Monday, April 20, 2015

Ted Williams Debuts For The Boston Red Sox April 20, 1939

On This Day in Baseball History April 20. 1939: 20-year old Boston Red Sox rookie outfielder Ted Williams made his debut against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Williams would start in Right Field and bat fifth in the lineup. Williams would get his first career hit, a double and went 1 for 4 with three putouts in the field in a 2-0 loss.

The New York Times article Yanks Blank Red Sox Before 30,278 at Stadium Opener dated April 21, 1939 makes nary a mention of Williams. The only time he is mentioned is in respect to catching a line drive, that the fading Lou Gehrig hit with runners in scoring position, that seemed to "lack the old Gehrig depth". Since the paper didn't say much about Williams, I decided to go straight to the source. According to pages 60 and 61 of Ted Williams' autobiography My Turn at Bat: The Story of My Life:
I'll never forget that day sitting on the bench watching the Yankees take batting practice. I'm all eyes and ears. Lou Gehrig was still on the club, the only time I ever saw him play. He was already sick, and nobody knew it. He looked tired just walking up the stairs after the game. But there they were, Frank Crosetti and Charlie Keller and DiMaggio and Tommy Heinrich and Bill Dickey. A hell of a lineup. And Joe Gordon. I'm watching them, studying them all, and I remember so distinctly - this was one of those ten days - I said to myself, I know I can hit as good as these guys. Just a young kid's reaction, seeing the greats, building up his confidence.
Painting By Graig Kreindler
Red Ruffing was the Yankee pitcher. I watched him warm up - a big guy, I mean big, but a real easy-going style, like he didn't give a damn. When he came in with it though, the ball whistled. I got up the first time and fouled one off, then he threw me a little curve and I fouled that one off too, then he struck me out on a high fastball. The second time up the same thing: curve, curve, high fastball, strike three
Well, here's this smart-talking kid rookie from California striking out in his first two times up, and burning. I got to the bench and plopped down, and out of the corner of my eye I see ol' Jack Wilson, one of our pitchers, coming to me. We'd be needling each other all spring, and I'd been telling him how I was going to wear Ruffing out, and Jack's really got the old needle out now. He says, "Whata ya think of this league now, Bush?"
By this time I'm boiling. I said, "Screw you. That is one guy" - pointing to Ruffing - "I know I am going to hit, and if he puts it in the same place again, I'm riding it out of here."
Well it so happened the next time up Ruffing hot it high again, and I hit one to right center just a foot from going into the bleachers. I'd gotten under it a little bit or it would have gone out.
When I got to second base, there was Gordon. We played against each other on the coast in 1937, and he came over smiling. "You nervous?"
I said, "Boy, am I. Nervous as hell."
It turned out to be a wonderful first year for me.
Well that's an understatement. Not only was it a wonderful first year for Williams, it would be one of the best first years for any player. In 149 games, Williams finished his rookie season with a slash line of .327/.436/.609 with 185 hits (44 2B/11 3B/31 HR) and 145 RBI. Williams walked 107 and struck out a career high 64 times.

To me, out of all of Williams' rookie statistics, this is the one that stands out to me. He never struck out more than 64 times in a season AFTER his rookie season. The most he struck out after 64 times was 54 times and that was the NEXT season. Most players as they age and continue to develop their power stroke end up gaining more strikeouts. Not so for Ted Williams.

He would finish 4th in the Most Valuable Player race after Joe DiMaggio, teammate Jimmie Foxx and Bob Feller. It would be one of the only two seasons (along with 1952 when Williams served in the Korean War) that Ted Williams wouldn't be an American League All-Star.

Here is the box score of the Boston Red Sox vs New York Yankees game of April 20, 1939:

To look at Ted Williams' career statistics is just mind boggling. Give them a look: Ted Williams career statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference. We'll never see a hitter like Ted Williams ever again.

Until Then Keep Playing Ball,
Baseball Sisco