting average. Sitting out the doubleheader to end the season against the Philadelphia Athletics would have given Williams a .400 average. Instead of being given the achievement, Williams decided to play both games going 4 for 5 in the first game and 2 for 3 in the second game finishing the season with a .4057 batting average rounded up to .406. In doing so, Williams became the first Major League to hit .400 or more since Bill Terry of the New York Giants hit .401 in 1930. Williams became the first American League player to hit .400 or more since Harry Heilman did so in 1923.

The article Star Gets 6 Hits As Red Sox Split from the September 29, 1941 edition of the New York Times states:
Williams made his thirty-seventh home run and three singles in five chances in the opener, and a double and a single in three attempts in the second encounter.

For the season he batted in 120 runs, scored 135 and walked 151 times. He struck out twenty-six times. Williams is the sixth American Leaguer to bat .400. Nap Lajoie, Ty Cobb, George Sisler, Joe Jackson and Heilman were the others. Jackson hit .408 for Cleveland in 1911, but lost the batting title to Cobb, who finished with .420.
Here are the boxscores for the two games played by the Boston Red Sox against the Philadelphia Athletics on September 28, 1941:

What did Ted Williams think about his chase for .400? On pages 85 and 89-90 of the book My Turn At Bat: The Story of my Life by Ted Williams with John Underwood, Williams describes what he felt that fateful day:
It came to the last day of the season, and by now I was down to .39955, which according to the way they do it, rounds out to an even .400. We had a doubleheader left at Philadelphia. I'd slumped as the weather got cooler, from a high of .436 in June, down to .402 in late August, then up again to .413 in September. In the last ten days of the season my average dropped almost a point a day. Now it was barely .400. The night before the game Cronin offered to take me out of the lineup to preserve the .400. They used to do that. Foxx lost a batting championship to Buddy Myer one year when he sat out the last game and Myer got two hits.

I told Cronin I didn't want that. If I couldn't hit .400 all the way I didn't deserve it. It sure as hell meant something to me then

Now it was the last day of the 1941 season, and it turned up cold and miserable in Philadelphia. It had rained on Saturday and the game had been rescheduled as part of a Sunday doubleheader. They still had 10,000 people in Shibe Park, I suppose a lot of them just curious to see if The Kid really could hit .400. I have to say that I felt good despite the cold. And I know just about everybody in the park was for me. As I came to bat for the first time that day, the Philadelphia catcher, Frankie Hayes, said, "Ted, Mr. Mack told us if we let up on you he'll run us out of baseball. I wish you all the luck in the world, but we're not giving you a damn thing."

Bill McGowan was the plate umpire, and I'll never forget it. Just as I stepped in, he called time and slowly walked around the plate, bent over and began dusting it off. Without looking up, he said, "To hit .400 a batter has got to be loose. He has got to be loose."

I guess I couldn't have been much looser. First time up I singled off Dick Fowler, a liner between first and second. Then I hit a home run, then I hit two more singles off Porter Vaughn, a left-hander who was new to me, and in the second game I hit one off the loudspeaker horn in right field for a double. For the day I would up six for eight. I don't remember celebrating that night, but I probably went out and had a chocolate milk shake. During the winter Connie Mack had to replace the horn.
The last player to come close to the .400 plateau was Tony Gwynn of the San Diego Padres. Gwynn hit .3938 during the strike shortened 1994 season. The last player to come close during a full season was George Brett of the Kansas City Royals. Brett hit .3898 during the 1980 season.

Williams narrowly missed winning the American League Triple Crown (2nd in RBI to Joe DiMaggio's 125 RBI) and would follow his 1941 campaign with the American Triple-Crown in the 1942 season. He would be the runner up in the American League MVP race to Joe DiMaggio and Joe Gordon of the Yankees. Williams would join the war effort, losing three full seasons before returning to play in the 1946 season where he continued with his hitting finally winning the American League MVP award. Williams was truly an amazing player and I wish that I had the opportunity to have watched him play in person.

Getting four hits out of every ten at-bats over the course of an entire season is a daunting task. Hitting .400 for the season, let alone reaching Williams' .406 seems to be one of those records that will probably not get broken in this era of free swinging hitters, batters who don't choke up and defend the plate with two strikes and high strikeout totals. Will we ever see .400 or more in our lifetime? I wouldn't bet on it but with the game of baseball, you just never can tell.

Until Then Keep Playing Ball,
Baseball Sisco

For Further Reading:
- Click here to access Ted Williams' career statistics from Baseball
- Click here to access the article What Do You Think of Ted Williams Now? by Richard Ben Cramer from Esquire Magazine dated January 8, 2013 originally published in the June 1986 issue of Esquire